For many women, toning their tummies and losing weight around their middles can be a huge challenge.
They try everything from diet shakes, trendy weight loss plans (hello, Keto diet) to rigorous exercise, but nothing seems to work against their stubborn belly fat. It just won't budge.
Knowing how this affects many women's self-esteem, Now To Love asked personal trainer, nutrition & lifestyle coach and Fire Up Voome program coach, Alexa Towersey, all about belly fat - including why we have it and how to kick it to the curb for good.
Diet vs exercise - which is more important?
Unless you are a genetic freak of nature, you cannot out-train a poor diet. Poor lifestyle factors also play a big role here.
When it comes to overall fat loss and creating a lean mid section, the most important variables (in order) are:
- Stress Management
- NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) – getting 10,000 steps per day
- Training in the gym (that's right, training is of least physiological importance here)
The important lifestyle factor affecting your mid-section
Lifestyle factors are the most underestimated components when it comes to people not being able to reach their goals, whether it be fat loss or performance related.
We now know that excess baggage around the mid- section is correlated to prolonged exposure to stress, and chronically elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This isn't just crazy work deadlines, family commitments and being stuck in rush hour traffic.
It also includes physical stressors such as food intolerances, digestive issues, poor quality sleep, dehydration, having too much coffee and overtraining or under-recovering.
Our bodies were not designed to deal with being stressed every minute of every day, and when this happens, we turn into a fat storing machine. This is why a relaxing holiday could well be the best fat loss nutrient we have.
As we age, and our cortisol levels increase, it's more important to utilise stress management techniques than training to fight the flab. My favourites are infra red sauna, epsom salts baths, massage, hot yoga and meditation.
To get a flat stomach
My go-to exercises, especially for females, are what we term "anti extension". In layman's terms this just means "bracing the spine". Think plank variations and exercises that require you to keep the spine in a neutral position while the arms and legs are moving.
These exercises not only transfer really well into being functional for everyday life, but I find the pilates cue to "draw the bellybutton to the spine" really effective when it comes to creating that flat stomach look.
To train the core in it's entirety, you need to include a variety of exercises that address all the key components - flexing the spine, extending the spine (back extension and reverse hyperextension variations), extending the hips (glute bridges and hip thrust variations), twisting/rotating the torso and holding the spine still.
Subcutaneous fat and visceral fat belly fat - should we be worried?
The major thing to note here is the difference between subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.
Subcutaneous fat sits right below the outermost layer of skin, can be pinched and tested by calipers and is the type of fat that impedes your ability to see your abdominal muscles.
Visceral fat lies deep behind the abdominal wall and surrounds your organs. This is the more dangerous type of fat that promotes inflammation in the body and can cause serious health problems including insulin resistance.
Inflammation is the leading cause of illness and disease, and is most effectively managed through good nutrition and lifestyle.
Alexa is an internationally published sports model, celebrity trainer and nutrition & lifestyle coach with over 15 years experience in the health and fitness industry. She currently runs the Voome program Fire Up, which aims to help women burn lots of calories while strengthening and shaping their muscles. You can follow her on Instagram @actionalexa.