As January ushers in a new year and we find ourselves gamely recycling old resolutions like “get back in shape” or “lose 10 pounds,” attentions often center on that frustrating roll of fat that accumulates around a person’s midsection — the cutely-named “muffin top” — that has shattered more than its fair share of better-body dreams. We’re wise to be wary.
Rico Gomez, a fitness specialist at Texas Health Fitness Center Fort Worth warns that your quest for better health and a more pleasing shape will be headed nowhere fast if you approach fitness workouts with a single-minded sense of consistency and sameness. “If you get on a treadmill and run at the same speed, the same intensity and for the same amount of time every day, you’re not going to make any headway,” Gomez explains. “Our bodies are amazing machines, and they adjust to the stresses we put on them.”
Focus on the big picture: “You can’t really target one specific body part for losing fat,” Gomez says. “That’s just not how it works. … It has to be overall fat loss.” His co-worker, Sandy Watkins, a dietary consultant, concurs. “No matter what Britney Spears and other celebrities say, you can’t just do a zillion sit-ups or crunches and get killer abs,” she explains. “Isolated exercises like that may strengthen the core, but they won’t necessarily give you a flat stomach.”
The muffin top is nothing more than a storage zone for excess fat, says Ken Stone, a personal trainer and co-owner of Fit For Life Executive Fitness Center & Gym in Fort Worth. “That’s why you can’t really do anything about it until you get your body into a state where it will start to burn the fat it has stored.”
Hit it with a 1-2-3 punch: Stone, Gomez and Watkins concur on the importance of “change-ups” and a three-pronged approach to fitness that combines wiser eating habits with aerobic exercise for cardiovascular fitness and weight training for muscle toning. “The toning is the most important thing in terms of weight loss and shaping up the core because that alone will help your body burn more fat.” Stone says. “As you develop new muscles, your metabolism will increase and you’ll burn more fat even when your body is at rest.”
Gomez recommends devoting at least 30 minutes each day to “cardio work,” doing aerobic workouts like the aforementioned treadmill sessions, mall walking or aerobic dance classes. Then, supplement this with intermittent weight workouts and ongoing dietary cutbacks to help insure that “your input is less than output” — so that you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming.
Get smart about what you’re eating, and WHEN: Cutting back on refined sugars in sweets and alcoholic beverages late in the day “when your body is less active” is an important step, Stone says, and he advocates an emphasis on “protein and greens” to replace those empty calories.
“Consuming protein at night instead of sugars will have you burning fat while you sleep instead of packing on the pounds,” he notes.
Stone also believes that what people eat during the day has an impact on cravings they have at night. For instance, women who favor lunchtime salads and don’t consume enough carbohydrates during the day may find themselves craving sweets at night. He suggests trying a protein drink heated up and served like a hot cocoa to address that nighttime sweet tooth and avoid a poorly timed dose of refined sugar.
“Little changes make a big difference,” Stone says.