We have decided that it is time to conduct a review of the current ideas and advice about losing weight. This is obviously far from an exhaustive review of the information online on weight loss and specifically “belly” fat, but we feel it covers a variety of styles, audiences and time span to make it relevant. This page compliments our own guide to losing weight.
It is also possibly the first attempt to review the information from an unbiased viewpoint. To do this we have read and analysed the advice given by a series of popular newspapers and magazines.
The purpose of the review
Because each of the publications mentioned here is a leader in its field. Each take the information that they share with its readers very seriously, and each wants to show to the world that it is the best.
They take pride in their work and that means thorough research and analysis. They also draw on the years of experience from health and fitness experts. Our review covers the advice from:
- The Independent’s 2009 advice on Five ways to get a flat belly
- The Guardian’s 2006 report on How to get a flat stomach
- Hello! Magazine’s 2010 article on Three keys to a flat stomach
- Los Angeles Times 2011 article My Turn: Her war on belly fat
- Daily Mail’s 2009 special on How to…Get a flat stomach
- Tatiana Novaes Coelho’s advice on Channel4 on How to Get a Flat Stomach
- Cosmopolitan’s 2011 special feature Flavia’s flat stomach moves
- The Mirror’s 2008 post on How to get a flat stomach after giving birth
“Five ways to get a flat belly” by the independent
The Independent are quick to remind us of the dangers of belly fat, telling us that this type of fat;
“wraps itself around the heart and liver and is known to raise the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. This band of unattractive, toxic lard has been widely regarded as the most difficult to shift”
There first tip is to consume more MUFAs. MUFAs is the acronym for monounsaturated fatty acids. You get these fats from olive oil, nuts and seeds. It seems that a MUFA rich diet helps to break down toxins in fat and shift visceral fat.
They referred to research carried out by the Prevention Research Centre at Yale University School of Medicine which had shown this in tests. Next up is the classic “avoid bloating” advice. So no sugar, processed foods, refined carbohydrates. Stick to mostly low GI foods and you will reduce bloating – this is one of the first ways to lose belly fat.
The most important tip is to have regular eating habits rather than one or two large meals a day. Reducing salt and raw vegetables can help some people. Do not stop raw vegetable salads unless you have a bloating problem and tried everything else though. No more bread.
This is our favorite tip, one that we have said many times – stop eating bread. It is just energy / sugar and provides little nutrition. The main reason The Independent gave though was due to the anti-staling agents in bread that we cannot digest and that cause increased bloating.
They then go on to talk about the importance of reducing stress as this tends to lead to increased appetite (although some people stop eating when stressed).
“A study showed that a combination of the MUFA diet and 10 minutes of core stability exercise every day gets rid of double the quantity of visceral fat as diet alone”.
Finally they speak briefly about core stability exercises. The Plank is described. They say “don’t bother with crunches”. Source: www.independent.co.uk, published 24 February 2009
“Three keys to a flat stomach” by Hello!
Hello! Magazine takes a slightly different approach with “Exercise, diet and cosmetics are your best allies if you want to beat that belly“.
This is the first time that we have come across cosmetic advice for reducing stomach fat in the mainstream media. Hello! put exercise first in their guide. They say that the abdominal muscles sit under a layer of fat so just exercising them alone will not help.
But then they go on to say that exercising the abdominals 2-3 times a week is still a good idea. They do not mention anything about intensive cardio training, resistance training or the affect exercise has on metabolism or appetite though. Hello! say that using some creams can help to “combat localised fat” although they do not mention any brands.
There was a news report of a new cream that reduces fat in October 2010, so they are probably referring to this. Maybe their web page has been edited since – we have not heard much about this cream for a while now. Source: www.hellomagazine.com, published 18 November 2010
“How to get a flat stomach” by The Guardian
This is the oldest of the articles we have picked, so it is interesting to see what The Guardian were saying about losing stomach fat in 2006, and what may have really changed in the last 5 years.
They start off with the good advice from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) to not do crunches. They then advise you to take up cardio exercise such as swimming or jogging.
The fact that they looked to the American Council on Exercise provides much more authority to their article already. They advise not to waste money on any equipment other than a Swiss ball.
Their strangest advice is to laugh a lot as it strengthens “deeply embedded transversus abdominus muscle”. This seems to conflict with the advice not to do crunches. However, laughing does reduce stress, something which they forgot to mention!
“Don’t starve yourself.” – this is the best advice yet. You need to eat to lose fat. Their last tip is an exercise tip – to do bicycle crunches. Again, conflicts with first advice to not both exercising the abdominals. The Guardian started really well with their advice but then seemed to lose track a little. But then, this was 2006, and the early days of flat stomach plans. Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk, published on 25 May 2006
“My turn: her war on belly fat” on The LA Times
This is an article with a difference – it is a personal story about belly fat. Written by Carrie Luger Slayback today (May 9th 2011), she talks about how she managed to lose weight.
The key message is a healthy diet and regular dog walking. It is interesting to note that the URL (web address) mentions visceral fat which is the biological term for the type of fat that surrounds the internal organs – I guess the editor decided that “visceral” may put some people off reading the article. The article starts off tackling the classic myth of inherited fat:
“Nobody in our family has a flat stomach, Carolyn,” my dad stated authoritatively.
So many people think that being overweight is a genetic condition, something that is passed down along the family tree. This is simply not true.
Children of overweight parents are fat because they have the same bad eating habits as their parents. Simple. It was only when Carrie learnt that belly fat is dangerous to health that she decided to take action. Carrie explains that she is against dieting – “dieting sends me into a rage of rebellion“.
Some people feel that dieting, or more specifically following a lifestyle to attain a healthy body, is somehow in breach of their human rights. This is actually a topic of hot debate in academic circles – to what extent should people (governments, employers, teachers, parents) intervene in a person’s lifestyle to encourage them (or force them) to lose weight?
Nobody complains when the government distributes vaccines for swine flu or teachers strive to improve the math skills of the children, but encourage people to lose weight? No way! Anyway, Carrie took a moderate exercise route to weight loss by “walking 35 to 45 minutes for five days a week“. Basically, she walked her dog, which every dog owner should do anyway.
“Back in the 1970s, my father had a pot belly. I used to nag him to eat more vegetables, but he laughed at me. “Baloney,” he’d say. He had a quadruple bypass in his 60s and paralyzing dementia the last two years of his life. He liked to lecture better than take advice, but if the word had been out on the chemistry of metabolic syndrome, I think he would have listened.”
This really is a stark reminder of why we all should try to lose weight. Even the happiest people can be struck down by terrible illness as a result of carrying too much fat on their bodies.
The message here is that following a healthy diet and taking regular exercise helps you to lose weight. Another simple message, and all the more powerful because it is true. Source: www.latimes.com/health/la-he-my-turn-visceral-fat, published 9 May 2011
“How to get a flat stomach” by The Daily Mail
Love it or hate it, The Daily Mail often provides some very good advice in its health pages. Although this particular article was almost missed by us because it was in the women’s section and not the Health section where their fitness and weight loss articles often appear.
It is written by Janey Holliday, a personal trainer who has written several articles for The Daily Mail. The first tips provide nothing new – less refined carbs, less sugar, less fizzy drinks. The third tip is interesting though. The advice is to cut back on dairy;
“Once we leave infanthood, we no longer have the enzymes to absorb the nutrients in milk.”
However, research has shown that dairy calcium has the ability to increase fat excretion (this is one of the 10 scientific rules of weight loss that was presented by the BBC’s Michael Molsley).
The sugar in milk is mentioned, so the advice really should be to reduce sugar intake and only reduce dairy intake if you are lactose intolerant. The Daily Mail then goes on to talk about drinking herbal teas such as camomile and peppermint as they sooth and relax.
They do not mention green and oolong teas though, which have been shown in some scientific studies to increase fat loss (also many Chinese people swear by their effects). This article is the first also to talk about lactobacillus acidophilus, which is the friendly bacteria in the gut. There are many companies selling the idea of probiotics as a way to manage weight by increasing risk of leaky gut syndrome;
“excess flab on your tummy might not be reduced with sit-ups if you suffer from this.”
This does seem to suggest that the reason why sit-ups fails to cause weight loss is a bacterial imbalance. This is not the case though. The Daily Mail does provide some sound advice on exercise, although it is a little thin on the ground.
They say simply to do some cardio exercise such as running, cycling, aerobics and swimming as well as performing crunches. Source: www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/How-Get-flat-stomach published on 9 March 2009
Channel4 sought the advice of Tatiana Novaes Coelho for their article on getting a flat stomach. Tatiana is a Pilates instructor, so naturally all the moves were core Pilates exercises.
She takes you through some ab curls, oblique exercises and toe touches. Each is well explained. However, no mention of diet or lifestyle, so not really a guide to “how to get a flat stomach” as the title suggests.
Really a guide on how to strengthen your abdominals with Pilates. Source: www.channel4.com/4beauty/wellbeing/getting-fit/how-to-get-a-flat-stomach/display/page/1, unknown publication date.
“How to get a flat stomach after giving birth” by The Mirror
The Mirror is a UK newspaper written for women. We are proud to say that earlier this year the Mirror mentioned our 20 minute home workout in their article which featured Davina Mccall – you can see our article about it here: MotleyHealth makes it into the national press.
But less about us, what does The Mirror advice about getting a flat tummy? Well, The Mirror paints a more honest picture of losing weight after birth. They spoke to a few celebrity mums who all struggled to lose weight.
Emma Bunton (aka Baby Spice) said that for her the real trick was going back on tour with The Spice Girls. She exercised 3-5 times a week to get in shape for the tour, with cycling, running or yoga workouts. Emma Bunton has a little tip for people with a sweet tooth:
“Instead of scoffing a whole bag of sweets (candy), I get my sugar rush by sucking a lollipop”
Simple advice, but it will certainly reduce the calories without reducing the taste sensation. Emma also advocated getting a good nights sleep.
Salma Hayek managed to lose her stomach fat at the age of 41 after becoming a mother. Her secret was breastfeeding. She ate a very healthy diet and maintained breastfeeding for as long as possible.
Milla Jovovich gained and lost 70 pounds when she became a mom. She used to eat 3 bagels with butter, peanut butter and jelly every day for breakfast as well as eating a lot of donuts.
To lose it, she just reversed her terrible diet and started eating healthy again. She followed a healthy diet of fruit, veg, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C supplements. The Mirror does provide some pretty strange advice at the end:
“DON’T: Chew gum or talk too fast – both make you swallow too much air, which will leave your stomach bloated.”
There are a lot of fast talking celebs out there, such as Woody Allen and Miley Cyrus, neither of which ever struggle with being overweight. Their best advice:
DON’T: Starve yourself – your metabolism will grind to a halt and your body will start to hold on to reserves of fat around your abdomen.
Source: http://www.mirror.co.uk/…how-to-get-a-flat-stomach-after-giving-birth, published on 7 April 2008.
“Flavia’s flat stomach moves” by Cosmo
This is the first exercise led approach to losing weight. It features Flavia Cacace who is a professional dancer who has featured on Strictly Come Dancing in the UK a few times.
“To get a noticeably flatter stomach within a month, do this workout three times a week. Start off with three sets of 10 to 15 reps of each move, building up to 20 reps as you get fitter”
The exercises can be seen in a side-show on the Cosmo website. They are good core conditioning exercises, but they are not going to help someone who is obese lose their tummy fat. You still need to do some intensive cardio training. Of course, professional dancers spend most of their time sweating and not crunching their abs!
The media picture
There is still a stubborn refusal in many of these plans to stop talking about crunches and sit-ups. Many start by saying that crunches will not help you to lose your stomach fat but then finish with advice on abdominal exercises.
Often I get the feeling when reading these that the writer down plays the abdominal exercises, but the editor then insists that more crunches and sit-ups is added as it is what people expect to read! However, overall the message is clear:
- Reduce sugar, refined carbs, processed foods
- Control your blood sugar by limiting high GI carbohydrates
- Exercise more – any way you like, just do lots of it
- Work your abdominal muscles to make the stronger, not to make them flatter
- Eat a varied diet as so many little things do help: tea, dairy, protein, fiber, fatty acids etc. all help a little. A varied diet is better than a starvation diet
- Never starve yourself – this leads to more fat accumulation
Losing weight is really a simple process, anybody can do it. We have said before that losing weight is not rocket science, but you do need to learn to master your own mind to accomplish it. It is natural to want to eat.
Eating is fun, food tastes good, food makes us feel good. If eating was not pleasant then everyone would starve to death. Learning to control your appetite and taking steps to increase physical activity while also following a healthy and balanced diet continues to be the sure way to lose weight.