Feel like you’re constantly doing crunches but are still plagued by a persistent muffin top?
It’s probably not your workout that’s not working — it’s your blood sugar.
Here’s why: When we eat refined carbohydrates and sugar, our blood sugar levels spike sky-high. But what goes up must come down. And so our pancreas releases a hormone called insulin to shovel all the sugar away. Unfortunately, insulin also signals your body to store belly fat.
And the sugary content of foods doesn’t just affect the hormones that regulate your blood sugar. It also has an impact on our adrenal glands and stress hormones — which can lead to further weight gain and the expansion of that spare tire. In fact, studies have shown that increased exposure to cortisol (the stress hormone) is associated with more belly fat in women.
As a nutritionist, I often see clients struggling with abdominal fat. Here are the three top strategies I recommend to deal with it:
1. Eat a healthy, balanced breakfast.
Your morning meal should be chock-full of complex carbohydrates, protein and good fats.
Why is this so important? A good, healthy breakfast makes you feel satiated and satisfied and also provides you with nutrients that are slowly released throughout the morning. This keeps your blood sugar on an even keel. On the other hand, a candy-coated breakfast cereal will only cause your levels to spike.
For a trim belly, aim to eat low-glycemic, blood-sugar-balancing breakfasts, such as:
Poached eggs on a bed of steamed greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, or arugula
A protein-powered smoothie with fruit, greens, avocado, almond milk, protein powder, and hemp, chia, or flax seeds
Half of a steamed sweet potato mashed with coconut oil and cinnamon, and topped with nut butter or hemp seeds
Whole-grain porridge, made with real whole grains like quinoa, millet, buckwheat, or oats and topped with fruit, nuts, seeds, or eggs
A superfood hot chocolate made with almond milk, raw cacao, coconut oil, sesame seeds, goji berries, hemp seeds, and banana
2. Snack smart to keep blood sugar steady.
When hunger strikes, we tend to reach for what’s most convenient — not necessarily what’s most beneficial to our health. This can be especially tricky if you’re in a work environment where everyone goes for a coffee break, which temps you with caffeinated and sugary items like lattes, muffins, or cookies.
Unfortunately, these goodies often trigger the blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes that can cultivate the muffin top.
So instead, keep healthful snacks handy that will keep your blood sugar steady throughout the day. Here are a few of my favorite ideas:
An apple spread with nut butter
A mug of miso soup sprinkled with hemp seeds
Gluten-free whole-grain crackers with guacamole, hummus, or salsa
A handful of trail mix
A homemade granola bar
3. Practice meditation.
Diet and exercise are important, no doubt. But they will be significantly less effective if our minds are spinning with stressful or agitating thoughts.
That’s why I recommend mindfulness meditation as a complementary strategy. Research shows meditation can help reduce your levels of stress hormones, not to mention improve your sleep, lower your blood pressure, and even boost your immune system.
Plus, you don’t have to meditate for hours on end to reap the benefits. Try taking just 10 deep breaths when you wake up in the morning, and set a timer for “breathing breaks” throughout the day. It’s a great alternative to the 10:30 a.m. sugary coffee break!
Other meditative activities include going for a walk, spending time in nature, attending a yoga class, or taking a nap.
Using these three simple strategies together, you’ll increase your chances of eliminating that muffin top for good — and enjoy some delicious healthy food to boot.