If you're looking to shrink and tone your belly, there's a better way to do it than trying to do crunches. In fact, research has shown that doing abdominal exercises alone—even when performed five days a week for six weeks—has no effect at all on subcutaneous fat stores and abdominal circumferencei.
In an op-ed piece for Forbes Magazine, Jennifer Cohen suggests using strategies that burn up cortisol insteadii.Cortisol is a hormone in your body that depletes lean muscle and holds on to fat in the abdominal region.
One of the most important ways to help this process is to reduce stress in your life, because stress causes cortisol levels to spike. Cohen also delves into a number of other strategies that help reduce your cortisol levels, such as the following. To learn more, please see the featured Forbes article:
Getting enough sleepReducing or eliminatingrefined sugars from your dietSlowing down your breathing
Doing short bursts of exercise (high-intensity interval training)Supplementing with vitamin CEating fats―the good kinds such as the omega 3's found in salmon, avocados and walnuts

The KEY Strategy for Reducing Belly Fat

Cohen certainly brings up some good points. Getting sufficient amounts of sleep, for example, not only helps normalize cortisol levels, it's also important in order to optimize your circadian clock, which can have a profound impact on your metabolism and weight. As an example, a couple of years ago researchers at the University of Chicago found that dieters who slept for 8.5 hours lost 55 percent more body fat over the course of two weeks than dieters who only got 5.5 hours of sleep a night.iii
But the master key really lies with your diet, followed closely by the type of exercise you engage in.
About 80 percent of your ability to reduce excess body fat is determined by what you eat, with the other 20 percent related to exercise and other healthy lifestyle habits such as sleep and stress reduction. What this means is that if your diet is based on sugar/fructose and processed junk food, your chances of getting flat, ripped abs, even if you work out religiously, are quite slim...
You simply will not see defined abs unless you reduce your overall body fat, and a poor diet cause your body to hold on to excess fat, despite all your exercise efforts. Cohen mentions two of the most important dietary factors in her article, namely:
  • Reducing or eliminating sugar from your diet. This includes ALL forms of sugar and fructose, whether refined or "all-natural" such as agave or honey, as well as all grains (including organic ones), as they quickly break down to sugar in your body
  • Increasing healthful fats in your diet, such as healthy saturated fats and animal-based omega-3's
One of the most pernicious dietary influences on your weight loss goals is fructose, which hides in so many processed foods and beverages, it can be near impossible to avoid unless you alter your shopping and cooking habits. By avoiding processed foods in general, and focusing instead on whole, preferably locally grown organic foods, cooked at home, you can circumvent one of the greatest dietary obstacles there is today.
For more details, I suggest you review my Optimized Nutrition Plan, which is a comprehensive and step-by-step guide to help you make health-promoting food- and lifestyle choices. This includes:
Limit your fructose to less than 25 grams per day, and, ideally to less than 15 grams per day, as you're likely consuming 'hidden' fructose if you eat processed foods or sweetened beveragesLimit or eliminate allprocessed foodsEliminate all gluten, and highly allergenic foods from your diet
Increase the amount of fresh vegetables in your diet, and consider juicingEat at least one-third of your food uncooked (raw), or as much as you can manageAvoid artificial sweeteners of all kinds

The Primary, and the Most Surprising, Dietary Offenders

Fructose, primarily in the form of high fructose corn syrup hidden in processed foods and beverages is the primary contributing factor to widespread and seemingly out-of-control obesity. The top offenders in this category include:
Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers, and granola bars)Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks
BreadsJuice drinks and fruit punches
Breakfast cerealsFast food and pre-packaged dinners
Prepackaged, processed lunchesCoffee drinks
There are also a number of foods that are typically considered healthy that you might not suspect would contribute to your weight problem. But while considered "healthy" by the mainstream, these foods are actually loaded with sugar and/or fructose:
YogurtCondiments, sauces, and salad dressings
High-fructose fruits: apples, pears, grapes, watermelon, persimmon, and mango"Diet" foods and snacks
Dried fruits: raisins, figs, apricotsInfant formula
Enhanced waters (such as VitaminWater)Jarred baby foods and teething biscuits

What's the Best Fat-Busting Exercise?

Once you've addressed your diet, exercise can truly begin to work its magic on your physique, and help boost fat loss even further. The trick to achieve flat abs is to incorporate the correct types of exercises.
High-intensity interval exercises are at the core of my Peak Fitness routine. This short intense training protocol improves muscle energy utilization and expenditure due to its positive effects on increasing muscle mass and improving muscle fiber quality. Muscle tissue burns three to five times more energy than fat tissues, so as you gain muscle, your metabolic rate increases, which allows you to burn more calories, even when you're sleeping. Further, several studies have confirmed that exercising in shorter bursts with rest periods in between burns more fat than exercising continuously for an entire session.
In fact, you can actually lose more weight by reducing the amount of time you spend on exercise, because when doing high-intensity interval training you only need 20 minutes, two to three times a week. Any more and you'll overdo it! You can get the details on how to properly perform these exercises in the video below.

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