- Failure to get a flat stomach could be nothing to do with diet
- From gum to having bad gut bacteria, Dr Marilyn Glenville shares the ways
- Also includes rushing your food and not drinking enough water
They’re something we all yearn for but washboard abs are also something many of us struggle to achieve.
We all know that ditching carbs and alcohol can help shift the weight around our middle but did you know there’s plenty of other reasons you may be struggling to get a flat stomach that don’t have anything to do with the food that passes your lips?
From chewing gum to having bad gut bacteria, Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Fat Around The Middle (marilynglenville.com), shares the bizarre ways you’re dashing your chances of getting those dream abs without even noticing.
Munching on a piece of minty fresh gum makes you swallow air too much air, which gets trapped in your digestive system causing pressure, bloating and gas. The same thing can happen if you gulp air when snacking on the run, eating too quickly, talking while eating or drinking from a straw.
Rushing your food
It is often easy to eat too quickly or on the run especially breakfast and/or lunch if time is short but it can cause bloating. If you eat on the run your body is feeling stressed because you are rushing.
The stress response was designed to enable you to either run or fight for your life, during which time digestion of food was unlikely, the natural flow of energy is diverted away from your digestive system to your extremities to give you the energy to run or fight.
Your body literally shuts down your digestive function and food stagnates and ferments, making you feel bloated and often giving you gas.
Stress hormone cortisol
The main reason some people gather more fat around their middle than others is specifically because of the action of the stress hormone cortisol.
Millions of years ago, our bodies were designed to react quickly to danger. Like wild animals we were on constant alert so we could run or fight if threatened. When your brain thinks your life is in danger it stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol.
This fight or flight response is incredibly clever and thoroughly efficient. It provides instant energy for 5-10 minutes allowing you to react swiftly to dangerous situations.
These days, many of us live under chronic stress. But our bodies can’t distinguish between late trains, missed appointments, spiralling debt, infuriating work colleagues, family disputes and the truly life-threatening stress it gears up to challenge. So it reacts exactly the same as it’s always done.
If you have a high salt intake, you could be carrying around an extra 1.8kg (4lb) in excess weight due to water retention
The problem with many modern lifestyles is that stress (our ‘perceived threat’) is almost continuous and comes without the natural release that either fighting or fleeing might provide. Unless you do something physical (as your body is expecting you to) all that extra energy, in the form of fat and glucose, has nowhere to go. It must be simply re-deposited as fat. If you don’t fight or flee when your body expects you to, the fat and glucose swimming around your system get deposited as fat – around the middle of your body.
And if you eat something sugary or fatty as a consequence of the post-stress appetite surge, any weight you gain as a result, will be around your middle too. The reason fat targets the middle is because it is close to the liver where it can most quickly be converted back into energy if needed. There it provides the body with protection ready for the next stress attack.
Lack of sleep
People who are sleep deprived have an increased appetite. Inadequate sleep lowers levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and increases grehlin, a hormone that increases food intake and is thought to play a role in long-term regulation of body weight. All this suggests that sleep deprivation can make weight loss extremely difficult because it causes your body to work against you!
Keep a regular sleep routine, include 30 minutes of exercise in your day, avoid all stimulants in the evening (including chocolate, coffee, tea), avoid bright light around the house before bed, have a relaxing bath and keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool.
Munching on a piece of minty fresh gum makes you swallow air too much air, which gets trapped in your digestive system causing pressure, bloating and gas
Bad gut bacteria
Our stomach is made up of good and bad bacteria, called gut flora, which has a controlling influence over many important body functions, including metabolism and fat reduction. However, our lifestyle habits can often damage our gut bacteria. These factors include taking antibiotics, a diet high in sugar, stress and alcohol. Try to eliminate these to help with fat reduction.
Water retention from periods
Water retention is a problem for many women and it is often worse just before a period. Don’t be tempted to limit your intake of fluids, which can actually cause bloating. Your body will think it needs to conserve water, which exacerbates the problem. Water is a natural diuretic and it should be drunk as frequently as possible, particularly when you are retaining water.
Too much salt
Table salt is sodium chloride and sodium is a mineral that affects your body’s ability to balance water retention. Another mineral, potassium, works with sodium to regulate water balance and normalise heart rhythm. The more sodium you consume, the more potassium you need to counteract this effect.
If you have a high salt intake, you could be carrying around an extra 1.8kg (4lb) in excess weight due to water retention. Water retention can be caused by not drinking enough water and also too much salt but it can also be caused by the same blood sugar swings that trigger many of the pre-menstrual symptoms.
How to test your waist to hip ratio
For the purposes of measuring fat around the middle, BMI (body mass index) isn’t the best test. The best test is the difference in size between your hips and your waist (your ‘hip to waist ratio’). This is the true measure of fat around the middle and the best indicator of whether or not you are going to be vulnerable to all the health risks associated with it.
Just get a tape measure and compare your waist measurement (at the narrowest point) with your hip measurement (at the widest point). Divide your hip figure by your waist figure to get what is known as your waist–hip ratio.
For example: 86cm (34in) waist divided by 94cm (37in) hip = 0.9
If your calculation gives a figure greater than 0.8 you are officially apple shaped and you need to take action. For men the danger zone is above 0.95.
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