She asked me “What is the best workout to target belly fat?”
It’s a question I have been asked hundreds of times…and even though I have a few clarifying questions to be sure, chances are, I already know the answer.
As in, do NOT workout.
Her shocked and sceptical response no longer surprises me. I felt the exact same way when I learned this information and have seen the same response from hundreds of women when I give this answer.
It wasn’t that long ago I was feeling frustrated with my own pants starting to feel tighter. As a personal trainer and avid fitness lover for more than a decade, I found myself scrolling through my favourite online workout platform wondering which ab workouts to add on to my routine to target the extra fluff that had been starting to make my high rise leggings feel a little uncomfortable lately as they pressed on my belly.
Was I going to have to give up my weekend love affair with Ben & Jerry? Or the blissful few nights a week where I sipped wine with my husband?
Neither option I was all that interested in exploring more deeply. Food and wine are like the icing on my cupcake of joy in life, and I just don’t think you should have to give them up entirely to feel amazing in your body.
So I did what I always do when I start to feel off in my body: Check in with my four key health pillars and my menstrual cycle. These questions are what I ask my clients as well.
How much are you sleeping? 7-9 hours at least? Or is it much less than that?
How much are you moving your body gently each day? 30 mins for yoga or a nice walk? Or are you stuck in front of a computer al day?
How is your nutrition? Is your blood sugar balanced? Is the food you are putting in your mouth and on your skin 80% free from chemicals and preservatives? Are you taking in caffeine on an empty stomach (ahem…BIG no no for women’s hormonal health!)
How is your mindset? Are you taking a little time each day JUST for you to feel joy? Or are you pouring out to everyone else and leaving you for last?
How is your menstrual cycle? Regular and with little pms? Or are you plagued with intense pms symptoms at any given point of the month.
These 5 simple questions are the perfect foundational starting point for all women to have a gut check on their stress levels in their body. The truth behind my clients struggle with excess bely fat (and my own) is stress.
Women in 2021 are asking Olympic levels of performance of their body every day, and yet, we skipped the class on how to TREAT your body like an Olympian. We have big careers, families, and all of the emotional labour that goes along with those, all while being bombarded by the media to be our best selves and have it all. We aren’t sleeping enough, we are skipping meals and binging later, pushing ourselves through hard and intense workouts, living by a daily mantra of ‘hustle harder’ and ’embrace the suck’ and the older we get, the less tolerant our body becomes.
When our 4 foundational health pillars (rest, movement, nutrition, mindset) become shaky, our body responds by increasing cortisol levels to deal with the stress we are under. Our liver stops all metabolic and hormone processing duties to deal with the excess of cortisol that is flooding our body and as for the the excess hormones it can’t process right now? It stores in the fat around our mid section to deal with later when it is not in crisis mode. Think Monica’s closet from friends…where she doesn’t know what to do with all of the extra things so she shoves them in a closet and tries to forget about them.
Since hormones are fat soluble, they live there quite happily and this is where our menstrual cycle acts as an amazing vital sign. The excess hormones in your body that are not being processed create an imbalance, which is why we begin to have intensified PMS symptoms and irregular periods. This on top of fatigue and brain fog because our liver is working overtime to deal with the cortisol. In other words…it’s a HOT MESS. As long as your body is dealing with the excess cortisol, it cannot get to the stored fat where the excess hormones are living.
…and here is where my answer to the question “what is the best workout to target belly fat?” comes in to play.
Intense workouts add stress to the body. In fact, anything that is asking our body to change, is stressful to the body…this includes calorie restriction and burning the candle at both ends to get that promotion or staying up late just so you can feel like you are having some time to yourself.
When you are already living in a stressed out body, adding an intense workout will only stress your body out more, adding fuel to the fire, leaving you depleted and in fat storage mode. To put it simply, you will be working out and gaining more weight.
The good news?
What you need is NOT to add a hard workout to your routine. What you need is to REMOVE the hard workout from your routine.
Do less. Not MORE…and you will give your body the space it needs to do what it can do all on it’s own.