an image of a guy searching for a flat tummy

It was Christmas 2002, I turned on the bathroom lights in the middle of the night only to be startled by the image in the mirror. Yikes, what happened? This must be the exact opposite of a flat tummy. Is my belly folding over my waistband?

Tony Arreola's before picture without a flat tummy

It looks like I’m pregnant, not a good look for a 23-year-old single male. Six-pack abs would be great, but I just want to look less awful. Is less awful a look? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

“I just want to look less awful.”

But, here’s the big lie. Exercises alone will never achieve a flat stomach. Never. Trust me, I’ve tried. I once did 1,000 sit-ups for 7 days because my friend (who was equally chubby) told me Bruce Lee swore by this method. Without question I tried feverishly. My stomach ached for weeks, but sadly, I remained chubby.

Fail.

Not until I became a certified personal trainer with years of experience, I finally discovered how to get a ripped stomach. Like me, you’ve probably tried gimmicks, shortcuts, teas, waist trimmers, pills and everything else in the market. I’m here to help you clear away the nonsense.

For a flat tummy you need to understand a few basics:

The Role of the Stomach
Food Matters (A Lot…)
Fat and Energy
The Different Types of Fat
What’s Bodyfat?
Dropping Bodyfat to Flatten the Belly
Ab Exercises Help Your Core but Flatten Nothing
How to Finally Get a Flat Tummy

The Role of the Stomach

an illustration of a tummy with food inside

The first principle to understand is your stomach. An organ aiding with digestion, it works like a muscle, expanding and contracting to process foods we eat. You can feel when your stomach has too much in it, needing to loosen your pants. You can also feel when you’re hungry and don’t have enough  in your belly.

Although your stomach expands and contracts, the range of the movement is temporary. The movement’s range is small, we’re talking inches. Your stomach isn’t the issue, one single meal isn’t going to help much.

Food Matters (A Lot…)

Trainer Tony Arreola the caveman

The next area to investigate is what you’re eating. What happens when you eat more food than your body needs? But it’s actually not food that matter, is the calories from the chosen food.  First and foremost, you need to understand calories. Calories represent the energy required to keep us alive. Think of it as precious fuel for our body. Back in our hunting days, meals were far and few in between. Humans crave calories, crave food, our human survival system.

 

The real problem arises when we eat more calories than our body needs. After the food goes through the stomach, it enters the digestive area, where valuables like proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, and water aid the body. The digestive system will strip all the valuables from our foods. Proteins are the building blocks for your body, carbohydrates are instant energy and fats are stored as a long-time source of energy. But anything your body doesn’t use will be converted and stored as fat in your body.

What?

Fat and Energy

Imagine you’re getting at a campfire. You’re responsible for the fire to burn the entire night. You gather wood, but don’t know exactly how much wood you’ll need for the entire night. You don’t want everyone to be cold, so you make sure to grab enough wood. Your fire starts, the energy starts burning. Throughout the night, you throw more logs into the fire. After the night, all extra logs remain as extra unused energy. All that extra wood is simply extra energy that hasn’t been used. The extra energy is fat on your body. I guess, back in 2002 I was a giant ball of energy.

Visceral Fat and Subcutaneous Fat

Any valuable food your body eats but can’t immediately use will be stored as fat. They mostly accumulate in two places, subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is found under your skin, while visceral fat collects within the abdomen in the spaces around organs.

Visceral Fat

The visceral fat is the dark, yucky fat surrounding your abs. This is where that blasted fat tummy first appears. Unhealthy visceral fat needs to be removed. But because of its location, it’s hard to measure our visceral fat. Luckily, subcutaneous fat’s location helps us get a measurement… (“Whohooo, lucky us” said no one ever.)

What’s Bodyfat?

Go ahead and pinch your skin. The stuff under your skin that isn’t muscle is fat. Anything you can grab but can’t move is subcutaneous fat. This is your bodyfat, as trainers we measure bodyfat with calipers. We take a one-inch pinch on four sites on your body, add up the numbers, crosscheck with a bodyfat table to get your bodyfat percentage. Some scales can also check your bodyfat with impedance. Your numbers will vary, but the lower the bodyfat, the less fat you have, the less visceral fat and (drum-roll please…)

The lower the bodyfat, the flatter the stomach

Dropping Bodyfat Flattens the Tummy

Here it is! Your recipe to a flatter tummy. To flatten the stomach, all you need to drop your bodyfat. That’s it. You can perform crunches, sit-ups and planks all day long. But if your bodyfat doesn’t drop low enough, you’ll never reap the benefits of your hard work. Your rock-hard abs will be covered in a marshmallow layer of fat. Which means no flat tummy ☹

Ab Exercises Strengthen Your Core, but Flatten Nothing

You can perform dozens of exercises for your tummy. This will make you feel better, but you’ll look the same. At least the ab work strengthens your core. Your core is vital for everyday life. Unfortunately, no matter how cool the ab exercise is…it will do NOTHING to make your tummy look flatter. Sad, but true.

How To Finally Get a Flat Tummy

Focus on your caloric intake, eating less calories than your body burns. The best exercise is the one where you go to the grocery store, buy and eat the right foods. Perform total body exercises focusing on the major muscle groups, while keeping the core (abs) engaged. Focus on the energy intake and energy expenditure.

Personal Trainer Tony Arreola showing a flat tummy

No matter what anyone tells you, the best and only way to flatten your stomach is by focusing on your energy balance. How many calories you’re eating versus how many calories you’re burning. By dropping bodyfat you WILL get your tummy flatter. The days of being scared to turn on the bathroom lights are finally over for me. But I want to share the same success with you.

 

I know the truth can be hard to hear. I went through this process myself. I’m an engineer, so I’m always looking for the fastest, simplest way. Unfortunately for your flat tummy, this won’t work. I fell for the Bruce Lee 1,000 daily sit-ups. My stomach and pride were hurt. What kind of silly things have you done to get that coveted waistline? Please share with me in the comments.

Tony Arreola
NASM Master Trainer
Author, Get Me Skinny

PS: Have you downloaded your FREE Guide to a Flat Tummy yet?

 

References:

1. Clark, M.A., Lucett, S. C., & Sutton, B. G. (2012). NASM Essentionals of Personal Fitness Training (4th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.

2. Your digestive system and how it works. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/yrdd. Retrieved 9/21/2019

3. Mason JB. Mechanisms of nutrient absorption and malabsorption. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Retrieved 9/21/2019

4. Johnson LR, et al. Physiology of the Gastrointestinal Tract. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Retrieved 9/21/2019

5. Hall JE. Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2011. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Retrieved 9/21/2019

6. What I need to know about bowel control. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/bowelcontrol_ez/index.aspx.

7. Marcia Wade. Web MD “The Risks of Belly Fat — and How to Beat Them” Retrieved 9/21/2019 from https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/features/the-risks-of-belly-fat#1