How to Ditch the Mummy Tummy

Yummy Mummy Joana O. from Mississauga, Ontario asks:

I have been doing crunches and other ab workouts to tighten my mummy tummy; I can feel my abs underneath but I still have that flab on top? Is there a workout I can do to tighten my mummy tummy?

Thanks for the great question, Joana!

This is something I get asked very often – even by men.  The truth is, you can have a strong midsection and firm, developed abdominal muscles but still have a flabby tummy or, in the case of a man, a bit of a beer gut.  One of the biggest myths out there in the fitness world is that crunches and ab machines can eliminate fat and flab from your midsection.  This is simply not true.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you will not lose fat from your tummy by doing any type of abdominal work out.  What you must understand, when thinking about exercise for any part of your body, is that muscle and fat are two completely separate types of tissue.

Muscle tissue is made of fibres that contract and relax in order to move our joints; for example, your biceps muscles (among others) are contracting to flex your elbow as you lift a grocery bag from the floor.  Muscle can be made bigger, firmer and stronger through strength training. 

Fatty, or adipose, tissue is simply that – fat.  It does not perform any movement or metabolic functions, although it is important for controlling our body temperature, padding our skeletons and storing important fat-soluble vitamins.  Physical activity does not have an effect on fat EXCEPT that fat, along with sugar, is used as energy for exercise and day-to-day movements.  If you consume fewer calories (eat less) than your body needs to perform its day-to-day functions, including exercise, breastfeeding, physical stress and any other extraordinary functions, your body will make up the extra calories by metabolizing fat cells. 

You can perform strength training to tone your butt, abs, thighs, arms, back – every muscle on your body – but still eat too much and maintain an extra layer of fat over top of those muscles.  You might also be training effectively but struggling with a metabolic or hormonal disadvantage.  Are you breastfeeding?  Pregnancy and breastfeeding generate hormones that encourage the body to maintain fat storage above its normal levels in order to protect you and baby from famine.  You may find those extra few pounds come off with very little effort once you are weaning or have weaned your baby.  Other conditions, such as diabetes and thyroid disorders, can also interfere with your body’s ability to store and burn fat.  If none of these conditions apply to you, you might consider keeping a food diary for a week to analyze your eating habits and see whether you have any bad eating habits that might be maintaining your body fat at a higher level than you would like.  You may download a free food diary form from the Fit Family website.  A moderate diet and regular exercise – 5 to 6 days per week – are the safest and most effective route to longlasting fat loss.

So here’s what you can do: keep up the strength training.  Cardiovascular exercise (which is still important to heart, lung, brain and emotional health) burns calories while you are exercising but does nothing to change the body’s metabolism in the long term.  Strength training, on the other hand, burns fewer calories per hour while you are exercising but raises your metabolism for 48-72 hours after each and every work out!  Plus, over several weeks and months you will gain more valuable muscle tissue; each additional pound of muscle tissue burns 50-100 calories per day AT REST!  What does that mean for you?  Instead of killing yourself on the treadmill and living on carrot sticks and cottage cheese, you can do reasonable amounts of cardio and eat a moderate diet while maintaining a leaner figure. 

Most of all, be patient.  There is no point losing 5 pounds this week if it’s just going to come right back on at Uncle Harry’s birthday buffet next weekend.  Instead, take a long-term view and think of your body as a work in progress.  Each week that you exercise and eat well is one more step toward your goal.

Good luck!

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Dara Duff-Bergeron began her career in fitness before she could legally drink.  With over a decade under her belt, she has trained and coached hundreds of people and worked as a physical education specialist, fitness manager, fitness tester, consultant and writer.  Dara now brings her exceptional experience and down-to-earth philosophy to Belly Bootcamp fitness for modern mommies.

Dara is living, breathing proof that you can have a family, a career and an active lifestyle.  When she’s not training clients or writing, Dara can be found doing push ups with her son and daughter, and generally avoiding housework.

Read Dara's blog for a humourous perspective on fitness, body image and exercise in the world of motherhood.

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