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with Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Blast Your Belly and Get Your Six-Pack Out of the Cooler!

Dr. Pam Peeke & Dara Torres

Dr. Pam Peeke & Dara Torres

In May, I had the special pleasure of meeting one of my all-time heroines, five-time Olympic medalist and swimmer, Dara Torres. We spent some time talking about her journey which she’s written about in her book Age is Just a Number. It includes a five-year bout with an eating disorder, her new focus on wellness and family and her thoughts about whether to try for a final Olympic appearance. At the event, MORE magazine’s Reinvention Convention in Chicago, after she addressed the 800 women in attendance, I asked her to flash her famous six-pack abs. Sure to form, she whipped up her shirt to show the world that Photoshop had nothing to do with her chiseled tummy. Good genetics and hard-core nutrition and training are her successful belly-blasting secrets. I can’t speak for the first item, but paying attention to the last two will help you become an AB instead of an AB NOT.

As I was contemplating writing this blog, one of my patients, Michelle, entered my office and smiled broadly when I talked about our plan to whittle her middle. Laughing, she said, “I’ve got a six-pack. It’s just in the cooler!” Indeed!

How about you? Right now, wrap a tape measure around your belly button. The goal is to be below 35″. Now wrap it around your lower ab pooch (the area between your belly button and your pubic area). If you’re over the age of 40, I call it the Menopot. Write that number down as well. Now, stand in front of the mirror and tighten up your abs. Based upon your unique life journey, you’ll see any combination of the following:

  • Jelly belly occurs from repeated yo-yo dieting which includes pregnancies. You might notice less skin elasticity, loose skin and excess fat predominantly underneath the surface of the skin (subcutaneous). This fat lies on top of the ab muscle and you can pick it up with your fingers or hands.
  • Bowling ball belly which means that in addition to excess subcutaneous skin, you also have too much fat underneath the ab muscle, pushing it out to make you appear to be pregnant when you’re not. This fat distribution is common after the age of 40, or can earlier if you have a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome or if you’re obese.

Excess belly fat produces the not-so-attractive muffin top which is belly leakage over the rim of your jeans, and, of course, your swimsuit. As you dare to stare into the mirror and scrutinize your mid section, you may also see belly rolls – strange collections of fat that can collect under your breasts extending to your belly button (very common after the age of 40), as well as the usual love handles eyesores on your sides. If you’re peri or postmenopausal, you’ll also have the Menopot, a term I use to describe the lower abdominal pooch in women over 40. Viewing all of this either can send you to the fridge in despair, or on a desperate search to find a suit that will hold it all in as you hit the pool and the beach this summer.

Tired of “waisting” away? The newer spandex fabrics may promise hope, but the bottom line is you can remove enough belly fat to reduce this angst and have more fun in the summer sun. Here are tips and tools to help you achieve that belly-blasting goal:

1. Belly up to good nutrition. As I’ve already noted in my Week Two Swimsuit Special blog, “Bun Basics: How to Minimize Your Butt,” you need to pay close attention to the quality, quantity and frequency of your eating. Excess belly fat is caused by sedentary behavior as well as overeating. Rein in the calories and you’ll rein in your belly. You can do a million crunches a day and you’ll still have the rolls if you overeat.

a)  What you do from 3pm on each day determines your waist size. Most people overeat from the mid-afternoon on because they’re tired and overwhelmed and not paying attention. You need to be prepared and plan ahead to have a substantial snack in the mid-afternoon, enough to carry you to dinner and to quell your afternoon appetite and hunger. Combine lean protein (low fat or skim dairy, Greek yogurt, 2-4 oz chicken or turkey or fish, peanut butter on a multi-grain cracker, a veggie pattie) with fiber (a piece of fruit or veggie) for optimal satisfaction. An easy way to remember what to eat is have half of what you had for lunch. That way you’ll be in better control of appetite at dinner and beyond.

b)  Whatever you overeat after dinner you’ll wear the next day. Be careful of sitting in front of the tube and stuffing your face all night. If you’re truly hungry before going to bed, have a 100-150 calorie whole food snack, like blueberries and a little yogurt or a small fruit.  An easy rule to remember is if you don’t wake up hungry for breakfast, there’s a good chance you overate the night before.

2. Practice Girth Control. In addition to eating more healthfully and exercising, prioritize the well-being of your core. Throughout the day, suck in your belly and contract your ab muscles. You’re doing ab exercises all day when you contract and expand and this leads to a stronger core. In addition, you get a royal win-win, because the stronger the ab, the stronger the back. They support one another. Watch out for slouching as you walk or sit. Too many people do this and it would even make Kate Moss look like she’s got a boatload of belly fat. Sit up right now and roll your shoulders forward, then up to your ears and then back. Where they settle is the backbone for your posture.

3. Get to the Core. Achieving and maintaining your core is easier than you think. It just takes consistency. Here are some baseline exercises you can do anywhere and they’re guaranteed to help you get that six-pack of yours out of the cooler. Of course, if you have any medical condition or disability, please consult your doctor before doing any exercise.

a) Floor Crunch. Lie on a floor (preferably a carpeted floor or a pad of some kind), put your hands beside your head, bring your knees together and place your feet flat on the floor about a foot from your hips. Now, push your lower back down, almost like you’re trying to make a dent in the floor. Then begin to roll your shoulders up, keeping your knees and hips stationary. Continue to push down as hard as you can with your lower back. When your shoulders come off the ground a few inches, hold this position and flex your ab muscles as hard as you can for a count of one. Then slowly lower your shoulders back down to the floor. Push down with your lower back for the entire exercise. Perform 10 reps, rest 60 seconds and repeat for a total of 3 sets. Beware: don’t lock your hands behind your head. Your hands should be cupped at the sides of your head and should not be used for leverage.

b) Ball Crunch. Lie on your back on an ab ball with your hands behind your head, your feet flat on the floor and your legs at a 90-degree angle. Using your abs, raise your head and shoulders and crunch your rib cage toward your pelvis. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position. Perform 10 reps, rest for 60 seconds and repeat for a total of 3 sets. Beware: Don’t relax your abs when you return to the starting position. Keep them contracted throughout the whole exercise. Do not pull on your neck muscles during the contraction. Instead, hook your hands directly behind your ears, and keep your elbows wide. Your lower back should maintain contact with the ball.

c) Reverse Crunch. This is one of my favorites. Lie on your back with your legs and hips bent at 90-degree angles, and your arms relaxed at your sides, palms facing down. Pull your abs in, and lift your hips as if you were tipping a bucket of water that’s resting on top of your pelvis. Perform 10 reps, rest for 60 seconds and repeat for a total of 3 sets. Beware: Do not lift your hips to more than a 30-degree angle from the floor. Also, do not use your hands to help tilt your hips.

d) Twist Crunch. Lie flat on your back, your knees bent and your hands beside your head. Let your legs fall as far as they can to your right side so your upper body is flat on the floor and your lower body is on its side. Press your lower back down into the floor while you roll your upper body slightly up until your shoulder blades clear the floor. Concentrate on your obliques (the muscles on the side of your waist), and contract and hold the crunch for a count of one. Slowly lower to the starting position. Count one, and then perform your next rep. After you complete 5 reps on our right side, switch to your left and follow the same instructions. Perform 10 reps, rest for 60 seconds and repeat for a total of 3 sets. Beware: Don’t lock your hands behind your head. Don’t worry how far your knees can drop to the ground. Everyone varies in flexibility. Most important, keep your shoulders square to the ceiling and contract your rib cage to your hip bones.

Read more from the summer swimsuit series:

What are you doing to get ready for swimsuit season? Share your workout and diet tips on the Diet Community.

Posted by: Pamela Peeke, MD at 8:39 am

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