The key to killer abs and a flat stomach is to reduce your overall fat levels and minimize bloating. You can do this with a combination of cardiovascular exercise, diet and lifestyle.
Shake off that excess belly fat
The most important step towards a flat, toned tummy is to reduce your overall fat percentage, and a clean, healthy diet is the best way to embark on this mission. If you learn to love natural food, you're halfway there. Create healthy eating habits, and you'll probably find you won't even want to go back to your old unhealthy ways.
There's no reason you can't eat an interesting and varied diet while you're losing weight. Switch to whole grains such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta, wholewheat bread and oatmeal. Get your protein from good low-calorie sources such as chicken or turkey (without the skin), water-packed tuna, steamed/baked fish, and eggs. Fruits, veggies (maybe not legumes as they can cause bloating) and nuts are all OK. You can even have dairy products - just make sure they're low fat and unsweetened like cottage cheese, yogurt, and low fat milk.
One thing to watch out for though - food intolerances can cause the bloating (see below) that is one of the main barriers between you and a flat stomach.
Lastly, reducing fat is not all about your diet. A little Cardiovascular exercise is just as important. Breaking a sweat for 30 minutes, 5 times a week, should be enough to burn off that top layer of fat.
So you've lost weight but your stomach isn't shaped the way you'd like it. If you think its due to bloating, see our tips below. If not, then it probably time to start with the crunches! Here are 3 simple exercises to work your abs.
- The Plank
1. Lie face down on a mat, resting on your forearms and with your palms flat on the floor.
2. Push off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on the elbows.
3. Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels.
4. Tilt your pelvis and contract your abdominals to prevent your rear end from sticking up in the air.
5. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds, lower and repeat for 3-5 reps.
- Reverse Crunch
1. Lie on your back and place your hands on the floor or behind the head.
2. Bring your legs up into the air, with your feet crossed and knees bent to 90 degrees.
3. Contract your abs to curl the hips off the floor, pushing your legs further up towards the ceiling.
4. Lower and repeat for 12-16 reps.
- Bicycle Crunch
1. Lie on your back and place your fingers behind your head.
2. Bring your knees up towards your chest and lift your shoulders off the ground.
3. Straighten your left leg out while simultaneously turning the upper body to the right. Your left elbow should almost touch your right knee.
4. Switch sides, bringing the right elbow towards the left knee.
5. Continue alternating sides in a 'bicycle' motion for 12-16 reps.
Tackle bloating and constipation
All the dieting and sit-ups in the world won't get you a flat stomach if you're suffering from bloating and constipation. So its important to address any digestive issues you may have if you want to start seeing those abs!
With some smart food choices you can really give your system a helping hand. Yogurt, and especially probiotic yogurt, provides friendly bacteria that help your digestive system work properly. Fiber can also fight the bloating effects of constipation. Be sure to include plenty of whole grain foods, fresh fruits and veggies. Supplement your diet with Psyllium husk to keep things moving, and drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
There are a few things you should avoid too if you want to keep bloating to a minimum. The usual culprits are carbonated drinks, broccoli, cauliflower, legumes, wheat, and lactose (in dairy products). These intolerances vary from person to person, so try eliminating each of these items then reintroducing the ones you like, one at a time.
Also be careful not to go overboard with too many high sodium foods. Excess sodium causes bloating and water retention. This means you should avoid soft drinks, processed food, and meats such as sausages, hot dogs, bologna, corned beef and ham. Restaurant food is almost all high in sodium, as are canned soup and packaged meals. Check ingredients at the supermarket and go for the low sodium items.
Reduce your stress
Studies have shown that stress itself can cause weight gain. The body releases excess Cortisol in response to stress, which increases your reserves of stored abdominal fat. Try de-stressing with some meditation, Tai Chi or Yoga. A hot bath to soothing music and candlelight will also reduce your stress levels.
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