Q&A: How Do I Flatten My Belly?

A woman with her hand resting on her stomachQ:
As I get older, I’m noticing that I have more and more of a “pooched” lower belly. Why is this? How do I get rid of it and regain a flatter belly?

A: This “pooched” belly look happens for several reasons the main being improper posture and lack of use and training of the deepest abdominal muscle, transversus abdominis. Transversus’ primary function is to compress the abdominal cavity to give you that tiny waist look from the side. Simply pulling the navel in when you are sitting, standing, or exercising will activate these horizontal fibers to do their job. Pilates Mat exercises are phenomenal for teaching you how to engage this muscle and performing everyday activities with excellent posture will reduce the look of the pooch.

Another reason for this rounded belly is the accumulation of adipose tissue around the midsection. As we mature, fat tissue settles more easily in certain areas like the abdominals. While you cannot “spot train,” that is focusing on one area of the body to reduce fat, you can make sure to include 1 or 2 more exercises for your lower abdominals.  Just be sure to train the muscles according to their functions. For example, over the years I have seen countless exercisers do straight-legged raises in a Roman chair thinking they are working their abdominals. (Picture yourself propped up on the Roman chair on your forearms with your legs hanging then lifting both legs to 90 degrees in front of you.) This is a hip flexor exercise and NOT for the abs!! Sure the abs are working to stabilize the body but their function is to flex the trunk (from the top of the pelvis to the middle of the ribcage) not to flex the hip. In order to work the lower section of rectus abdominis, the pelvis has to curl towards the ribs as in a reverse crunch.

A third factor that contributes to the pooched lower belly is a sedentary lifestyle. If you are not getting adequate exercise then the belly and rest of the body will reflect that. With so many modern conveniences, our society has become very sedentary. We spend more time sitting in a car, at a desk, or in front of a TV than most other activities and it shows in our posture. Check in with your body while you do these things. Are your shoulders rounded forward? Are you slouching at a desk? There is a very good reason our parents fussed at us to “sit up!” That simple act forces the intrinsic muscles of the spine to work while allowing the abdominal muscles to relax and lengthen instead of being constantly contracted and tight.

Finally, ask yourself if your diet is as healthy as it can be. You could be working out several times a week but if your diet is not consistently healthy then you may be undermining your workouts. Small, consistent changes in eating (and drinking) will lessen the accumulation of fat around the midsection and the rest of the body. Try one less teaspoon of sugar in your coffee or tea each day. Over a week that’s 7 teaspoons of sugar. A month: 30 teaspoons. A year: 365. Wouldn’t you rather have all that sugar in the bag than around your waist?

I wish there were a quick fix for the belly fat issue but honestly the best way to battle it is great posture, healthy eating, and an active lifestyle.