an image of a guy searching for a flat tummy

It was Christmas 2002. In the middle of the night, I turned on the bathroom lights. Only to be startled by the reflection of the mirror. Yikes, what happened? This must be the exact opposite of a flat belly. Is my stomach hanging over my waistband? I needed to reduce fat, reduce my belly, reduce everything.

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. All those late nights of fast food, ice cream, unlimited alcoholic drinks, and empty calories finally caught up to me. I desperately needed to lose weight.

“I just want to look less awful.”

But, here’s the big lie. Abdominal 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 equally chubby friend told me Bruce Lee swore by this method. Without question, I tried feverishly. My stomach ached for weeks, but sadly, my tummy fat remained. I tried every ab exercise plan in the world, but nothing seemed to burn belly fat. Nothing.

Fail.

It wasn’t until I became a personal trainer and fitness expert, that I finally discovered the only way to get a flat stomach. Like me, you’ve probably tried gimmicks, dietary supplements, shortcuts, week cleanses, waist trimmers, pills and everything else in the world. I’m here to eliminate the nonsense. I’m here to help you understand proper weight management.

For a flat belly 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 Belly

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 the foods we eat. You feel when your stomach is overfilled, expanding your waist circumference needing to loosen your pants. You also feel when you’re hungry from not having enough in your belly.

Although your stomach expands and contracts with food intake, 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. While skipping a meal, might temporarily reduce bloating, you still won’t have flat abs. Nope.

Food Matters (A Lot…)

Trainer Tony Arreola the caveman

The next area to investigate is what you’re eating. Are you practicing mindful eating? What happens when you eat more food than your body needs? But is it the food? No, it’s the calories from the food. The fundamental ingredient to understand is calories. Calories represent the energy required to keep us alive. Think of it as precious fuel for our bodies. Back in our hunting days, meals were far and few in between. Humans crave extra calories, want extra food, it’s our instinctual 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 strips all the valuables from our foods. Proteins are the building blocks for your organization, 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. Thus resulting in weight gain, no abs, and a sad, sad, life.

What?

Fat and Energy

Imagine you’re sitting 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 whole 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 the extra fire logs remain as extra unused energy. All that extra wood is simply extra energy that hasn’t been used. The excess energy is fat on your body showing up as extra body weight. I guess, back in 2002, I was a giant round ball of energy.

Visceral Fat and Subcutaneous Fat

All food is valuable energy to our human bodies. And any food your body eats but can’t immediately use will be stored as fat. This is how we gain weight. Fat mostly accumulates 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 Body fat?

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 body fat, as trainers, we measure body fat with calipers. We take a one-inch pinch on four sites on your body, add up the numbers, crosscheck with a body fat table to get your body fat percentage. Some scales can also check your body fat with impedance. Your figures will vary, but the lower the body fat, the less fat you have, the less visceral fat and (drum-roll please…)

The lower the body fat, the flatter the stomach

Dropping Body Fat Flattens the Belly

Here it is! Your recipe to a flatter belly. To flatten the stomach, all you need to do is reduce your fat. That’s it. You can perform crunches, sit-ups, and planks all day. Resistance training builds muscle mass. But if your body fat doesn’t drop low enough, you’ll never reap the benefits of your diet and exercise. Your rock-hard abs will be covered in a marshmallow layer of fat. Which means no flat belly ☹

Ab Exercises Strengthen Your Core but Flatten Nothing

You can perform dozens of exercises for your stomach. This will boost energy, strengthen your core, but you’ll look the same. A strong core is vital for everyday life. Unfortunately, no matter how “new” the ab exercise is…it will do NOTHING to make your belly look flatter. Sad, but true.

How To Finally Get a Flat Belly

Focus on healthy eating. Drink water. Pay attention to your calorie intake. Eat fewer calories than your body burns. The best belly 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 muscle (abdominal muscles) engaged. Focus on energy intake and energy expenditure. When you reduce your body weight, you’ll get closer to those coveted abs.

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 fat loss. How many calories you eat versus how many calories you burn. What burns more calories? Try exercising while standing (burns more calories than sitting), start strength training, add aerobic exercise like highintensity interval training (HITT), increase the activity level in your daily routine. The higher the calorie burn throughout the day, the faster the weight loss. By losing belly fat you WILL get a flatter belly. The days of being scared to turn on the bathroom lights are finally over for me. But I want the same success stories for 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 a flatter stomach, ab exercises alone 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 reduce your waist? Please share with me in the comments.

 

Tony Arreola
NASM Master Trainer
Author, Get Me Skinny

PS: For more weight loss tips download your  FREE Guide to a Flat Belly

 

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

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