I regularly field questions from students and Core Yoga instructors about the causes of that uncomfortable bulk around the waist, and the abdominal bloating that most of us experience from time to time, and wanted to address in a few points here.
Firstly, excess abdominal fat and abdominal bloating are two different things. When we carry excess abdominal fat, the causes can be many, and the solution most often is to reduce caloric intake and increase general fitness. However, there are also some other considerations, most importantly, the role of stress in increasing abdominal fat.
Abdominal Fat and Stress
Recent research indicates that when we have an excess of cortisol (a hormone much like adrenaline) as a result of excess stress or anxiety, the body will store more fat specifically in the abdomen. This means that reducing your stress levels can help you shed abdominal fat. This can be done in many ways, including through stress reduction techniques like breathwork, meditation, yoga, tai chi, or receiving therapeutics like massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, acupuncture, or psychotherapy. As well, certain foods that increase the production of cortisol, when reduced, can also help to reduce your storage of abdominal fat. Key foods to reduce/avoid include caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and refined flour foods.
All exercise is good for reducing abdominal fat, especially exercise that increases your heart rate and uses the major muscles of your body. Walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, weight training, dancing and circuit training are all highly beneficial, and the bonus is that regular exercise will not only burn calories and build muscle mass, it will reduce the storage of that stress-hormone cortisol. Note that Pilates, traditional abdominal training, Core Yoga and Core-specific exercise are always a great idea, but abdominal-specific exercise will not ‘target’ abdominal fat. That’s right, those ab-trainers they sell on late night TV will not actually give you the 6-pack that they promise in just minutes a day. However, any regular and sustained exercise that strengthens your muscles and gets you sweating will help you lose total body fat, which in turn will reduce your abdominal fat. And regular exercise is a great way to manage stress, so it has the extra benefit of reducing those stress-hormones that are linked to abdominal fat. And, well, call my biased but I think that mind/body activities like Core Yoga have some extra benefits over traditional abdominal training, including:
- Body/mind effect – the present-moment-focus of Core Yoga clears the mind-clutter that can keep our stress levels high
- Improving breathing patterns and oxygenating the blood – it is thought that the better oxygenated we are, the better we will be able to burn off excess fat.
- Using the major muscles of the body increases our metabolic rate while we exercise – having more muscle tissue makes your body more metabolically active which means you burn more calories 24/7
- Improving posture – healthy posture can help the body digest better, breath better, and reduce chronic pain which is a contributing factor to sedentary lifestyle and increased caloric intake. As well, many people find that when they improve their posture they see an increase in self-esteem and are more willing to take part in active daily life.
- Improving sleep – regular exercise, particularly mind/body movement, can help improve your sleep patterns which can assist you in reducing stress levels and improving lifestyle habits
- Abdominal Massage – Core Yoga massages the internal organs, aiding digestion and elimination, purifying the organs, and helping the digestive system work more efficiently.
- Sweating It Out – Core Yoga gets you sweating, burning off calories, and burning off impurities stored in fat tissue, organs, and blood.
Adding just a few conscious, breath-fuelled Yoga, Pilates, or Core Yoga moves each day can have dramatic impact on the way you look, the way you feel, and the way your body functions. Why not start today?
A different issue is abdominal bloating, which is usually caused by poor or sluggish digestion and/or certain foods which tend to bloat the stomach. However, people often are experiencing both excess abdominal fat and abdominal bloating together – as the causes and the consequences are very much the same. So, just like when addressing excess abdominal fat, when addressing abdominal bloating my top tip is having regular exercise. Regular exercise of any form will enhance your digestion, and in the practice of Yoga there are specific techniques that can help enhance the function of your digestive system, including Indian Cooking Pose, Wind Relieving Pose, and Sun Salutations. (see https://yogatrinity.com/YogaMoves/tabid/70/Default.aspx for more on Frog/Indian Cooking Position, The Home Stretch, and Surya Namaskara/Sun Salutations)
Some quick fixes for abdominal bloating include:
- Reduce intake of sugar, coffee, and refined wheat products. Many people will benefit from eliminating wheat gluten or wheat entirely.
- Reduce or eliminate carbonated beverages, including soda, flavoured mineral water, and plain mineral water.
- Exercise daily, the movements of your body enhance digestion and elimination
- Increase your fibre intake with whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and perhaps the addition of psyllium or flax seeds in your breakfast cereal or smoothie
- Drink plenty of water (non-carbonated of course)
- Give yourself time to digest after a meal, a post-meal rest will actually do you wonders
- Eat slowly, chew well, and try not to multi-task while you eat.
Why do we care?
Vanity aside, excess fat carried in the abdomen increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and many other serious conditions. Reducing your stress level, improving exercise habits, eating healthy, and enhancing digestion will not only get rid excess fat around the middle, but will enhance your life and give you vibrant good health. If you are concerned about the shape your body is taking, check out your BMI, which can be a fairly good indicator of general body mass, or a recent initiative by the Australian government is to take your waist measurement as an indicator of general health and risk of long term medical issues. Check out https://www.health.gov.au/internet/abhi/publishing.nsf/Content/factsheet-waist-measurement
Please note: If you continue to have problems with abdominal bloating, or have any concerns about your health or your digestive system see your doctor, nutritionist or naturopath. There is great benefit in getting some help to design a nutrition and lifestyle program that is best suited to you.
Mind Body Messenger newsletter 2010