10 ways to a flatter tummy

woman with hand on flat stomach

Tackle your stress levels

If you’re an apple shape, rather than a pear, gathering weight on your middle instead of your bottom, you may already know this can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. But your pot belly may actually be a reaction to stress. ‘Under pressure, we produce the stress hormone cortisol – our time-old way of preparing for fight or flight,’ says Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of 'Fat Around The Middle' (Kyle Cathie, £9.99). ‘If we don’t use the extra burst of energy it gives us, the fat and glucose released has nowhere to go and is redeposited as fat on the tummy, where the body stores its emergency fight-or-flight supplies.’ Make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins by taking a supplement, such as Vitaberry (£17.95 for 60 tablets from Boots and Tesco), to help you cope with stress – and look at ways to reduce your workload. 

Know your hormones

‘If you’re approaching menopause, your body will be extra reluctant to let go of the fat around your middle, as it needs fat to manufacture oestrogen (which is dwindling at this time in your life), to protect your bones against osteoporosis,’ says Dr Glenville. Understanding your enemy is the first step to beating it, so use the diet and exercise tips below to help you win the battle, and visit marilynglenville.com for further advice.

Read more on your hormones and the peri-menopause


Check your cycle

If you’re not yet menopausal, your tummy bulge could be a symptom of Type H PMS, which causes bloating, weight gain and breast tenderness due to fluid retention. Some women even need a larger dress size for this time of the month. Keep track of your tummy size in a diary to see how it coincides with your menstrual cycle. If you can establish it as a definite PMS symptom, herbs can tackle the problem. If you’re not using the Pill or any other hormonal medicines, it’s safe to use Agnus Castus Plus (£15.97 for 60 tablets from naturalhealthpractice.com or 0845 880 0915), which acts on the pituitary gland to balance hormone levels. Alternatively, Femal (£9.99 for 30 tablets from Boots, Lloyds and health stores) is a non-hormonal solution with powerful antioxidant action. In a study, it reduced premenstrual weight gain and bloating by 50 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. It also relieves menopausal symptoms.

Read more about PMS

Look at your diet

‘By the way you eat, you could be subconsciously telling your body that it’s under stress,’ advises Dr Glenville. ‘For example, if you’re cutting calories to lose weight, your body will panic and think there’s a famine going on. To “save your life”, it will slow down your metabolism and hold onto fat. Eat healthily, but don’t crash-diet. Even when you want to lose weight, keep to at least 1,500 calories a day.’

Be kind to your tummy

Another common cause of bloating is food intolerance. The most common culprits are milk, yeast and wheat. You can test yourself for trigger foods (visityorktest.com) or try a food intolerance diet, such as the Stone Age diet. This requires you to stick to the foods eaten by primitive man, such as fresh meat, fish and vegetables, and cut out processed foods. For a full list of foods allowed, visit drmyhill.co.uk. Stick to the diet for a month before reintroducing foods to discover which foods you have an intolerance for.

Ditch waist saboteurs

Avoid salty and sugary foods, and don’t add salt or sugar to your cooking. Sugary foods (including high-glycaemic index foods, such as white bread, pizza and baked potatoes) can trigger blood-sugar fluctuations, which cause your body to release more of the stress hormones that encourage tummy fat. Salt is a problem because it encourages fluid retention and bloating. If you have something salty, counter it by drinking extra water to flush it out.

Follow a tummy-flattening regime

A study at the University of Minnesota found that people who ate the most fruit and vegetables and other fibre-rich foods lost two to three pounds more per month than those on low-fibre diets. Add in more calcium for bone health, too. Making sure you get your recommended 1200mg of calcium daily (from nuts, greens and dairy) has also been found to kick-start the body’s fat-burning engines.

Speed yourself up

Cardiovascular exercises will help you burn off fat. Tummy fat will be the first to come off because this is where your body stores its emergency fuel supplies. You’ll lose it from the top of your tum first, then lower down, and then your back. ‘Start off with a daily 40-minute walk to lose half a pound of fat in a week,’ says Joslyn Thompson, personal trainer at One Personal Training (onepersonaltraining.com, 020 7929 4256). ‘Then introduce one minute of light jogging every four minutes.’

Read more on exercise for a flatter stomach

Build up your muscle mass

The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn, as muscle is metabolically active and needs energy to keep it alive. As we hit middle age, we tend to trade up to one pound of muscle for two pounds of fat every year, but you can reverse this with the right exercises. Work on your tummy muscles first, as a step towards that washboard stomach. Lie back on an exercise ball with your feet flat on the floor and your hands behind your head, and crunch your rib cage towards your pelvis. Pause for a second, then slowly lower. Repeat 12 times.

Hold it all in

‘Poor posture causes the tummy to flop out, and correcting it can be instantly slimming,’ says Joslyn Thompson. ‘Keep your shoulders relaxed and your chest open, tuck your tailbone under and your tummy in, so that your pelvis is neutral – imagine it’s a bowl of water that you are trying to keep level. You will look half a stone lighter in seconds and up to an inch taller.’ Yoga, Pilates and the Alexander Technique are all great aids to perfect posture. Alternatively, invest in a pair of posture-correcting shoes, such as Earth Shoes (priced from £79, visit lovethoseshoes.com or call 0161 975 5380), which encourage you to take the perfect yoga ‘mountain pose’. They will also help you to lose weight and improve your muscle tone.

Read more on the importance of good posture

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