As babies, most of us are born with a cute little pooch — and maybe as you grew up, shot past your growth spurt and entered adulthood, you held on to that body shape. But does that mean that you're destined to never see a flat stomach, or even a few abs, on your own body?
The short answer, in most cases, is "not at all." While genetics play a role in body shape, the majority of the population can rely on staples of diet and exercise to achieve their flat stomach goals. It won't be easy, but even if your tummy feels permanent, it's a safe bet that a consistent and sustained routine will get you there eventually.
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Excepting a small percentage of people with a strong genetic disposition toward obesity, proven weight loss methods will flatten the belly over time.
Body Shape and Genetics
Whether you've asked yourself, "If I've never had a flat stomach, can I ever have one?" or lamented , "I'm skinny, but I don't have a flat stomach," there's a good chance you've wondered if you're just genetically predisposed to that round tummy. But do genetics really determine your body shape forever?
Harvard Health Publishing notes that over 400 different genes have been implicated in the causes of excess weight or obesity, accounting for about 25 to 80 percent of an individual's predisposition for an overweight body shape. The high end figure typically only applies to people who have been overweight for most of their life, have parents and close relatives who are also overweight and find themselves unable to lose weight even with exercise and a regular calorie deficit.
Harvard goes on to say that people with a strong genetic disposition to obesity may not be able to lose weight, even with a regular diet and exercise routine, and may also have a hard time keeping weight off. In these cases, weight loss drugs, surgery or a doctor's guidance may be necessary. It's important to keep in mind, though, that such a strong genetic disposition is an outlier.
Read more: No, "Skinny Genes" Aren't Really a Thing
Belly Busting Basics
For the vast majority of people, even those with a stubbornly rotund belly, the road to flat town is paved with the time-tested and scientifically proven weight loss basics. Diet trends and made-for-TV gadgets get exiled to the closet, but these pillars never go out of style.
Right at the forefront is calorie consumption. While genetics can affect the physiology of how fast you burn calories and your environment can affect your eating and exercise behavior, your bottom-line weight depends on how many calories you consume compared to how many you burn. A calorie deficit — regularly burning more calories than you take in — is the crucial foundation of healthy weight loss.
In addition to how much you eat, the amount of calories you regularly burn via exercise is one of the other key factors in maintaining a flat belly shape. As Mayo Clinic puts it, "If you eat too much and exercise too little, you're likely to carry excess weight — including belly fat."
Recommended Exercises and Foods
As a rule of thumb, it takes about 10,000 steps a day to prevent weight gain (or up to 15,000 to prevent re-gain after loss). The United States Department of Health and Human Services suggests a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week for most healthy adults. Likewise, Mayo Clinic encourages strength training at least twice a week to keep belly fat in check.
In addition to just about any form of cardio, recommended exercises for toning the underlying core muscles include leg lifts, planks, bridge poses, Pilates and fitness ball exercise, per Mayo Clinic. In terms of diet, the American Council on Exercise touts whole grain foods inversely associated with centralized abdominal fat and low-calorie, high-nutrient roughage as part of a calorie-controlled diet. Their recommendations include:
- Bell pepper
- Salad greens
- Whole-wheat bread or crackers
Alongside physical activity, an all-around healthy diet rich in plant-based food, low in sugar and saturated fat and high in lean protein sources is absolutely critical to reducing stomach fat and keeping it off. Nixing sugary drinks and limiting your portion sizes will also go a long way in helping you flatten up.
- Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School: "Why People Become Overweight"
- Mayo Clinic: "Belly Fat in Women: Taking — and Keeping — It Off"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- American Council on Exercise: "Fat to Flat: Belly Bulge-Fighting Foods"
- Mayo Clinic: "Flat Stomach: Can Wearing a Girdle Help Tighten Stomach Muscles?"
- MayoClinic.com: Healthy Weight Pyramid Tool