You may long for a flat stomach like you see in the fitness mags, but that body shape is simply not meant for everyone -- nor should it be. Women come in all forms, and life would be boring if we all looked alike. That said, if excess belly fat is bringing you down, it may help to lose weight all over, shrinking your stomach flab proportionately. See your doctor before starting a fitness program.
The going trend is to use fruit shapes to describe body types: Apple shapes are wider in the middle, while pear shapes are heavier in the legs and buttocks. Apple shapes naturally store fat in the stomach region; if you're apple shaped, you may never be able to remove all of your stomach fat. But even if you're a small-waisted pear shape, you'll never see a completely flat tummy if your genes don't allow it. Some people have larger internal organs than others, so a hefty liver, stomach or set of kidneys could result in a rounded stomach.
If excess fat is piling up on your tummy, shed it with a reduced-calorie diet. Most women lose weight on 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day, according to the University of Minnesota Medical School. Trade the junk food for fresh, natural foods in their least-processed forms. Whole fruits and vegetables are fantastic, as are whole grains such as whole-wheat bread and quinoa. Lean proteins will help you stay satisfied; opt for chicken, fish, egg whites and low-fat dairy.
Get your fat-burning on with 30 to 60 minutes a day of cardiovascular exercise, five days per week. Brisk walking, running, swimming and using the elliptical machine are all great options. You also need strength training two to three times weekly to develop healthy muscle mass -- which speeds up your metabolism over time for weight maintenance. Moves such as crunches and situps will tone your abs, though they won't remove fat. Work your other muscle groups as well -- this includes arms, legs, back, chest and hips. Lifting weights, performing yoga or performing body-weight moves like pushups all work for strength training.
An extra-wide belly may indicate visceral fat buildup deep in your abdomen, which spells trouble for your heart and may even increase the likelihood of diabetes or breast cancer, according to Harvard Medical School. In women, a waist circumference of 35 inches or more puts you in the danger zone. Harvard recommends reducing visceral fat by managing stress, getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night and avoiding trans fats and foods with added fructose. They also note that visceral fat is typically the first to go when you lose weight -- subcutaneous fat just beneath the skin is harder to shed.
- MayoClinic.com: Apple and Pear Body Shapes
- Go Ask Alice: I Want a Flat Stomach!
- University of Minnesota Medical School: Weight Loss Recommendations
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- American College of Sports Medicine: Metabolism is Modifiable with the Right Lifestyle Changes
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.