Losing the Gut
Improvements in digestion and posture can help flatten your middle.
A flat stomach starts from within. No amount of crunches and sit-ups can make up for poor digestion and posture, two factors that can sabotage a toned midsection. A host of issues can produce bloating—even if you’re within a healthy body weight.
“The gastrointestinal tract is a vast ecosystem,” says Liz Lipski, PhD, CCN, author of Digestive Wellness (McGraw-Hill). “When we don’t eat right, it disrupts the workings of this ecosystem. The result is an unhealthy digestive tract and a bloated stomach.”
GI Tract Disturbances
If you wake up with a flat stomach and retire at night with a belly three times the size, you’re probably fermenting food. “You start blowing up like a balloon through a process called dysbiosis, or microbial imbalances,” says Lipski. Consuming too much refined sugar and alcohol feeds the microbes, creating gas.
Food sensitivities may also contribute to bloating. Try an elimination diet by cutting out the most common culprits: sugar, alcohol and grains, such as wheat, rye and barley, that contain gluten. Allowed foods include rice and quinoa, fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, olive oil and cooking oils. “It’s amazing how much this alone can reduce bloating and gas,” Lipski says.
Other causes of bloating include intestinal Candia albicans, an overgrowth of yeast that many practitioners believe can spread to other parts of the body. Repeated use of antibiotics may cause small bowel overgrowth, a bacterial infection in the small intestine that also causes dysbiosis. Lipski says, “In one study, small bowel overgrowth was found in 78% of people with irritable bowel syndrome,” a digestive disorder marked by chronic constipation and loose stools. To counteract these problems Lipski recommends probiotics, “10 billion mixed organisms once a day, including lactobacillis and other bacteria.”
Premenstrual water retention can also create bloat. Natural diuretics such as parsley and celery may help, as well as dandelion, ginger and juniper. The mineral magnesium doesn’t directly rid the body of water. However, it can help to “regulate normal and frequent bowel movements by supporting peristalsis (the rhythmic contractions of the GI tract) which allows for softer stools,” says Lipski. She also recommends drinking more water to flush excess moisture from the body and taking 50 to 100 mg of vitamin B6. (While not common, some cancers can cause bloating; if diet changes don’t help seek medical advice.)
The Power of Cleansing
Most people have too many toxins coming in and not enough going out, says Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, author of Health Begins in the Colon (Global Healing Center). “To get a flat stomach you need to keep your intestines clean on a regular basis.” He recommends an
oxygen-based cleanser as “the only ones safe enough to use a few times a week.” A good cleanser can also help jump-start weight loss, an obvious way of shrinking your middle.
If you need a quick fix, Group suggests eating nothing but organic oranges for a few days. What’s more, “chew food until it’s liquid,” says Group. “This makes it easier for the stomach to break it down.”
Other ways to keep your digestive tract running smoothly include eating more raw foods and less food at each meal, as well as less meat. Eat organic foods as often as possible. Avoid artificial sweeteners; try natural alternatives such as agave nectar and stevia. To avoid feeling overwhelmed by dietary change, create a specific plan to gradual convert unhealthy habits into better ones, such as eliminating sugar the first week, getting more raw foods into your diet the second and so on.
Posture and Poochiness
If you spend most of your day sitting, tight hip flexors and a tight lower back can create poor posture. “If your lower back is tight, your stomach will pooch out,” says Kevin Cooper, DC, CSCS, a chiropractic physician. “Hip flexors also become tight, which pulls you into lordosis (excessive curvature of the spine). This often leads to back pain over time which then leads to a poochy stomach.”
Cooper recommends stretching out your hip flexors with hula hoop circles as well as kneeling hip flexor stretches: Kneel on the floor and bring one leg in front, foot on the floor, so both legs form right angles. Place both hands on the knee in front and tilt your pelvis forward until you feel a stretch in the front of the opposite hip. Hold 20 seconds and switch legs. “Do them every day to stay limber,” Cooper says. “Treat it as part of your regular exercise program to maintain good posture.” Effective yoga moves include the warrior, downward-facing dog and upward-facing dog poses.
Exercise your abs as well. “Multi-planar abdominal exercises work muscles in a more functional way than regular crunches,” Cooper says. Try side moves with a twisting motion, such as oblique crunches: Lie on the floor with knees bent (or on a fitness ball), hands behind your head, fingertips lightly touching and elbows out to the sides. Exhale, contract your abs and rotate as you lift your upper body off the floor and point your left elbow towards your right knee; lower and repeat, rotating in the other direction. Cooper recommends avoiding decline crunches, which “only further tighten the hip flexors.”
Stay lean and flexible, exercise and eat right—and you can end up admiring a firm midsection in the mirror.