It is widely believed that you need to perform a high number and variety abdominal exercises to control your waistline, though it actually depends more on what you eat and when. While exercise is an important factor, it plays more of a supporting role than a lead. A flat stomach is achieved through careful choices in nutrition and physical activity throughout the day with particular attention to your evening habits. Ultimately, you must create a caloric deficit by burning more calories than you consume.
Eat All Day Long
You will cause more harm to your waistline than good if you neglect breakfast and lunch only to consume the majority of your calories in the evening. Skipping meals other than dinner does not allow your body time to burn off calories before slowing down in the evening for rest. If you begin the day with breakfast and continue fueling your body throughout the day, then your body has a better chance of using the calories you consume. Conversely, skipping breakfast combined with a light lunch only signals your body to conserve energy. A heavy meal will likely not be burned off before bedtime. Ideally, avoid eating two to three hours before going to sleep to give your body its best shot at burning off calories.
The Carbohydrate Trap
Dr. Mehmet Oz, vice chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University, warns that excessive carbohydrate consumption is often responsible for extra fat carried around the midsection. Carbohydrates are addictive because they create a sense of pleasure and reward when consumed, making carbohydrate-laden, processed foods tempting nighttime snacks. Avoid this kind of diet-busting snacking at night. While carbohydrates are important, your goal should be to consume a balanced diet of complex carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein. Caloric needs are best determined for an individual by calculating age, gender, height, weight and activity level, though an average, healthy adult should consume approximately 2,000 calories per day.
Be Aware of Liquid Calories
Excessive alcohol intake at night will also adversely affect your waistline. If you prefer to enjoy an alcoholic beverage in the evening, stick to a serving size and avoid the temptation for more than one drink. Liquid calories will quickly accumulate over time. Opt for lower-calorie alcoholic beverages, such as wine or light beer, as opposed to sugary cocktails. According to the food and diet website FatSecret, one glass of wine contains around 100 calories and 1 gram of sugar, whereas a mojito contains 200 calories and 24 grams of sugar. The optimal beverage choice in the evening is actually water, which contains zero calories.
Don't Just Sit There
Resist the urge to relax after dinner in the evenings and incorporate physical activity into your nighttime regime. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests five hours -- 300 minutes -- each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity combined with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week to reap the greatest health benefits. Though it is not possible to spot-reduce, you can specifically target your abdominals during your strengthening workouts as a means to add more definition to your midsection.
- International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders: Sleeping Metabolic Rate in Relation to Body Mass Index and Body Composition
- The Wall Street Journal: Latest Research on the Effects of Alcohol on Your Waistline
- The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
Based in Okinawa, Japan, Adrienne Michalek began her health and fitness career in 1996 at Appalachian State University where she received an award for “Fitness Instructor of the Year." She holds an undergraduate degree in health promotion and a Master’s degree in public health.