When daily aerobic exercise, a low-fat diet and core workouts don't solve the belly pooch issue, it's time to play detective. The plot thickens if a body composition test reveals low body fat and a high lean muscle mass percentage. Round up the usual suspects, including dehydration, food intolerance and postural alignment, identify the culprit, and use the appropriate correctional behavior.
The Dehydration Paradox
If you're tummy is feeling just swell, you might need to drink more water. Although dehydration-related bloat sounds like an oxymoron, there's actually a logic behind the theory. Your body needs water in order to survive. When you don't drink enough of it, your cells hold a pow-wow, and decide that they had better store up on fluid, in order to protect you from yourself. Although eight to 10 glasses of water each day was once the standard prescription for dehydration prevention, some scientists now challenge this theory. Mayo Clinic experts argue that fruits with high water content, such as watermelon, count toward hydration control.
Aunt Flo's Calling Card
As if irritability and irrational chocolate cravings are not enough, dear Aunt Flo has to deliver belly bloat with package. Since hormone-related water retention is one of the culprits, women's health specialists at the Mayo Clinic advise you to step away from the salt and other sodium sources, including canned soups and vegetables, soy sauce and deli meats. Load up on fruits and veggies, and avoid coffee and alcohol, even if PMS syndromes drive you to drink. Some veggies, such as asparagus, cucumber and watercress, have natural diuretic qualities.
Untimely passing of wind, an unusually talkative tummy and a perpetually bloated belly might indicate a food intolerance. Common culprits include lactose and gluten. Picture your digestive tract as two tubes, one within the other, explains Dr. Syed Thiwan of the University of North Carolina.The inner tube represents your intestines. The outer tube represents your abdominal wall. Intestinal pressure changes obviously affect the abdomen. Hard stool develops in the intestines when your digestive system can't break down certain foods. Consequently, the inner and outer tubes expand. You might still be able to eat the offending foods, but in smaller doses. Some nutritionists suggest probiotics, but check with your doctor before adding food supplements to your diet.
Posture and the Pot Belly
The headline "Pot-Bellied Yalies Around the Ivy League" isn't from "The Onion." It's from a 1956 edition of "The Princetonian." Apparently, from the 1940s to 1970s, certain Ivy League universities -- believing that posture indicates intelligence -- required nude postural assessment photos of incoming freshman. There's a sick humor to the "pot belly" reference. Intelligent geeks scoring ivy-worthy grades probably spent hours hunched over their desks. Thus, the pot bellies. If you're a 21st-century geek goddess, gravity might have taken its toll and created an abdominal pooch, despite your low body fat. Another issue, the swayback or arched lower back triggers the same problem. Posture-focused programs like Pilates help correct alignment.
Your Workout Alignment
If you tend toward a swayback, you might be inadvertently exacerbating the problem during your abdominal workouts. These problems usually occur when you are lying on your back, with your legs extended and lifted from the exercise mat. When you lower your legs, if your lower back creates a major arc, your belly pushes outward. Modify these exercises by performing them with bent knees, and only lowering your legs as far as you can go without arching your back.
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.