The festive season is usually associated with lots of eating. Given the type of food consumed during this period, it should come as no surprise that people gain weight by the turn of the year. If you gained a little weight over the holiday season, here are some ways to lose the belly fat.
Don’t count the calories – count the sugars and carbohydrates
Consuming food high in sugars and carbohydrates (complex sugar) increases the blood glucose level in our bodies, resulting in a spike in insulin level as the body’s reflex reaction to regulate/maintain the glucose level in the blood. Insulin inhibits the breakdown of fat cells and stimulate the creation of body fat; insulin stops your body from burning its fat stores and instead, absorb some of the fatty acids and glucose in the blood stream and turn them into more body fat. In short, eating foods high in sugars and carbs will switch on fat-storing mode in your body, and you will find that it is almost impossible to get rid of the belly fat!
Cut down, as much as possible, the overly-sweet foods, sugary drinks, and carbohydrate-rich foods such as rice, bread, potatoes, beans, cereals, ‘whole-grains’, and the common snacks such as biscuits and energy drinks. Watch out for “hidden carbohydrates” too – many food items are marketed as ‘low sugar’ or ‘no sugar added’, but they may be loaded with carbohydrates, which are basically complex sugars that still increase the insulin level in the body. Check the Nutrition Facts label on food packaging just to be sure. Go for low glycemic-index (GI) foods. Low-sugar, low-GI food is the way to go.
Not only will the body burn fats more quickly and efficiently when you start counting the sugars and carbohydrates, a low-sugar diet also has numerous long-term health benefits! Diet and workout go hand-in-hand if you want to see and feel results fast.
Kick that after-dinner snack habit – recuperate and watch the belly disappear
Stop eating after dinner. No desserts (especially sugars), no supper, no midnight snacks. Allow your body system time to recuperate. If you are constantly eating, the body is constantly trying to digest the food you consume, and there is not much time for your body system to rest. In the same way that our muscles and bodies recover from plenty of rest, wouldn’t it hold that our digestive system would benefit from an occasional break from food? Typically, 16 hours of no food intake (also known as fasting), and an 8-hour compressed eating window when you can simply eat however much you want (but avoid sugars!) is ideal. It is not about how much, but how often you eat. This type of diet is called intermittent fasting. Do not confuse this with starving yourself.
Intermittent fasting has many benefits, which includes:
- Promoting human growth hormone production, which helps your body burn fat, build muscles, and slow down the ageing process.
- Regulating ghrelin levels, also known as “hunger hormone”.
- Normalising insulin sensitivity, which prevents chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
Basically, the longer you stop eating (after dinner till first meal on the next day), the more benefits you reap from giving your digestive system a break. If you can only do a 12-hour fast (e.g. 9pm-9am), that is already a big step from the bad eating habits at night. If you need to curb your late-night cravings, try drinking 1-2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in a cup of water after dinner. Apple cider vinegar also comes with several health and fat-loss benefits!
That said, I understand that the festive season is all about desserts, so you can have them, but in moderation!
Resistance (weights) training – more muscles, higher metabolic rate
Resistance or weights training is pretty straight-forward – the main goal is to increase muscle mass and overload capacity. Many ladies steer away from resistance training due to the misconception that resistance training will result in “bulking up” or getting too big in body size. The truth is, females do not have the same amount of testosterone males have, a hormone that is essential to getting those huge, bulky muscles. “Bulking up” is the least of our worries!
Muscles boost metabolic rate, which is the number of calories your body burns by itself in a day with minimal activity. Hence, the more muscles you have in your body, the more fats you burn in a day! That also means it’s not just going to be ‘losing fats’, but getting a better-toned body. Time to move some weights, ladies, because they aren’t going to move themselves!
HIIT – time-efficient, fat-melting
HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training could be one of the most efficient and effective ways to burn fats. The gist to HIIT is that you exert maximum effort in short, intense bursts of exercise followed by short recovery periods. These intervals get your heart pumping and burn more fats and calories in less time (and more effectively) than regular slow-and-long cardio exercises. Benefits of HIIT includes (but not limited to):
- Time-efficiency; you can get your workout of the day done with a 10-minute HIIT!
- Increases post-exercise energy expenditure; after a HIIT workout, your body will continue to burn more calories than it would after a lower impact and longer duration exercise such as jogging.
- Improves insulin sensitivity, which helps boost fat loss.
- A study from the Journal of Obesity noted that HIIT may be a key role in decreasing abdominal fat stores – that visceral fat that surrounds the organs in your stomach, the area so many of us struggle to lose weight around.
No one can spot-reduce their way to flat abs overnight, but it is possible to burn more fat more efficiently by incorporating HIIT. One of the HIIT methods is Tabata, which consists of 20 seconds of high-intensity/all-out effort on an exercise, followed by 10 seconds of recovery time, for eight cycles in a row. Although ‘high intensity’ may sound intimidating, HIIT is good for all levels, including beginners, with proper knowledge/guidance.
HIIT is also a good choice of workout before you head out for your festive parties. The short time frame required for each session is ideal if you’ve been out all day and have some time to yourself before heading out for the next soiree.
Pick up a new activity – learn while you burn!
While trying to lose that belly fat, why not consider picking up some skills or techniques along the way? Be it improvement in your agility, speed, mobility, power, and flexibility with more functional training style fitness classes, or trying out a new activity such as BJJ or Muay Thai, you will be sure to enjoy working to burn off the fats and be back for more!
If you get to take away skills and techniques while shedding off fats at the same time, why not?
Fitness get-togethers – group motivation
Intrinsic (self-) motivation to exercise usually begins strong, then decreases or plateaus after some time. Know some friends who are also trying to lose that belly fat? Arrange a fitness get-together with them for a simple run, or join group fitness classes to meet like-minded people, who are also motivated to achieve a healthy body, and you will be surprised how much group motivation will help you throughout your journey! The fast-approaching New Year’s Day is an excellent period to start, with New Year’s Resolutions and such.
Seek guidance – see and feel results quicker with proper guidance/instructions at a safe environment
Everyone knows that to burn calories, you have to exercise. To lose fats, your calorie output has to be greater than your calorie input. But have you ever felt like you have tried, but did not see any results? Consider speeding up that process with actual guidance on the different training methods, what kind of response your body will have to those methods, which training style works best for your body type, and what kind of diet to go on along with your fitness regime. Seeking guidance at a safe training environment will definitely give you that boost, as well as ensure minimal risk of injuries from improper posture/form when performing certain exercises on your own.
Consistency is key – It’s a lifestyle
To see AND feel the fats melt away, as well as the progressions and improvements your body will achieve, it takes effort AND consistency. No one can wake up one day after a couple of workout sessions and find a flat tummy right away. Keep your workout sessions consistent - keep up a regular exercise schedule of 2-3 times a week – and you will start noticing the positive impact that regular exercise has on your body.
The idea of losing that belly fat is a short-term goal. Maintaining a healthy body is a long-term decision. Make exercising and healthy eating a lifestyle; work out not just to lose weight, but also for its long-term health benefits and maintaining a healthy body image. What comes easy won’t last, what lasts won’t come easy!
The contributor is a fitness instructor at Fitness and Martial Arts (FaMA)