If you’re like most women, there’s just one thing coming between you and that new bathing suit. (OK, two things if you count the price tag.) It’s belly fat. Almost every woman over 30 deals with it, especially after 40 when perimenopause often begins.
Here at MyLifeStages, we hear from many women who exercise regularly, eat well and still can’t seem to lose the belly fat. The bad news is that it’s not easy and requires a focused effort. The good news is that it’s possible.
Belly fat, more than any other kind, responds effectively to diet and exercise. Steady, long-term discipline pays off, and the dangerous visceral fat (that deep fat around your organs) is the first to go. But that can still be a tough sell to those who’ve been trying to lose belly fat to no avail.
“This is not a quick fix, it’s a lifelong process,” says Quenby Rubin-Sprague, a registered dietitian. “As you age, you need to exercise more and eat less. That’s completely it.”
With that in mind, we’ve asked Rubin-Sprague and our weight management experts to give us their top belly-fat-busting tips to help you succeed:
#1 - Monitor Your Calories
Ideally, women should be consuming about 1,400-1,600 calories, broken up into three, smaller meals and healthy snacks in between, so the body doesn’t have a chance to get depleted. However, most women are surprised to learn that they eat more than they realize or are consuming the wrong kinds of calories. (See our weight management expert’s tips for calculating healthy caloric intake.) Then, download this simple food log to chart what you eat for at least a week.
#2 - Eat Regularly
Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast. Plan your snacks around complex carbohydrates and lean protein, perhaps a whole grain bagel with almond butter or a piece of fruit with some reduced fat cheese. And how about that before-bed snack? See these suggestions for healthy night-time snacks or try a small bowl of whole grain cereal with milk. “Just stick to the serving size on the box,” says Rubin-Sprague. “One serving does not mean the whole bowl.”
#3 - Drink Plenty of Water
Sometimes the stomach sends the message “hungry” when it really means “thirsty.” Water can satisfy those cravings and keep our bodies functioning at top speed.
#4 - Move Throughout Your Day
Studies show that desk jobs and long commutes are not only contributing to weight gain but can even shorten our lives. When you are sitting, calorie burning slows to 1 calorie per minute. The best way to boost your metabolism and avoid the dangers of sitting is to get up and move at regular intervals throughout your day, preferably once every hour. (Some members of our MyLifeStages team even used our short Lazy Girl Workout as a quick boost mid-day at the office.)
#5 - Exercise Regularly and With Intensity
Shoot for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. If you can have a conversation while you’re exercising, you need to increase the pace. Women should also incorporate twice weekly strength training.
“The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn,” says Rubin-Sprague. “That’s why we love them!”
#6 - Don’t Rely on Spot Reduction
And how about stomach crunches or other forms of exercise, like Pilates or yoga, known to isolate the stomach muscles? Sure, those can help strengthen and stretch muscles, but don’t expect them to impact the size of your belly. “You cannot spot reduce. That’s a common misconception,” says Rubin-Sprague. “It’s aerobic activity, combined with fewer calories, that will help your belly fat go away.”
#7 - Sleep
Sleep may be your biggest weapon yet. Restorative sleep can help to minimize the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to increased belly fat. When you sleep well, you also have more energy to exercise, and more mind control to prevent bad eating habits. In fact, researchers at University of ColoradoOpens new window have found that people gain weight within a week of poor sleep, largely due to the extra calories and poor choices they make when sleep deprived. The study found that the less people slept, the more they reached for carb-rich foods.
#8 - Put Yourself First
Of course, the one non-negotiable in this program is that it takes commitment. And, it takes commitment at the very time that mid-life women are most committed to other things, from their marriage and family to career, volunteer activities and, possibly, caring for aging parents. Who has the time or money to exercise or create healthy meals? You may not have a choice, say the experts.
“The reality is, we will spend time and money on our health either way,” says Rubin-Sprague. “Your choice is whether you are proactive about that, with exercise, massage, good eating; or reactive, spending time and money in emergency room, taking pills or visiting the cardiologist.”
Given those choices, chicken stir fry and a brisk walk begin to sound doable, even pleasant. And that new swimsuit seems a bit less expensive – compared to liposuction or heart surgery. So go ahead, get moving now, and let the swimsuit season arrive in style this year.
Print up this food log and track what you eat for one week.