24 Hours to a Flatter Belly

Hands up if you want toned abs and a trimmer tummy! Try these expert tips to lose belly fat the healthy way

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Hands up if you want toned abs and a trimmer tummy! Try these expert tips to lose belly fat the healthy way

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Belly fat is officially the most dangerous type of fat we can carry. A recent study in the European Heart Journal found those of a normal weight but with central obesity had the highest risk of cardiovascular mortality compared to those who carried fat in areas other than the tummy. Sydney-based exercise scientist Damien Kelly says we’re struggling with excess body fat because we’re losing the energy battle. “Modern foods we love are energy dense. The little activity we do isn’t enough to counter it,” says Damien. “For women with excess fat around their middle, the culprits I see are alcohol and sugar. Tummy fat is not necessarily stubborn, but it takes commitment to smarter eating and exercise to flatten it.”

7 am A bit flat

On waking you might notice your tummy is much flatter. “Sometimes, what we think is stubborn belly fat is actually bloating,” says Professor Terry Bolin, gastroenterologist. Bloating is a build-up of gas in the tummy caused by swallowing air and the breakdown of food to gaseous forms, but anxiety, coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance also contribute, “bloating at the day’s end is a real concern for women,” says Prof Bolin. “They can appear three months’ pregnant. But overnight your body reabsorbs gas and it’s also expired through breath and flatus.”

7.15 am Tummy teaser

Kick start your flat-tummy day with two tablespoons of lemon juice in a glass of hot water. “Taken before meals it helps stimulate digestive enzymes and breaks down food,” says naturopath Victoria O’Sullivan.

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7.30 am Prebiotics for breakfast

A daily breakfast of wholegrain cereals has a significant prebiotic effect on the composition of gut flora, a UK study found. “Diet and antibiotics change gut microbiota with flow-on health effects,” says Associate Professor Andrew Holmes from the University of Sydney. “Probiotics and especially prebiotics and synbiotics [a combination of probiotics and prebiotics] help to manage the gut ecosystem.” Probiotics are live good bacteria, while prebiotics are carbohydrates that ferment in the colon and boost bowel function, explains dietician Caitlin Reid. Wholegrains, onions, garlic and honey all have prebiotic effects. “Synbiotics [found in some yoghurts] are probiotics and prebiotics working synergistically,” she says.

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8 am Tummy tightener

Before you leave for work, try this trick to strengthen your core throughout the day. “Actively shrink your waist circumference by engaging your core – tie a piece of string firmly around your waist at bellybutton level. Throughout the day, if you release your core muscles, the string will tighten and you’ll be alerted to reengage,” says Damien. “Engaged core muscles are nature’s corset – the tighter the muscle, the slimmer your waist,” he says. Core exercises include sitting on a Swiss ball or performing a plan. “But it’s still possible to slouch on a Swiss ball – you need to consciously lift your sternum away from your bellybutton, draw in the muscles and maintain good posture to engage your core.”

10.30 am The stress effect

Stress and hormones can affect the complex signals going from the brain to the gut, causing tummy spasm that make bloating worse. “Women are more likely to have a disturbance of this unconscious nervous system and it can be worse before menstruation,” says Prof Bolin. Avoid eating excessively when you are feeling the onset of stress, and if stress does take over, start to breathe slowly and deeply into your abdomen. Over-thecounter anti-spasmodics can also help soothe affected nerves and stomach muscles.

1 pm Lunch rules

1. Choose a lunch meal with fewer legumes

“Legumes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and asparagus contain the carbohydrate raffinose, which isn’t easily digested and causes gas. Limit the effects with smaller portions,” says Caitlin.

2. A grainy bread salad sandwich or wholemeal vegetable pasta is a good choice

“Many women mistakenly cut out bread, but grainy breads are good sources of fibre,” says Prof Bolin. He recommends grainy breads, wholemeal pasta, fruit and vegetables to give bulk to your bowel motion and prevent constipation, a key contributor to bloating.

3. Don’t multi-task at mealtimes

“Never eat while working at your desk,” says Victoria. “A stressful eating environment removes circulation from our gut, inhibiting digestion and causing bloating.”

6 pm Walk to a further MRT station

Just half an hour of cardio daily will help burn up tummy flab. “If you’re busy, do high-intensity interval training just for half an hour,” says Damien. “Got more time? Try low-intensity cardio for long periods, like a walk.”

Cardio intervals for a flat tummy

• 5-minute warm-up walk.

• 20 minutes: Walk 20 seconds then jog 20 seconds. Repeat.

• 5-minute cool-down walk.

7.30 pm Go low on fat and salt

Skip the creamy Indian curry takeaway and choose a dinner low in salt and fat. “Water is attracted to sodium in the body,” says Caitlin. “When you take in large amounts you’ll retain more fluid, which contributes to bloating.” While Caitlin concedes that some fat is important for health, “whether you’re eating good or bad fats, it contains the same amount of calories (9 kcal per gram), so don’t overdo it,” she warns. Even with good fat like avocado, Caitlin recommends consuming a quarter instead of a half. “When it comes to fat, controlling portions is essential.”

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9 pm Whittle your waistline

If you think 100 sit-ups before bed will flatten your tummy, think again. “If you can do 100 sit-ups, you’re not doing them right and it’s a waste of time,” says Damien. With minimal abdominal fat, quality sit-ups can give you six-pack definition, but they have little effect on your waist circumference.” He suggests doing three sets of a 30-second plank throughout the day.