Ester Marsh: Suck it in to flatten belly

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 12, 2011

Q: How do I turn flab into muscle? And how do I get my belly flat?
A: I wish it was as simple as turning flab into muscle. Muscle and fat are two different tissues.
Muscle will burn calories even at rest. Fat, on the other hand, just sits there. OK, it’ll jiggle when you move.
It does not use any energy, but can be used as energy. That is one of the reasons you should lose weight at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds a week. That is another common mistake people make is to go on super-low calorie diets to quickly lose weight.
When you decrease your calories more than 500 calories at a time, your body thinks it is starving. To protect itself, it wants to keep the fat (because it does not use any energy while sitting there) and burn muscle tissue.
One difficult idea to grasp is that you have to eat to lose fat. When you lose weight quickly, it is a combination of water, muscle and some fat. Be prepared to deal with flab.
I believe that everyone has seen the shows where people have lost enormous amounts of weight and have these huge pieces of skin left. Now that is the extreme.
However, the faster you go, and if you are not working out, the greater your chance of being left with flab.
You can tighten and strengthen your muscles, and you can lose body fat, but they are separate from each other.
On to the flat belly. First of all, doing a lot of abdominal exercises each work-out is not going to burn the fat off your belly. You cannot spot reduce with exercise. And, no, those “shake your fat away belts” do not work. To burn fat, your caloric intake needs to be less then the calories you burn. You can do that in three ways:
• No. 1. Eat less calories then what you are burning with everyday life. Your buttocks might start “sagging” with weight loss and no exercise. So working out and eating sensible are going hand in hand. You wouldn’t wait to go to your doctor until you are better right?
• No. 2. Eat normal and burn more calories by exercising.
• No. 3. Eat less calories and burn more by exercising.
Now that we have the fat part down, we are going to another important part: exercise.
You can do 200 sit-ups or crunches a day and it will not help you very much if you let your belly “hang” the rest of the day. Gravity will push everything to the outside. Are you ready for the best exercise to get a tight belly?
“Suck” your belly in all day long. I know, it’s a little disappointing. No pill or belt to help the problem. Now don’t “suck” it in so much you can’t breathe. Start with a little at a time. You will be amazed how many times you forget.
It will not only flatten you belly, it will help you posture plus your lower back will thank you.
One trick I tell people is to stop wearing elastic waist band pants. You cannot feel when you are “hanging.” Put a belt on; put it in the hole where it is comfortable to wear. You are “sucked in” a bit, but not too much. When you feel your belt pressing you know you are “hanging.”
Abdominal exercises do work. It definitely strengthens your abdominals when doing them correctly. But don’t forget to work the opposite muscles in the lower back.
Yoga and Pilates both work also on your core muscles. And, most important, be patient.
How long did it take you to get your body where it is today? Right, it didn’t happen overnight.
Good luck.
Ester H Marsh ACSM Cpt