How can I get a flatter stomach (or “tummy”)? Tons of people ask this question. The answer depends on what your current habits and routine are. More specifically, on your diet and activity level. Regardless of your current practices, if you aren’t seeing results, then you need to make changes.
1. Evaluate your diet
You need to evaluate your dietary habits first and foremost. (See our past article on the importance of diet versus exercise in weight loss.) Depending on your starting weight, you may be able to shed quite a bit of weight (and fat) by cleaning up your diet alone. Minimize your intake of sugars, refined carbs, and processed foods. That means keep junk food and packaged items to a minimum, unless you can identify the ingredients as harmless. Also, refrain from eating out too often, since outside food tends to use less wholesome ingredients and be calorically dense. I only eat out twice a week max, but because I generally eat clean, I feel icky if I eat out too much during a week. So, I know eating out is usually less healthy. (You may want to read this article before reforming your diet.)
2. Consider your caloric intake
If your diet is already clean, then experiment with reducing your daily caloric intake. Reducing pudginess comes down to trimming your fat levels. The main way to reduce fat is to increase your caloric deficit. In other words, you need to burn more calories or consume less calories than your body needs. Depending on your current daily caloric consumption and your resting metabolic rate, try reducing your daily caloric intake by 200. Again, how much you’d want to reduce depends on your circumstances, so 200 could be more or less than ideal for you.
3. Add or modify your workout routine
If you aren’t working out, try to move more during the day, even if you have to start out slow (e.g. walking 30 minutes a day). Any form of exercise is better than nothing, whether cardio or strength training. Although cardio tends to shed fat quicker, strength work can accomplish the same in time. The key is to find an activity you will be able to maintain long-term, especially since progress can take time.
If you are already regularly working out, then challenge your body in a new way. Try upping your intensity. For instance, do HIIT routines, more weights, or increasing times or distances. Or try a different form of exercise altogether. For instance, try swimming, climbing, rowing, or pilates. If you’re used to doing strength work, then add in cardio, or vice-versa. Change up your workout routine to incorporate different moves.
4. Strength training is always good
Even though cardio can burn more calories immediately, I always advocate doing strength work in the long run. Having more muscle increases your metabolism, meaning how many calories your body burns while resting, so can help you maintain your figure easier in the long run. Also, if you eventually want muscle definition to show (such as in your abs), then you need to build up those muscles. Just remember that before any definition will show, you have to reduce the fat covering it up. That’s why people who do lots of ab work without much else won’t get the visible six-pack they are aspiring for! Work all of your muscles and not just isolated ones. Ladies, don’t be afraid to “bulk up.” Having an “athletic/toned” build is definitely in right now and something to be proud of. People will usually be very impressed and think you’re a shining example of health.
5. Be patient and realistic
Remember not to push yourself to extremes and to be overly anxious for results. (See our past article about reasons to avoid extreme measures for weight loss.) Some people hold onto fat around their abs much longer than in other parts of their bodies. The change may not be overnight, but should happen in time if you maintain a clean and healthy diet, avoid overeating, and exercise regularly. Also remember that even the fittest bodies can have stomach pooches every now and then, such as after eating/drinking or when muscles are more relaxed in the evening. Some fitness models and coaches have shared pictures showing belly bulges at off times or in less flattering positions (e.g. this article). So, don’t have unrealistic expectations based on online posed or airbrushed photos and expect to achieve abs that look flat 24-7.
If you want to trim down more effortlessly and healthily, then follow all of the guidelines discussed in this article. Don’t isolate and focus on any particular tip. For instance, some people focus on caloric intake alone (i.e. counting calories) and not on quality and types of foods. Strictly following a “calories in, calories out” approach is not ideal. Everyone’s body is different and has different needs based on lifestyle and habits, so boiling your approach down to one may not work. For instance, people doing strength work can process more protein than people who are sedentary. Also, your body processes different substances differently, so purely viewing food from a caloric standpoint is flawed. If you follow a healthy lifestyle, then your body will reflect it. That’s why you should take a whole body approach to improving your health and appearance instead of isolated approaches.