It’s the stuff of nightmares - you pick out your favorite pair of jeans, wriggle into them only to see your belly and love handles spilling out over the top as you stand in despair while looking in the mirror. The dreaded muffin top strikes again - ‘Eeek!’ Don’t stress though if you’ve gone a bit soft around the middle, this problem area is easy to tame once you know how.
The secret isn’t liposuction. It’s your lifestyle choices. That jelly-belly didn’t just pop up overnight, it gradually crept up on you through (probably) eating too much of the wrong stuff and not moving enough. There are other factors at play, too, including stress, lifestyle and hormonal changes, but diet and exercise are the two main factors you need to get in-check to tame that muffin top for good.
#1. You CANNOT spot-reduce!
Let’s clear up some confusion. You can’t ‘spot-reduce’. This means exercises like leg lifts or crunches which target your hips and abs aren’t going to shift your belly or love-handles anytime soon. These ‘toning exercises simply don’t stack up in terms of fat-burning capacity compared to big multi-joint exercises that require you to ‘press’, ‘pull’ and ‘squat’. Why? Muscle fibers are metabolically-active which means the more muscle you use, the more calories you burn.
Get moving and grab some dumbbells (or use your own body-weight) and perform moves like chest presses, step ups, squats, rows and shoulder presses. Train with weights (don’t worry, you won’t get big and bulky) a few times a week at a good intensity with short rest periods between exercises. Here’s a good little workout you can do from the comfort of your own home.
As for cardio, the best way to burn fat is with high intensity interval training (HIIT). This is where you go ‘all-out’ for a short period followed by a short active-recovery (i.e. sprint 15 seconds, walk 30 seconds - repeat x 10). The result is a time-efficient workout that increases fat oxidization and your metabolism.
Of course, there are also the freebies, like taking a walk with a girlfriend (or the dog), vacuuming, shooting hoops, cycling and dancing which all help to burn extra calories. Aim to get moving and break a sweat for at least 30 minutes a day and that muffin-top won’t stand a chance!
#2. Ditch the Soda!
Now, onto the diet-side of things. First, if you’re drinking any soda’s (even diet) or artificial fruit drinks, stop! These are just about the worst things you can do for your waistline, thanks to their scary-high sugar content and empty calories. Excess sugar consumption makes you fat, so having one occasionally is cool, but too much and they’re on a one-way passage to that stubborn jelly roll around your middle.
The best substitute is plain old water. Spice it up by adding things like mint, sparkling water, squeezes of lemon & lime, green tea or mashed-up fruits like strawberries and raspberries. Stay well-hydrated and you’ll be surprised how quickly that can of soft drink loses it’s appeal. H2O keeps you feeling full, too!
#3. The muffin-top connection!?
It’s not just the way it looks that gives the muffin-top it’s name, there’s a food connection, too. Take a closer look at the muffin from a nutritional point of view and you’ll see it shares common ingredients with other processed calorie-laden nasties, namely refined carbohydrates, sugar, trans fats and preservatives straight out of the science lab.
As a rule of thumb, steer clear of pre-packaged goods like biscuits, cakes, lollies, donuts, ready-made dinners and the usual junk food suspects. It doesn’t mean you can’t have them, you can. Make them a treat or reward for sticking to your plan or achieving a goal instead of an everyday occurrence.
#4. Optimize your hormones!
If your hormones are out of whack, that can spell bad news for your waistline. One of the prime culprits for muffin top is insulin - a hormone which shuttles glucose into your body’s cells. Getting older and eating a diet high in simple, refined carbohydrates can lead to increased insulin levels and more fat storage around the tummy and hips. It can also lead to insulin resistance, where your body can no longer use the hormone effectively, as seen in women with PCOS. So, what’s a gal to do?
Smart fix: Eat smart, eat often. Ditch the refined carbohydrates (see above) in favor of Low-GI foods which deliver a more sustained hit of energy. These help stabilize blood sugar levels and ward of weight gain. Have a snack in the morning and afternoon, something like an apple with some cheese is perfect!
Smart fix: Add Cinnamon. Cinnamon has been shown to help lower blood glucose levels. Add a pinch to your morning coffee or sprinkle some over your smoothie or cereal.
#5. Skinny chicks don’t eat salads!
OK, they do sometimes. But that’s not the point. The point is that you aren’t going to melt your muffin top by munching on nothing but salads and celery sticks. Sure, they’re healthy and you should eat them, but they aren’t going to fill you up, keep you satisfied or help you burn much fat. The same can be said for trying to starve yourself into shape, it just ain’t gonna happen.
Instead, what you want to do is add lean protein and fiber-rich fillers to things like a base of rocket, mixed lettuce or baby spinach leaves. Fiber helps keep you feeling full while protein helps build and maintain lean muscle, which boosts your metabolism. For protein try canned tuna in spring-water, salmon, ham, eggs, turkey or goats cheese. For fiber add in toasted walnuts, carrot, capsicum, cucumber, mushrooms and lentils.
Remember, losing your muffin-top means losing weight, which is why it’s important to control portion sizes (you don’t need to be pedantic, just sensible) and monitor your overall caloric intake. Online calorie counters, like fitwatch, are great and will help you keep track of your progress and make adjustments where necessary.