Americans spend billions of dollars and countless amounts of time and energy trying to get sleek, sexy abs. The problem is that a large majority of this money, time and energy is wasted on the wrong things -- fad diets that promise to bust belly fat, and endless crunches and sit-ups that prove to be ineffective. What you have to realize is that you cannot spot reduce. This means you can't decide where the fat comes off -- but what you can do is put together a well-rounded program that will help you shed the fat over your abs and let the defined muscle show through.
Visceral Fat Versus Subcutaneous Fat
When discussing abdominal fat, it's essential to differentiate between the different types of fat. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that is stored right under your skin. You can touch it and grab it. You know it's there. Visceral fat is the deep layer of fat surrounding the organs in the abdomen, and unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is biologically active. This type of fat disrupts the normal balance and functioning of hormones and can significantly affect your health. Visceral fat also pumps out compounds called cytokines -- chemicals that can increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. The good news is that visceral fat responds well to both diet and exercise.
Abs Are Made in the Kitchen
To get rid of that layer of fat covering your abdominal muscles, you need to pay close attention to your diet. Burning calories will whittle away at the layer of fat covering the abdominal muscles, and eventually your abs will show through.
Unfortunately, there's no magic diet trick to target abdominal fat. The best thing to do is to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, eat lean proteins and healthy fats, include some whole grains, and eliminate processed foods -- especially sugar. Eating sugar causes dramatic spikes and crashes in blood sugar, and if you consume too much -- in sugary drinks, candy, baked goods and other sweet treats -- the excess is stored as fat, often in your abdominal area.
Targeted Exercise for Abdominal Muscles
Although you can't spot reduce, according to fitness expert Yuri Elkaim, you can "spot strengthen." Elkaim says that an effective exercise for your abs combines calorie burning with strength movement to tighten the abdominal muscles. This is the reason why crunches and sit-ups fall short -- they just don't burn enough calories to make a difference in the way your abs look. Elkaim recommends doing squats, burpees and mountain climbers in two to three sets of six to eight reps each, using a weight that is challenging but not exhausting. These exercises may not seem like they're targeting the abs directly, but they require major core strength.
Exercise also helps get rid of the layer of fat over your abdomen because it reduces the amount of insulin -- a hormone that triggers your body to hold onto excess fat -- in your blood.
Reduce Your Stress
The visceral fat within your abdomen is significantly affected by stress levels. When you're stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Although this is a normal physiological process, it becomes an issue when your stress and cortisol levels remain high for an extended period of time. When this happens, your body begins to store excess fat in the abdominal area. As long as your cortisol levels stay high, you'll have difficulty getting rid of the deep visceral fat that contributes to a rounded abdomen. According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000, stress can cause an increase in abdominal fat even in women who are otherwise slender. If you're stressed, it's a good idea to participate in things that can help relax you, like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or even drawing and coloring.
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What To Do About It
- Rush University Medical Center: Is There Really "One Trick" to Losing Belly Fat?
- U.S. News and World Report: 5 Exercises to Lose Belly Fat and Build Sexy Abs
- Mother Nature Network: How To Get Rid of Belly Fat
- FoxNews.com: 7 Tips to Reduce Belly Fat
- Yale News: Stress May Cause Excess Abdominal Fat in Otherwise Slender Women, Study Conducted at Yale Shows
- Psychosomatic Medicine: Stress and Body Shape: Stress-Induced Cortisol Secretion Is Consistently Greater Among Women With Central Fat
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: 8 Ways to Lose Belly Fat and Live a Healthier Life