A little while ago I offered to answer any questions that I get asked more than once.
One question I get asked over and over (in various guises) is around the inability to shift stubborn body fat.
This question from one of my readers pretty much summed it up:
“I’ve read that it’s not so much your weight you have to watch as your waist – in terms of health.
I seem to easily put on weight in this area and would love to know the best ways to achieve a proper waist again. I guess this means I’m an apple rather than a pear as weight doesn’t go on so much round my hip and thigh area but middle!
Any tips gratefully received!”
In response to this, she’s absolutely right: Excess weight around the middle is generally considered to be more damaging to one’s health, because of the proximity to vital organs.
Of course, as most of you will be aware of by now, weight itself is rather arbitrary. What’s most important is ensuring that you are as healthy as possible and that you feel good in your own skin and have the confidence to live your life as fully as you wish to. Yes, being “overweight” can be an indicator that you are more at risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease to name just a couple of things. But so too can being severely “underweight” have implications for health.
But I digress.
Those who find they carry excess fat around their middle are frequently referred to as “apples”. The first thing I should mention is that, unsurprisingly, genetics do play a part in determining your body shape. Your parents gave you slim thighs (or not!), not the fact that you have done pilates for 10 years. That being said, all is not lost, and adopting an “I’m doomed” attitude is neither healthy nor helpful.
We all have the ability to make the most of what nature gave us. The first step is to embrace your shape. The second is to know how to optimise hormonal health in order to manipulate your body shape and keep you on top form.
With that in mind, we need to have a little chat about stress hormones. Cortisol is our body’s natural fat-burning hormone and, when in balance, keeps us ticking along beautifully. Cortisol levels should naturally rise and fall throughout the day (read more about that HERE), but the stresses of daily life mean many of us having chronically elevated cortisol. As the tummy area is where the most dense area of cortisol receptors is situated, it figures that increased cortisol leads to a larger tummy. Not good.
So in order of importance the best three ways to reduce your waist size are:
1) Manage your stress.
2) Eat clean.
Let’s look at each of those in more detail.
I wrote an article about stress a while back, so you might want to refer to that HERE. Many things can be perceived as a threat or stressor to the body, not just the obvious things. Exercise is a stressor, in fact. More on that below.
Sleep is hugely important when it comes to keeping cortisol in check. If you struggle with sleep, try taking a good quality magnesium supplement (not an oxide form), using magnesium spray on your muscles, or soaking in an epsom salts bath. Magnesium helps the body to relax and is excellent for promoting natural sleep. Use it approximately one hour before bed. One of my newer clients had been taking prescription sleeping tablets for over three years and pretty much hadn’t had a single full night’s sleep in all that time. I recommended she try magnesium tablets instead, et voila: One month on she is sleeping properly for the time time in years and feeling so much better. She has also dropped an inch across her tummy measurements. Just saying!
I appreciate that some stress is much harder to manage. Perhaps you have a deep-seated issue with self-esteem / relationship problems / a sick loved one. Clearly these are not the type of things that can be solved with a quick spray of magnesium, but that’s precisely why you have to focus your attention on the things that ARE in your control. Let’s say you care for an elderly relative. That’s stressful. It requires heaps of your time, a lot of emotional upset, and dealing with sometimes very difficult situations. Therefore it is important to remember that it is ok to BE SELFISH from time to time. Whatever dependants you have, it is imperative to make time for yourself now and then. Book a spa day, curl up with your favourite book, disappear for a long walk. Do whatever it is that feels like a treat.
This might all sound rather far removed from the original issue of slimming down one’s waist, but believe me, ain’t nothing gonna budge until the mind is in a happier place, so this should be the first item on your agenda.
Nourishing your body with real food and plenty of water is an obvious way to help slim the belly down. If you store fat around your middle, chances are your diet isn’t as good as it could be, and / or you’re dehydrated. I think most of you know the basic principles by now, but to recap:
– DO eat real food, including protein and greens in every meal.
– DO get as much variety as possible in your diet. If you need inspiration you should check out the Lovefit Cookbook.
– DO keep alcohol, caffeine and processed foods to a minimum.
– DO Avoid sugar and, worse still, sweeteners. It is highly addictive and has no health benefits whatsoever.
– DO drink a minimum of 2L water per day, but ideally aim for 1L per 50lb (23kg) bodyweight.
– DON’T go on a crash diet / detox and view it as short term “deprivation”, knowing that at the end of that timeframe you’ll go on a massive binge. Instead, DO look to make long-term, sustainable changes.
Doing loads of exercise must be the quickest route to reducing your waistline, right? Wrong! Unless the above two points are under control, over-exercising could actually lead to weight GAIN. Crazy, huh?
The problem is that exercise is also a stressor on the body, so placing huge physical demands on it is only going to create more stress. And we know what that leads to… fat accumulation. Now, I am not saying you shouldn’t exercise at all. It’s just a question of knowing how best to exercise, especially if you are suffering from stress. (And it goes without saying that no amount of exercise is going to “cancel out” a poor diet).
If you are trying to reduce tummy fat and re-establish a defined waist, the best thing is to keep your training short and sweet. Intense bouts of interval training will be much kinder on the stress levels, than a long heavy slog. If you’re used to training hard and heavy, you need to deload! Consider just sticking to some high-intensity bodyweight exercises instead. You know the type of thing: Burpees, squats, press-ups.
It’s also crucial that you do something to counter-balance all of this. Yoga (especially restorative yoga) is an excellent way to do this, as well as gentle walking, meditation and tai chi. These stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for the “rest and digest” functions) and helps to offset the stress response.
In summary, to find your waist:
– Do everything possible to get plentiful sleep
– Make time for you
– Nourish your body, and avoid processed foods
– Exercise but don’t over-train
– Walk, breathe, smile!
I hope that this article has helped not only the person who sent in the original question, but many more of you.
If it has, please leave a comment and share this post!