I read a quote once that really made me smile: “I’ve been getting out of bed every single day for 31 years. That’s 11,315 sit-ups… and not a single ab to show for it!!” Here’s a thought: what if you could get a brilliantly toned tummy without doing a single sit up or ab crunch EVER? Sounds crazy right? Yet here’s the thing: the best way to tone your tummy is not endless stomach exercises but careful nutrition.
There is a saying in bodybuilding circles: abs are built in the kitchen, not in the gym. This is because 80% (yes, 80%!) of the results we achieve are down to careful, intelligent nutrition. So, how can we change our diet to tighten and transform our tummies?
Eat protein in every meal
Protein keeps you feeling full and helps build muscle tissue. The more muscle we have, the more energy we burn at rest. Cue less of the food we eat being stored and more being burned as fuel. Good protein sources are fish, chicken, eggs, lentils, nuts, beans, and high quality protein powder (we like Sunwarrior and Pulsin). Try for 1-2 fistfuls in every meal.
Choose good quality carbohydrates
Swapping refined sugars and processed grains for fruit and whole-food carb sources keeps your insulin balanced, and insulin is one of the main hormones that contributes to fat storage around the tummy area. Low sugar fruits like berries, and high fibre starches, like spelt, German rye breads, pulses, oats and quinoa are your best friends here.
Drink plenty of water
Hunger and thirst can send very similar signals to the brain, so we think we’re hungry when in actual fact we’re thirsty. This can cause us to eat more than we need. Here’s a trick: when you feel hungry, drink a glass of water first. If you’re truly hungry, you’ll still be hungry after. If you were actually thirsty, you’ll feel fine and satisfied, and have saved yourself the extra calories. Top tip: have a jug full of water at your desk or in your kitchen and top up your glass throughout the day so you know how much water you have drunk… especially important as the temperature rises this summer.
Take a probiotic
Keeping our gut bacteria happy is essential to avoid symptoms like gassiness and bloating. Also, as we eat the digestive tract releases hormones and neurotransmitters that signal fullness and contentment to the brain. Keeping the digestive system in good working order means these signals get through loud and clear. This can help us avoid overeating and comfort eating by ensuring we feel happy and satisfied with healthy foods and portions.
Take a digestive enzyme
Gassiness and bloating can also arise if we don’t have enough digestive ‘fire’ to break down the foods we’re eating. Enzymes give your system that extra boost, especially when it comes to foods like dairy or pulses. As we’ve seen, these can be healthy additions to your diet, especially when it comes to eating more protein and choosing better carbs. So if you’re trying to eat healthily but having trouble with digestion, try adding an enzyme supplement after every meal, and then taper off slowly as your system gets used to the new elements in your diet.
Eat slowly and stop at 80% full
Hunger and fullness are regulated by hormones. These hormones, however, only kick in about 20 minutes after we start eating. What does this mean? If we eat too fast, we don’t give our brains time to realise we’re full, and can end up eating more than we need. So slow your eating right down: chew well (this helps digestion too), put down your utensils between bites and breathe. So often we rush through meals without ever really breathing correctly! By the time your hormones have caught up, you’ll be glad of that spare 20% – it will ensure you feel happy and satisfied instead of heavy and stuffed!
Choose exercise you enjoy and FORGET no pain no gain!
Ok, this may be a bit controversial. Because to get a great body you need to slog your guts out in the gym, right? Not really. Putting your body through exercise it hates, which leaves you aching for days just ramps up your stress hormones. And when your stress hormones are going crazy your body is more likely to go into fat storage mode because it perceives a state of emergency. Most importantly, when it comes to achieving results one of the essential things is consistency: what you do every day counts way more than what you do every now and then. And if your exercise regime is leaving you feeling depleted and drained, sooner or later you may have a ‘**** this!’ moment and let it fall by the wayside. So choose exercise that challenges you by all means, but try to make it something you enjoy. As long and you’re moving consistently and a few times a week, you’ll see results!
words: Martina Avellino – PhD RTS