One of the most common questions I get asked by people (usually other mamas) is how do I lose the little pooch on my lower stomach area? What exercises will work best to get rid of it?
Unfortunately, the answer usually isn’t a new fancy exercise technique, or thousands of crunches. The answer comes down to your nutrition. If you would have told me this a few years ago, I might not have believed you, or rather, I might not have understood what you meant, so I wanted to write a post trying to explain. Please note, I am not a nutritionist or a personal trainer, these are just my thoughts from my own experiences and research.
I have been a long distance runner for most of my life. Training for marathons, I was always able to get skinny with a ton of running but was never really able to get that nice toned look I always wanted. I ate what I considered to be healthy, but never really paid that much attention to the types of food I was eating. I was more concerned about number of calories burned in my workouts.
When I did Jamie Eason’s LiveFit trainer in 2011 I learned so much about proper training, but more importantly, proper nutrition. It taught me the fundamentals of the way I structure my nutrition (and our family’s nutrition) now. Once I started being consistent with my meals on a daily basis I started to notice my stomach getting a lot flatter and that lower pooch area started to go away because I was losing body fat overall. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Abs are made in the kitchen”? For me, this was very true! Once I changed the way I ate, and was consistent with my nutrition (including weekends), my abs started to pop out.
Due to genetics, some of us are more prone to gain in certain areas of our bodies. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way we can spot reduce and just focus on one particular area to lose fat. I wish we could! I would wave that magic wand right at the fat on my thighs and bum :) For me, that is always the first place I gain and the last place I lose. A lot of women tend to gain from the “outside in” (arms and legs first) and a lot of men tend to gain from the “inside out” (belly area first). Instead we just need to focus on losing body weight overall and the best way to do that is to be consistent with your diet.
Here are my top five tips for structuring your nutrition for weight loss:
1: Eat 4-6 smaller meals each day. The are no evidence based studies showing that your body burns fat faster when you do this, but for me, when I eat every 3-4 hours it keeps my blood sugar levels consistent and then I don’t have the big sugar cravings and fall off track. Click HERE to see some sample meal plans of a typical day’s worth of meals for me. Keeping pre-packaged and processed foods out of the house really helps me stay on track too plus it saves us money. You want to focus on eating whole foods in all your meals.
2: Include lean protein in each of your meals. Tosca Reno (author of the Eat Clean Diet books which I highly recommend!) has a great shopping list that you can use as a guide for the types of lean protein sources to look for. You don’t have to eat chicken breast and egg whites for all your meals! I mix things up all the time so I don’t get bored with the food I am eating. Click HERE to print a copy of Tosca’s awesome grocery list.
3: Drink a lot of water and eat a lot of green veggies. You might read this and think, “well duh!” but I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Water helps your body flush extra toxins from your body and I can tell a big difference each morning in my abs if I drank enough water the day before or if I didn’t. If you have a hard time getting your green veggies in, try my Frozen Spinach Cup tip. This is how I get my 3-year old to eat spinach and he doesn’t even know he’s eating it! I do this with all my protein shakes.
4. Watch your daily grams of sugar. This is a huge one for me. Before I started paying attention to this my sugar intake was upwards of 120g per day! When my daily sugar intake is low, I really start to notice a lot of changes in my stomach. When I am really trying to lean down or lose weight I will aim to keep my grams of sugar at 35g per day or no more than 6-7g per meal. This can be kind of hard to do when you are eating fruit, so if I end up around 40-45g I don’t stress too bad but I try to keep 35g my goal when trying to lean down.
5: Track your food. When I first changed my eating habits I started tracking everything in the Myfitnesspal app on my iPhone. It was a huge eye opener for me and made me realize I wasn’t getting near enough protein, was eating way too much sugar, and actually wasn’t eating enough calories. I don’t think it’s realistic to track 100% of your food all the time because that will drive you crazy and make you obsessed with the numbers. But, when you are first starting I think it’s a good idea to track for 5-7 days and then once you feel like you have a good feel for the types of foods you regularly eat, just occasionally track your food to make sure you are still on track. I typically aim to do a 40/40/20 split meaning I try to get about 40% of my calories from carbs, 40% of my calories from protein, and 20% of my calories from healthy fats.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t happen overnight. For me, after 4 weeks of changing my nutrition I could tell a difference but I don’t think others really could tell. After about 8 weeks all my clothes were starting to fit better, and after 12 weeks I started getting comments from other people. I want to point this out because you will have a lot of times where you might wonder if what you are doing really makes a difference or is really working. You may not see changes on the scale right away (tip: ditch the scale. Go by how your clothes fit instead). You may feel a little bloated when you first start eating more vegetables. But, what I always try to tell myself when I start to get discouraged is that it’s a combination of all the small decisions that make a big difference in the end.