First of all, it's time to ditch the word "perfect." A healthy and beautiful waistline for you is different than for anyone else. That said, your hip-to-waist ratio does indicate fat-distribution patterns, and a larger middle means you may be more susceptible to certain diseases. Aesthetically, a woman's "ideal" waist-to-hip ratio is 0.70 -- but genetics may not allow this for you, and many beautiful women don't conform to this mold. To shrink your waist and build hips, you must lose fat all over and pump up your glutes and hip flexor muscles for shape.
Find your ratio by dividing your waist circumference by your hip circumference. For women, a score above 0.8 means you're an apple shape, while a lower score means you're a pear. Apples tend to deposit fat in the mid-region, while pears store fat in the hips and thighs. Apples may be at greater risk of diabetes and heart disease, both of which are related to excess belly fat. Luckily for apples, however, it's easier to lose weight in the abdomen than the lower body.
Slim that waistline with a healthy diet. Calorie intake has more bearing on fat loss than any other factor, and the Mayo Clinic recommends limiting consumption to 1,200 or fewer calories for weight loss. If you weigh more than 250 pounds, you'll need more. Load up on fiber-rich fruits and veggies, lean proteins such as egg whites and cottage cheese, whole-grain breads and pastas and small amounts of fat from plant sources. While you can't spot-reduce your waist, it will shrink along with the rest of your body.
Cardio rules for fat loss, so expedite the burn with jogging, cycling, swimming or other aerobic activities. Perform these 300 minutes per week for best results. You also need strength training for all major muscle groups, including legs, hips, abs, back, chest and arms. Lift weights, use a cable or exercise ball, or perform body-weight exercises like crunches, situps and pushups. To increase muscle mass in your hips, focus on squats, lunges and step-ups. Perform two sets of 12 reps for each exercise, and add hand weights for extra resistance.
For women, a waistline of 35 inches or larger signifies high levels of visceral fat, which builds up around your abdominal organs and is linked to a host of health woes. Anxiety contributes to this visceral fat by triggering production of the stress hormone cortisol, which encourages fat storage around the middle. Combat the stress monster by participating in yoga or meditation or by performing breathing exercises. And look for ways to remove sources of anxiety from your life -- your waistline will thank you.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.