As magazine covers and rail-thin models constantly remind you, having a flat stomach is considered a desirable characteristic in today's society. Even though some body curves are natural -- fit women carry between 21 and 24 percent body fat -- the flat-stomach look has a wide appeal among athletes and non-athletes alike. Flattening your stomach doesn't happen overnight, and the speed at which you attain a flatter stomach depends on many factors, including diet and exercise habits.
Attaining a Flat Stomach
To attain a flat stomach, you need to do just one thing -- burn fat. Doing so, of course, is easier said than done. To eliminate fat, you need to burn calories, which you can do through a variety of exercises in the gym and outside of it -- weightlifting, running and biking all burn calories and will help you burn fat to achieve a flat stomach. If you restrict the number of calories you consume, you'll have an easier time reaching the calorie deficit you need for flattening your stomach for a healthy, sexy look.
What Not to Do
Few things feel worse than knowing you were on your way toward achieving a goal only to realize you've sabotaged your own progress. This can happen easily when trying to attain a flat stomach, as many fall into the trap of the spot-reduction myth. Spot reduction is the theory that you will burn fat in an area by performing exercises that work the muscles of that area. For example, you might assume that performing a lot of abdominal exercises will flatten your stomach. However, spot reduction does not occur, and you may actually make your stomach appear less flat by developing larger abdominal muscles. Thus, you should avoid overdoing the ab exercises when trying to flatten your stomach.
How Much Time?
No two people will achieve a flat stomach in the same span of time. Factors such as the amount of exercise you perform, the number of calories you eat each day and the amount of fat you need to burn all factor into how long it takes to get a flat stomach. You can set yourself up to lose 1 pound of fat -- which equals 3,500 calories -- each week if you achieve a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day. To attain a calorie deficit efficiently, pair high-intensity exercise with a reduced-calorie diet. Considering both the calories you take in and those you expend will give you more control over your diet progress.
If spring break is sneaking up on you and you want a flat stomach in a hurry, prioritize high-efficiency exercises. Running, jumping rope and working out on the stair treadmill all burn calories quickly compared to other activities, so they can encourage a flat stomach in short order. Include some abdominal exercises to help tone the muscles in this region -- planks, weighted crunches, lying leg lifts and situps can be effective. The fitness website Sports Fitness Advisor recommends starting with one to three sets of 10 repetitions per exercise, then moving up to 20 to 25 repetitions for three sets, three days per week. The repetition advice does not apply to planks; simply try to keep improving your time with that exercise. When performing exercises, breathe out when the muscle contracts -- the lifting phase -- and breathe in as you relax the muscle.
Getting a flat stomach isn't just about exercise; the food you eat also influences your results. Eating high-fiber foods such as broccoli and spinach will help you feel fuller, which will make consuming a calorie deficit more manageable. Also, eating a higher protein diet can help promote the release of hormones that encourage fat burning and promote a better body composition. Thus, you may want to stock up on tuna, shrimp and chicken. Always check with your doctor before starting a new weight-loss and exercise regimen to get accurate and personalized advice.
Brian Willett began writing in 2005. He has been published in the "Buffalo News," the "Daytona Times" and "Natural Muscle Magazine." Willett also writes for Bloginity.com and Bodybuilding.com. He is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of North Carolina.