As someone who works in the fitness industry, I have been asked the inevitable question more times than people have discussed Brexit,
‘What do I have to do to get a flat stomach and a six-pack?
This is for everyone who has ever asked that question, thought that question, or at least wondered why their body isn’t the same as their 13-year-old self.
The answer to this question is not as simple as a 5-minute ab routine or crunch challenge that I could give you that will land you with instant results. We all know by now you can’t out train a bad diet and you can be as fit as a fiddle but for a lot of people, weight loss and the stomach specifically, is always going to be a difficult area. Especially for women.
When we scroll through our news feed, people watch on the beach or gaze in awe at fitness fanatics with what seems the ‘perfect body,’ it can be easy to compare. Looking at someone with a perfect six-pack we are led to believe that they must be so incredibly healthy with the perfect diet and workout plan.
It is really interesting how different people will have varied opinions on what is the ‘ideal body.’ The shape and size, down to exact measurement ratios and a number on the scales of what they believe to be the desired shape. As a society, we often assume if someone is looking good they are then healthy, happy and have their life sorted out. This is not always the case.
My image of what constitutes a healthy and happy individual has changed dramatically the more I have learnt about the human body, mind and myself. Health is so much more than what we see on the surface and in fact, what we often see can be a lie.
So let’s discuss, why is it so hard to lose the weight around your middle and why haven’t you got a six-pack yet. First, I want to address the fact that it is going to be…
More of a struggle for women, than men.
The following statement may or may not come as a shock to you but…
The average woman will store more fat than the average man.
I hear you scream.
And the answer to that is….
Woman’s bodies are essentially on this earth to birth babies. Now, we have come a long way from that being our sole purpose and of course, we are capable of a multitude of incredible things. Before anyone jumps on me this is purely evolutional. Men hunted the food, women would bear the children, yes thank goodness times have changed but our bodily composition, not so much. If we are talking about our biological purpose – not spiritual potential, mental capacity or physical capability but biologically, we are designed to grow and birth babies.
What most people do not realise is that regardless if you choose to have children or not your body may not be on the same page.
What does this mean for us gals?
This means that our bodies need a higher percentage of body fat than our male counterparts and specifically around the abdomen to protect the potential buba. Men, for example, have a healthy body fat percentage at approximately 8 – 19%. Whereas women are in their healthy range at 21 – 33%. Meaning, yes, it IS easier for men to show definition on their stomach and on all other areas of their body for that matter. To have a ‘flat stomach’ we are looking at around the 20% benchmark. For abdominal muscles to show, most people will need to obtain a body fat percentage of 10 – 14%. Meaning for women to have a six-pack we would need to be significantly under our normal healthy range.
Knowing that you’d possibly need to cross into the ‘unhealthy’ category for a six-pack to emerge might be enough to deter you but if not, let me explains what this means.
Fat is not the enemy!
There is a difference between essential fat and storage fat. The excess weight you may be aware of is the storage fat that has accumulated as a result of a combination of too much food (in) and not enough energy expenditure (out). If your body fat sits in this ‘healthy range’ know that you need this to survive! We all need fat in the body for us to function. This is your metabolic fuel, responsible for ensuring you have sufficient energy. It is responsible for supporting cell growth, absorbing nutrients, protecting our organs and importantly, having a balance of hormones!
For us gals this fat is also used around our middles as a preparation to protect and keep our potential future baby warm. When a female body has an unhealthy body fat percentage, the body is not in optimum health and this sends signals to the body that something needs to change.
When a woman’s body has a significantly low body fat percentage, it is more common than not for certain bodily functions to start shutting down. Think of it this way, the body essentially says to the brain, ‘your body is in no physical shape to be able to grow a baby in here’ and as a result, you can stop menstruating as the balance and production of important hormones have been disrupted. The hormones that we want to keep balanced are oestrogen and progesterone. They are important for overall bodily health and they prepare the body for pregnancy. If the production of these hormones is significantly reduced, it can be enough to stop your monthly cycle.
This is common in athletes, dancers and gymnasts alike as they feel such a pressure to be a small size their energy expenditure can be higher than what they consume. While this may cause them to suffer in short-term performance capability, more seriously it can affect long-term health. It’s interesting because we look to athletes as being these figures of optimum health but in actual fact, while they are incredibly fit they can be dangerously unhealthy. Fit and healthy do not come as a package deal.
The exception to the rule
Now there is always going to be the ‘exception to the rule.’ The lucky individual who has a naturally low body fat percentage, flat stomach and simultaneously eats pizza for dinner and on the odd occasion a mimosa for breakfast, all while her hormones remain balanced and her skin perfection. Let’s just say for argument’s sake, that they are verging on superhuman, they are an enigma, an exception to the rule and it will drive you crazy to adopt the thought process of, ‘if she can do it, so can I’.
The chances are, your genetics are not on the same page.
Made in the gym revealed in the kitchen
Now to tell you the information no one wants to hear, the area around the stomach is the first place excess fat will go and the last place it will leave. The majority of people could use burpees as their mode of transportation and if they have an appalling diet, those last ‘problem areas’ (think belly and thighs) will still be exactly that, a problem. In my experience, people don’t want to hear that their diet is the thing that needs changing. We are creatures of habit and tend to adopt a thinking process religiously based on either tradition or ritual when it comes to food. Bottom line is, everyone could make improvements to their nutritional diet. Some more than others.
Ultimately, for the majority of us, to strive for a six-pack, a lean physique we would need to exist on a diet of sacrifice to get there. At this point, you want to ask yourself what your goal is? Do you want to look good but don’t care much about the health of your insides, hormonal balance or mental clarity? Do you want to feel healthy inside and out but visuals are not that important to you? Do you want to find a happy medium and exist somewhere in between the two…
The issue is the overwhelming amount of pressure we feel to have found this perfect balance, while let’s face it most of us are still looking. We have probably all, at some point, been a victim of social media for altering our state of mind and perception of self-image. We scroll through a feed of people with bodies we want and lives we wish we could have, not able to rationalise the fact that it is all for show, a facade and at times a lie. Photoshop exists and not exclusively for magazines and adverts anymore but for every smartphone user. Influencers know how to stand, pout and pose for their thighs to look strong yet slim. Reality TV stars pay $$$ to suck fat from one area and inject it into another, all for it to plastered over the world wide web leaving us to look and then compare it to ourselves.
Now, this is not to say we shouldn’t strive to be stronger and for muscular definition – if that’s what you want. I am not saying we shouldn’t aim to be on the leaner side – if that’s what you want. But know that when we lust after the body of someone who looks like she could easily spend her 9 to 5 working hours in a plank hold, don’t assume she is necessarily healthy.
The reality is that that excess weight on the stomach is the Friday night glass of wine. It’s the chocolates, your coworker bought you when you got the promotion. It’s that Porn Star Martini you drank on that HOT date with fireman Sam. If you cut all this out you would be in a higher calorie deficit and probably would be lighter on the scales come weigh day and guess what, maybe a dress size down, but ask yourself would that really make you happy?
My answer won’t be the same as everyone’s but my happiness is not determined by unrealistic limitations and what I cannot do but by all the things I can do. It’s about me being healthy, happy and richer than I could ever imagine in life experience.
Do what makes you happy!
Life’s short, eat the cupcake.
All things love light and laughter