You’ve had Kids
Your abdominal muscles are stretched to the max during childbirth, and no matter how many sit-ups you do it will never be quite as taut as before. Also, it’s predicted that one in three mums experience some degree of bladder-control difficulties, and the two poorly toned areas together leave you with a pouch belly that dieting alone can’t fix. But exercise on a stability ball can work wonders. Research shows the ‘unstable’ position it puts your body in dramatically increases the activation of your core (deep abdominal) muscles that are responsible for your tummy’s flatness.
If you’re Stressed
As if fretting wasn’t bad enough, the hormone it produces (cortisol) can also result in a thickening middle. ‘The reason fat targets the middle is because it’s close to the liver where it can most quickly be converted back into energy, if there’s another stress attack,’ explains Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Fat round the Middle (Kyle Cathie). ‘While these days the threats our body perceives may be more about struggling with bond rates than fighting a woolly mammoth, it protects itself in the same way.’
Getting more sleep, delegating jobs and making more me-time will help to decrease your anxiety levels, lessening the cortisol response and making it less likely that excess fat heads for your tum.
Your sit-ups are all Wrong
It’s great that you’re exercising. But if you’re doing sit-ups the ‘old’ way, where you hook your feet under a bar, then pull yourself up into a sitting position, you’re not doing yourself any favors. This type of sit-up is ineffective and puts a strain on your back, so your stomach won’t sit flat.
You could also get a pouch, as you’re only exercising the muscles running up and down your tum – not those which run across,’ says fitness expert Christina Neal. Instead, try controlled stomach curls, or put your feet up on a Pilates ball to make sure all the work is being done by your stomach muscles, not your legs or back. Curl up slowly and keep control as you move back down to the floor.
Your love of White Toast
How many of us started buying white bread when our kids were young and forgot to ever switch back to the wholegrain variety? That’s a bad move when it comes to stomach size – a recent scientific review by nutritionist Dr Janice Harland found that people who eat higher quantities of wholegrain tend to have trimmer stomachs. ‘In the populations we looked at, waist circumference was reduced by up to 2,7cm with a high intake of wholegrains,’ says Dr Harland. This is probably because they keep you fuller for longer, so you’re less inclined to snack. As well as wholemeal bread, look for cereals that contain whole-grain, and eat more wholemeal pasta and porridge oats. Aim for a portion with every meal.
You’ve cut out or down on Dairy
Only a small percentage of adults are truly allergic to milk. If you think you have a problem, get it confirmed by your GP, rather than cutting it out on a whim. Too many of us stop consuming dairy products unnecessarily, when studies show they can actually help us shift the flab. One theory is that the calcium in milk helps the body to break down body fat more efficiently, and another is it increases the amount of fat which passes through the digestive tract unabsorbed. Study after study has found that women who consume dairy as part of a calorie-controlled diet lose more weight than women who avoid it, and the fat they lose is primarily from the waist area.
The perimenopause (or menopause transition) is a stage before menopause when your body gradually starts to produce less oestrogen. It usually starts in your 40s, but can begin earlier. Oestrogen is associated with hourglass curves, and when levels start to drop in your body, you’re more likely to expand around your waistline. Unfortunately, this is a hard one to fight (remember the term ‘middle-age spread’?), but you can minimize the effect by eating healthily and exercising regularly.