My husband isn't the gushy type, and I often have to remind him to give me a compliment when I've dressed up for an occasion or have returned from the hair salon with a gorgeous shiny ‘do. So you can imagine my surprise when, as I pulled myself out of the swimming pool yesterday, he commented appreciatively, “Look at your perfect abs!”
Anyone would love a compliment like this, and for me it’s especially meaningful. Around the holiday season I felt my jeans getting tighter and dreaded the appearance of a muffin-top. So I took the best of the tips and techniques I’ve learned as a personal trainer and holistic health coach, and put them to work… on myself. Here are the three habits I’ve created since the new year that are responsible for my well-defined tummy. If you begin today, you’ll have a flatter tummy by swimsuit season, too!
1. Peaceful eating.
When I discovered that two powerful hormones; cortisol and insulin, work together to put on weight around the middle when we eat in a state of anxiety, I made it a habit to sit down to eat in a calm and relaxed environment. According to Dr Claire Wheeler, cortisol (a hormone released when we are feeling stressed or under pressure) encourages weight gain around the middle because fat on the tummy is more quickly metabolised for energy after a fight-or-flight response than, say, fat on the hips or thighs, which our body lays down as longer-term fat storage to keep us alive during times of prolonged famine. If you lead a high-stressed lifestyle, your cortisol levels will be generally elevated, meaning it’s harder to keep a slim middle, and being stressed at the same time as eating is especially recognised as a pre-cursor to belly fat, as insulin released when eating joins that cortisol. While we can’t put an end to all stress, we can make it a habit to take a few deep breaths before eating, and make sure our immediate environment offers no unwanted distractions. For instance, I changed from eating lunch at my desk to on the balcony outside, and eating dinner with just conversation for noise. These two changes helped me feel a lot more relaxed. How could you make your eating times more peaceful?
Whether it’s the increase in metabolism from this regular weight-bearing exercise or the fact that this simple movement activates our core and gets all our abdominal muscles working, this one exercise is a habit I’ve cultivated that’s helped reveal my “perfect” abs. You can start “easy”, as many of my clients like to, which helps to strengthen wrists and tone upper arms, before you master the classic push-up. To start easy, get into push-up position but leave your knees on the floor. After a week of doing two sets of 15 push-ups (try 15 at night and 15 in the morning), you’ll have the strength to push up from your toes, with knees off the floor- a classic push-up. To make sure you’re getting the abs benefit, suck your tummy in throughout the exercise, and remember to exhale when you push up. As well as revealing a flatter tummy and more defined waist, this simple do-anywhere move also develops toned arms you’ll be proud to reveal in short-sleeved summery clothes!
3. Eating smarter, not less.
I’m a food lover, and I don’t like small portions. Few things are more satisfying to me, than a large serving of delicious food, and knowing I can eat it all! A habit which lets me indulge and still has supported me in enjoying better defined tummy muscles is what I first thought to be a cute trick from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. It’s adding a little acidity to a starchy meal -- like Jamie’s balsamic vinegar on pasta, or lemon juice on pancakes, for instance. The acidity lowers the overall speed at which carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream, which helps eaters feel fuller, faster and results in eating less overall, according to studies published by the American Dietetic Association. It works for me, and I hope it works to get you compliments such as, “Look at your perfect abs!” in the not-too-distant future, too!