The festive season is usually associated with lots of eating. Given the type of food consumed during this period, it should come as no surprise that people pile on weight by the turn of the year. If you’ve gained some flab over the holiday period, specifically around the tummy, here are the best proven ways to lose the belly fat.
Consuming food high in sugar and carbohydrates (complex sugar) increases the blood glucose level in our bodies, resulting in a spike in insulin level as the body’s reflex reaction to regulate/maintain the glucose level in the blood.
At the same time, insulin inhibits the breakdown of fat cells and stimulates the creation of body fat. In short, eating foods high in sugar and carbs will switch on fat-storing mode in your body, and you will find that it is almost impossible to get rid of the belly fat!
Cut down, as much as possible, on sugary drinks and carbohydrate-rich foods such as white rice, bread, cereals made from refined grains, and common snacks such as biscuits and energy drinks. Watch out for “hidden carbohydrates” too – many food items are marketed as ‘low sugar’ or ‘no sugar added’, but they may be loaded with carbohydrates, which are basically complex sugars that still increase the insulin level in the body. Check the nutrient label on the food packaging to be sure. Go for low glycemic-index foods such as green vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Not only will the body burn fat more quickly and efficiently when you start moderating your sugar and carb intake, but a low-sugar diet also has numerous long-term health benefits.
Stop eating after dinner. No desserts (especially sugary stuff), supper, or midnight snacks. Allow your digestive system time to recuperate. If you are constantly eating, the body is constantly trying to digest the food you consume, and there is not much time for it to rest. In the same way that our muscles and bodies recover from plenty of rest, our digestive system would benefit from an occasional break from food, too.
You can also try intermittent fasting. One popular way is to go for about 16 hours without food intake (also known as fasting), followed by an eight-hour compressed eating window where you have two or three meals.
Intermittent fasting has many benefits, which includes:
- Promoting human growth hormone production, which helps your body burn fat, build muscles, and slow down the ageing process
- Regulating levels of ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone
- Normalising insulin sensitivity, which lowers the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer
Basically, the longer you stop eating (after dinner till first meal on the next day), the more benefits you reap from giving your digestive system a break. If you can only do a 12-hour fast (e.g. 9pm-9am), that is already a big first step from cutting out snacking at night. If you need to curb late-night cravings, try drinking one to two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in a cup of water after dinner. Apple cider vinegar also comes with several health and weight loss benefits!
That said, I understand that the festive season is all about desserts, so you can have them, but in moderation.
Resistance or weight training is pretty straightforward – the main goal is to increase muscle mass in order to boost metabolic rate. Many women steer away from resistance training due to the misconception that resistance training will result in them bulking up or becoming too muscular. But the truth is, females do not have the same amount of testosterone males have, a hormone that is essential to getting those huge, bulky muscles. “Bulking up” is the least of our worries!
Muscles boost metabolic rate, which is the number of calories your body burns by itself in a day with minimal activity. Hence, the more muscles you have in your body, the more fat you burn in a day. In building up muscle mass, you won’t just be losing fat, but also getting a better-toned body. Time to move some weights!
HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training could be one of the most efficient and effective ways to burn fat. The gist to HIIT is that you exert maximum effort in short, intense bursts of exercise followed by short recovery periods. These intervals get your heart pumping, and burn more fats and calories in less time (and more effectively) than regular slow and long cardio exercises. Benefits of HIIT includes (but are not limited to):
- Time efficiency; you can get your workout of the day done with a 10-minute HIIT
- Increased post-exercise energy expenditure; after a HIIT workout, your body will continue to burn more calories than it would after a lower-impact and longer-duration exercise such as jogging
- Improved insulin sensitivity, which helps boost fat loss
- Reduced abdominal fat stores; a study from the Journal of Obesity noted that HIIT may play a key role in decreasing abdominal fat stores – that visceral fat that surrounds the organs in your stomach, the area so many of us struggle to lose weight around
No one can spot-reduce their way to flat abs overnight, but it is possible to burn more fat more efficiently by incorporating HIIT into your routine. One of the HIIT methods is Tabata, which consists of 20 seconds of high-intensity/all-out effort on an exercise, followed by 10 seconds of recovery time, for eight cycles in a row. Although “high-intensity” may sound intimidating, HIIT is good for all levels, including beginners, with proper knowledge and guidance.
HIIT is also a good choice of workout before you head out for your festive parties. The short time frame required for each session is ideal if you’ve been out all day and have some time to yourself before heading out for the next soiree.
While trying to lose belly fat, why not consider picking up some skills or techniques along the way? Be it improvement in your agility, speed, mobility, power, and flexibility with more functional training, or trying out a new activity such as BJJ or MMA, you will be sure to enjoy working out and wanting to be back for more.
If you get to take away skills and techniques while shedding off fat at the same time, why not?
Intrinsic (self) motivation to exercise usually begins strong, then decreases or plateaus after some time. Know some friends who are also trying to lose that belly fat? Arrange a fitness outing with them for a simple run, or join group fitness classes to meet like-minded people, who are also motivated to achieve a healthy body, and you will be surprised by how much group motivation will help you throughout your journey! The new year, and actually, any time would be great to start.
Everyone knows that to burn more calories, you have to exercise. To lose fat, your calorie output has to be greater than your calorie input. But have you ever felt like you have tried, but did not see any results? Consider speeding up that process with actual guidance on the different training methods, what kind of response your body will have to those methods, which training style works best for your body type, and what kind of diet to go on along with your fitness regime.
Seeking guidance from a certified trainer in a safe training environment will definitely give you that boost, as well as ensure minimal risk of injuries from improper posture/form when performing certain exercises on your own.
To see and feel your belly fat melt away, as well as the progressions and improvements your body will achieve, it takes effort AND consistency. No one can wake up one day after a couple of workout sessions and find a flat tummy right away. Keep your workout sessions consistent – keep up with regular exercise two to three times a week – and you will start noticing the positive impact on your body.
Losing belly fat is a short-term goal. Maintaining a healthy body, however, is a long-term goal and an important one. Make exercising and healthy eating a lifestyle; work out not just to lose weight, but also for its long-term health benefits and maintaining a healthy body image. What comes easy won’t last. What lasts won’t come easy!
Cheryl Loh is a personal trainer / fitness instructor, and can be found on Instagram (@cherylfit_sg).
Text: Cheryl Loh/HerWorld