The truth about belly fat
Washboard abs are seen as the ultimate sign of athleticism, discipline and aesthetics by both the public and fitness professionals alike. Messages like ‘Abs are made in the kitchen, built in the gym’ make it seem like sheer will power alone is the reason some people have them and others don’t.
There are a few things that can influence why we hold fat around our mid-section. Ranging from genetics, diet, hormones and gender, I’ll tackle these one by one.
A few belly facts
Washboard abs are not simply a result of crunches, planks or v-sits but more the overall percentage of body fat you have.
Washboard abs are not an indicator of core strength, many larger athletes have a high level of core strength.
Your body requires a minimum level of fat to support your metabolic processes. If you get too lean, your body may stop functioning at a basic level compromising processes like digestion and menstruation.
People with metabolic syndrome typically tend to carry more weight around the middle. It’s thought that having a narrower waist and wider hips, lowers the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and other complications of metabolic syndrome.
There are three layers of abdominal muscles. The superficial rectus abdominis (your visible six pack) is just one. The deeper core muscles, transversus abdominis, obliques, diaphragm and pelvic floor, work to stabilize the spine, improve mobility, breathing, and posture.
If you’ve lost a lot of weight, you may have loose skin preventing you from seeing definition on your stomach. You can still build your abs, though excess skin cannot generally be tightened through diet and exercise.
Some people are genetically predisposed to having less belly fat because they’re a naturally lean body type. There are three body types; ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs.
Typical ectomorphs are long and lean, mesomorphs classically athletic and endomorphs smaller and wider.
Where your body first stores fat tends to be the last place it’s lost.
Your body type, fat percentage, strength and flexibility is somewhat inherited and there’s an element of working with what you’ve got to maximise outcomes, set realistic goals and expectations for yourself.
Understanding your genetic start point and how your body naturally responds to diet and exercise can go a long way to supporting your health and fitness goals.
Nutrition is the foundation for any health and fitness outcome. You cannot out train a poor diet. Generally speaking the biggest influence on your fitness outcome whatever your goal tends to come from the foods you eat, the rest from exercise and recovery.
Good nutrition supports your hormonal health and digestive system, both of which are aid the reduction of belly fat.
Inflammation of the gut and poor digestion can often make you appear bloated around the middle.
To address this, start by reducing or completely removing refined sugar and processed foods. Be mindful of your alcohol consumption; choose whole fresh produce where possible.
Many processed foods have no nutritional value, contain additives and are linked to obesity. Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet will support digestion, as will staying hydrated by drinking water throughout the day.
Hormones are chemical messengers that carry signals around the body. These signals can be influenced by the food you eat and emotional balance you maintain. Insulin resistance is a hormonal imbalance that can contribute to belly fat.
When we eat, our blood sugar levels spike and a hormone called insulin is released to help manage this.
If this happens too often and drastically, our body stops responding to the insulin and becomes ‘insulin resistant’ a consequence of which can be cravings and excess body fat, particularly around the belly. Insulin resistance is a precursor to metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes.
Prolonged stress can elevate levels of the ‘stress’ hormone cortisol, leading to fatigue and belly fat.
It’s also thought that increased exposure to cortisol is associated with more belly fat in women.
Managing your blood sugar levels with nutritional therapy and mood enhancing foods, alongside stress reduction techniques like deep mindful breathing, can help to rebalance hormones and improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Women have a naturally higher percentage of overall body fat specifically in the hips, butt, and legs, whereas men tend to gain weight in the upper body.
Women’s bodies can change after having children, the abdominal wall may become weaker and there could be loose skin around the tummy reducing the likelihood of seeing a six pack.
As a result, it’s important to use both resistance training to build muscle and cardio to help burn fat. Muscle also burns more calories while you rest.
Long story short
There are many reasons, some beyond your control, as to why you either struggle with developing a six pack or find it easy. Lifestyle and consistency are major factors.
Ensure you get enough sleep, incorporate resistance training into your workouts, limit processed foods, manage stress and be mindful of your alcohol consumption.
You can build your abs like any part of the body. However to see them, you have to lose the fat obscuring them. Fat cannot be lost from specific areas via ‘spot reduction’, it’s all or nothing.
To lose excess body fat, you must move more and eat smarter. And if you work towards strength and health as primary goals, ‘the beach body’ including washboard abs may be the bi-product.