middle aged woman baffled by belly fat

How Do I Lose My Stomach Fat?

Answered by wlr Personal Trainer Carla van Traa REPS L4

Fat stored in and around the belly can be the most stubborn, especially when you get into middle age and beyond. Here’s my advice and exercise tips for 3 questions related to this issue.

1) How do I Get My Tummy In Control Without Situps?

Question from wlr member

I have just started to lose weight and have quite a way to go but feel that instead of just walking and very slow jogging I should be toning as well.

I need to get my tummy in control, that is my main worry.

The problem is that I have a dodgy knee and back so cannot lay on the floor as I's never get up again, is there anything I can do whilst standing or sitting down please?

Carla’s Answer

There are some exercises that can be done standing with no direct bending involved for your back.

The starting one would be to learn to engage your TA (transverse abdominis) - a large supporting muscle around your midriff.

transverse abdominis muscle on 3d skeleton
Transverse abdominis muscle (TA)

Your TA acts like a giant corset to hold you upright and yet able to move.

Try this upright exercise

  • Start with good posture: stand tall but with no feeling of arching your back
  • Chin lifted so the back of your head is roughly in line with back of shoulders, (avoid the dreaded looking at your phone stance)
  • Weight should be evenly distributed between both legs and through feet 
  • Subtly draw your belly button in towards your spine. If you find yourself holding your breath you've pulled in far too much
  • Then imagine someone with cold hands on your waist and draw that in, keep breathing, hold for 10 seconds and release – repeat

Think of the action like a dimmer switch rather than an on /off switch

This exercise can also be performed laying on your back, knees bent spine in neutral, or laying on your side, hips stacked (no being on your comfy bum cheek), even face down (use pillow to support forehead so face is to the floor – not turned to the side).

Two more simple exercises

1. Practice standing in one leg, your electric toothbrush will probably have a timer per zone so could change legs, or when your waiting for the kettle to boil etc.

2. Also try moving from sit to stand. Start with one foot slightly in front of the other, no hands to help, exhale as you move to standing and sit down again with control.

Waist, back and stomach workout

The video below is for a waist, back and stomach workout using a resistance band. You don’t need a band, you could mimic the movements or use a hand weight instead.

The workout above is great for introducing ranges of movement and therefore using muscles we don't use much. It can be done seated on a kitchen chair etc.

Wall press ups and chair squats are great, using the stairs as a stepper is another option - change the leading leg every 8- 10 steps though - great for balance too.

2) What's the Best Way to Lose Belly Fat After Menopause?

Question from wlr member Hollyberry

I am trying to find out the best way to lose belly fat for someone who is postmenopause and aged 55. Really, I am asking how do I burn fat and build the lean muscle that is needed?

It is also a case of trying to use weights to my advantage also for bone health at my age and I am not sure how to make a fitness plan for myself?

I have a cross trainer and some Jillian Michaels dvds and couple of Davina dvds, plus some had weights but no idea which way to do what???

Age 55 need to lose 3st - shocked at being 15st gained over the ages of 45-55 and now a saggy belly that needs attention and trying to lose 2lb a week - is this too high an aim?

Carla’s Answer

Menopause changes so much for a lot of women, weight loss strategies that worked in the past suddenly seem like a distant dream. Belly fat is created and, in itself, creates oestrogen and the imbalance of hormones.

You’re right, bone health is a biggie and we need impact and weights for that. Walking plus a standard weights routine, or mix it up to be like a circuit with weights.

Bring the weights in

Doing a side lunge then folding forward and doing a row with the weights, creates multiple direction and makes your body and your brain work!

Or try a curtsy with a weight to the floor in front and up to a big YMCA Y as your stand.

Lunges with bicep curls, lying chest press and fly then into some abs - criss cross etc.

Don't think of cardio and weights as separate.

Combine them to make it way more interesting. You need to think more Hiit; high vs lower heart rate to really deliver.

The days of steady state cardio are long gone, mix it up, mix up the higher heart rate and a lower recovery.

Turn up the music ...

On the cross trainer, have splits of high energy vs strength. Jump off to do some press ups, lunges, abs, jump back on for another 8-10 mins.

Losing weight (stored fat will reduce in all areas of your body)

I would just aim to eat well and move more. Don't set a target that could possibly be unrealistic, if you don’t hit it you’ll feel terrible (maybe) and disheartened.

  • Balancing your hormones at this stage in your life is key. Self-love / care should be high up in your priorities.
  • Reducing stress and anxiety is important as that can cause an increase in belly fat too.
  • Eat well and reduce alcohol and sugar.

There is also a book I can recommend, Fat Around the Middle by Marylin Glenville, you should be able to find a second-hand copy on Amazon.

You cannot spot reduce fat. It requires a whole approach ...

It’s not about exercising yourself stupid and burning out in 2 weeks. It's about a real look at what you’re eating, how you’re eating, when you’re eating. Try to recognise the triggers that get you reaching for your "treat" " bored" and "stressed" food options.

No denying it’s a challenge, but one definitely worth taking on, on your own terms though.

3) How Can I Get a Flatter Tummy?

Question from wlr member

Please could you give me some advice on getting my tummy flatter. 

I am 47 and suffer with a bad back from 2 previous accidents - a serious car accident about 15 years ago and a fall down the stairs about 5 years ago. I also have rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. These problems make it difficult to get down to do exercises on the floor.

I do Leslie Sansone walking workout dvds about 3 - 4 times a week and some light gardening but nothing else.

I have lost, over the last few years, about 2 stone and although my body shape has altered I don't appear to have lost much off my tummy.

I still have about another 2 stone to lose. Is tummy fat the last to go? Or can you suggest something else I could do?

Carla's Answer

The exercise you are undertaking at the moment will be assisting you in your weight loss journey. 

Unfortunately we cannot choose where we will lose our body fat from, though our diet will play a part.

I think doing some Pilates will help you. Pilates instructors are trained to assist people with a variety of health and mobility restrictions, a thicker mat, or even 2 mats can make it more comfortable.

The exercises you would do, would all help to increase your range of movement, improve your posture and strengthen your tummy and back muscles, thereby releasing some of the pressure on the joints.

You may be able to find an instructor that could come to the house and do a session with you and point you in the right direction.

Stress has an impact on belly fat

You mentioned in the string of replies you are a full time carer for your husband. I am sure that this is a very stressful role for you along with dealing with the stress of your husbands illness too.

I mention this because “Stress” has been proved to lay down belly fat. It is part of the fight or flee response and the insulin and cortisol hormones that get released. 

When you are stressed… could be a phone call, a meeting anything. The body goes on high alert and cortisol causes the release of extra sugars into the blood stream to feed the fight or flee response. There is no dragon to slay, it is emotional stress so the extra sugars get stored back as fat, the body gets used to this routine and gets clever, it stores the fat on the belly so it can get to it quickly next time you release cortisol. It is a vicious circle going on and you may not even realise it. 

How do you change this?

In a way you cannot change the immediate reasons why, e.g. your husband, but you can take steps to have “less stress” at other times, making time in the day when you can say “it’s me time”.

Even for 10 minutes, do some meditation, practise some deep relation breathing techniques, make a hot drink and lock yourself away for 10 mins with some calming music. Standing or chair based Pilates or yoga will help too.

Avoid food and drinks that create a response, e.g. caffeine, this creates a heightened reaction, as will sugar. Try and get lots of sleep, if you are tired you are more likely to turn to sugar or caffeine to “keep you going”. You could try eating more “fermented” foods, these are known to help heal the gut and bring balance and are linked to the statement below.

Hormonal Challenges

You are hormonally changing too, probably peri menopausal which will also alter how and where you lay fat down, making us all more “apple” shaped as the female hormones drop away. There is a great book called “Fat Around the Middle” by Marilyn Glenville which is a good read and may help. 

I hope this gives you some ideas for change, please take the time to schedule some “me” time, maybe when your husband has another carer at home or when he is sleeping? Use this time wisely for your health and well being too.

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