“Shrink Your Belly!” “Amazing Abs” “Flat Abs”
“Hard Abs Made Easy ”
Americans are Ab-sessessed!
Surveys show that at last two-thirds of us say that our abs are the body part that we want to improve most. That’s why every month, most magazines will have something about abs on the cover. There are 162 million Google hits for “Six Pack,” and more than 500 million results when you search “ab articles.” Oodles of books, websites and blogs are devoted entirely to our Abspirations.
But 99% of the articles and diet books designed to help you banish your belly aren’t giving you the full truth. Instead, they highlight ways to strengthen your abdominal muscles with various exercises. However, you can have strong muscles but you still can’t see them because they’ll be hidden under a generous layer of subcutaneous fat. You can do crunches, planks, V-sits and other ab exercises for hours daily and you won’t burn enough calories to put a dent in the blanket of fat that’s covered your midsection muscles.
The only way to get visible abs is to reduce your overall body fat. When you do that, you’ll start to see the muscles that comprise your core. The only way to lose body fat is generally by going on a diet. Combining a diet with exercise will help you lose fat faster while retaining more muscle mass. There’s no surprise why athletes have amazing abs: most have a low percent body fat and have a lot of muscle mass.
The average percent body fat of a woman in the US is more than 30 percent body fat. Research shows that abs don’t become visible until most women are at 17-18 percent body fat. That’s why focusing on losing body fat is the only way to get to peek at your midsection muscles.
Women in the images on this blog are probably around 12-16 percent body fat as they are top Olympic track and field or CrossFit athletes. Achieving a lower body fat requires more attention to diet than exercise. Since we’re all required to have a certain amount of essential fat to maintain our core temperature, healthy hormone levels and to help cushion our organs, women should not strive to go any lower than 12 percent body fat.
For men, ab definition becomes visible at around 10-11% body fat. Men require essential fat levels of about 3-5 percent.
If you cannot see your abs, that’s okay and doesn’t necessarily mean that your abs are weak, you’re unfit or that you have too much body fat. I have a healthy body fat and have never been able to see any “packs” whatsoever and my body fat is always between 18-20 percent.
But if your goal is to see those amazing abs, you’ll have to diet to lose body fat and focus on exercise that help you burn lots of calories and keep your metabolism high. Running, swimming, cycling, CrossFit area all great for burning calories then strength train with squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, and other exercises that engage your major muscle groups. Also make sure that you exercise with some intensity to also rev up your metabolic rate.
Amazing Abs Diet
While there are numerous diet books that claim to help you melt away belly fat, there’s nothing that we can eat or drink that “melts” fat. The good news, however, is that when you lose weight, fat is lost from all over the body and belly fat is one area where it’s readily mobilized. Some studies have found that while on a weight loss program, there are things you can do that may help the body shed more belly fat.
They include eating a diet that is low in added sugars, fried foods, saturated fat and trans fats. In addition, some research suggests that stress hormones may make us more likely to store extra calories as belly fat so yoga, meditation or other ways to combat stress may help you whittle your middle.
Follow the advice in our daily nutrition articles and especially those in the “Lose It” category.
–Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD