Whether you want a flatter stomach, a stronger core or a six-pack, getting rid of belly bulge tends to be high on our list of fitness-related priorities. Attaining that goal can feel like you're on an impossible quest, and if you doubt it, just take a look at all the fitness magazines there are out there, and how many people are buying them — never mind all the DVDs, websites, blogs, accessories and powders and supplements marketed to not just fitness junkies but also, and perhaps especially, to would-be fit folks.
We're also flooded with photos of perfectly sculpted men and women — modern-day gods and goddesses who we should be aspiring to look like, regardless of how realistic that may be (and despite us knowing very well about the wonders of PhotoShop). We tend to see these images alongside workout routines that promise impossibly perfect abs in just nine moves or ten minutes. It's easy to forget that advanced workouts like those are for people who are already fit. Suddenly the goal to get a toned midsection becomes a dream, and an unattainable one at that.
Don't let the stuff meant to inspire you take the wind from your sails. You want a flatter stomach? You can have one. It may take you a little longer than it takes to airbrush a fitness model, but a healthier you is certainly worth the patience and hard work.
Get a flat belly by following this three-point game plan.
If you think you can eat whatever you want because you're doing 500 crunches a day every day, you're doing it wrong. Sure, you may have the metabolism of a healthy teenager and be able to eat an entire pizza pie in one sitting while boasting a magnificent midsection, but for the majority of people the bottom line is simple, if cruel: You can't outrun a bad diet.
But don't fret! You don't have to go through fad diets or deprive yourself. You don't have to give up gluten (unless you're a celiac, of course), become a vegetarian or vegan, swear off carbs or eat fish if you don't like it. The changes to your diet should be subtle and realistic — that way, you'll be encouraged to stick with it.
Meat-eaters, for example, should borrow pages from vegans and vegetarians and introduce fruits and vegetables into their diets. Fiber goes a long way toward making you feel fuller for longer. And do make sure to add those dark leafy greens to keep your digestive tract happy.
Keri Glassman, RD, author of "The O2 Diet" and "The Snack Factor Diet," touts the benefits of portion control in Health magazine. "Eating portion-controlled meals that include whole-grain foods and monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) throughout the day is the best way to eat for a flat belly. People who eat whole grains lose more abdominal fat. And making most of the fats you eat MUFAs reduces ab flab, research says." So if you can, eat a small meal every few hours.
Even if you can't — and our daily routines may make it especially challenging — make sure to have a snack that contains protein between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., says Natasha Turner, naturopathic doctor, author of "The Hormone Diet," in Health. "Go for a protein bar, a piece of low-fat cheese or some almonds with an organic apple," says Turner. "No matter what, do not miss that snack. It's important because it boosts metabolism and balances blood sugar. The lower you keep your blood sugar, the lower you keep your insulin, and insulin makes you store fat around your middle. Eating every three to four hours will keep your blood sugar even, but many people tend to go five or six hours between lunch and dinner without eating."
Speaking of blood sugar, add these foods to your grocery list. While simply eating sweet potatoes and sprinking cinnamon on your oatmeal won't magically tighten your tummy, these foods, according to SkinnyMom, help keep insulin levels in check and also boost metabolism. Some of them also help with bloating. And if you eat blueberries instead of a bag of potato chips and make sure to do your cardio, you certainly get yourself closer to your ultimate flat-belly goal.
Yes, you may have a large belly because you've indulged in a few pints and greasy, heavy meals, but sometimes it's not so much about the bulge than it is about the bloat. Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of The Flexitarian Diet, recommends chewing your food thoroughly, until it's the consistency of applesauce. Doing so helps prevent bloating. "Digestion begins in the mouth," she explains, "and without proper chewing, food is not well-digested. Better-digested food means less gas and bloating."
You can also turn to yoga to help cope with bloat. Don't worry, you won't have to do an impossible handstand or bring your leg up to your ear. There are many yoga moves that can help you when you feel bloated. Here are just five of them. Gaiam explains each pose and offers modifications for beginners, as well as cautions for those with injuries.
And here we are. The part most of us dread: the ab exercises. If the idea of getting on the floor and doing all sorts of advance-level moves makes you break into a nervous sweat, don't worry. You can start with standing abs and work your way up to the harder stuff (or not! You can always just stick with standing abs).
Check out this short standing abs workout featured on Women's Health magazine. The moves are simple, yet challenging. If you don't have dumbbells at home, a couple of cans of beans will do. Mind your form, and start sweating!