Personal Trainer Tips: How to Get a Flatter Stomach
Getting a flatter stomach requires a combination of healthy eating, consistency, and lots of discipline. At this point in your life, you’ve probably heard every personal trainer, in-person and all over social media, promising that they have the secret solution to get you that flat stomach, no matter how many times you have tried and failed.
In reality, there is no secret workout or diet that only Hollywood celebrities know when it comes to a flat stomach, but, let’s be honest, most of those actors are paying a visit to fancy plastic surgeons on Melrose, instead. The fact is that getting a flatter stomach is dependent upon several factors that are beyond just the diet and exercise.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the nuances that can best give you the chance at having a flat stomach. I am, by no means, guaranteeing that this is the secret to you losing that fat, but it may shine the light on some of the things that may be holding you back. Remember, if I didn’t address your personal hurdle, be sure to reach out to me.
It Starts with YOU
As Americans, we’re constantly bombarded by ads promoting weight loss programs, in which some go so far as to tell you that their product/service is so easy that you can melt away fat while sitting on your couch and eating pizza. We all know that that doesn’t exist because if it did, everyone would be rocking a set of Jesus abs.
One of the most common questions I get from folks is how can you stay committed to sticking with a fitness and healthy eating plan? The most important thing is finding what you like to do and eat. For example, one of my clients referred me to train his wife, and I was immediately able to spot that lifting weights wasn’t holding her interest, so I asked what other forms of exercise she enjoys. She then went on and on about how she loved doing Zumba and how much fun she had doing this. Seeing her face light up as she talked about Zumba led to my suggestion that she go back to Zumba, even though this meant I’d be losing a client. After a couple weeks, her husband told me about how amazing she looked, but, more importantly, how much happier and more energetic his wife has been since returning to Zumba. If your workout routine isn’t keeping you excited, the reality is that it’s probably not going to work for you, so trying out other things may be the best thing for you.
The same concept applies with your eating — it’s not uncommon for restrictive diets to produce short-term positive results, such as rapid weight loss, but such results never last more than a few months. There’s nothing magical about any diet out there, whether it’s a vegan diet, the carnivore diet, intermittent fasting, or whatever; if fewer calories are consumed than burned, you will lose weight. The problem with the aforementioned diets is that they’re all very restrictive, and while they can work for some, it’s not a guarantee. On that note, I’m not opposed to anyone trying these diets because they might be in the group that ends up falling in love with their chosen diet and live with it for years.
One of the most important lessons I want you to learn about your workouts and diet is that it is okay to fail. New Years resolutions to lose weight (or getting a flatter stomach) have such a high failure rate because folks think that only perfection can get them to reach their goals. There’s no question that fat loss requires discipline, but negative self-talk whenever you slip up with your diet or skip a workout is not going to help much. A lot of times, if slipping up with your diet and/or missing workouts becomes a habit, you need to make an honest assessment of how much do you actually enjoy your workouts and/or diet. Short trials (i.e. one or two weeks) of new fitness or dietary approaches can help you find the right fit for you.
That layer of fat in the midsection that is in the way of the flat stomach is nothing more than stored energy. Your body is burning calories all the time, whether it is to keep your heart pumping, regulate the body temperature, respiration, physical activity, etc. While you are at rest, fat is the primary source of energy, and while partaking in high intensity exercise, the body is primarily using carbohydrates as the energy source.
Fat mass accumulates when the amount of calories that you consume is GREATER than the calories that your body burns. In contrast, fat loss occurs when the amount of calories consumed is LESS than the amount of calories that the body burns. While simply starving yourself and only taking a multivitamin to avoid nutrient deficiency will get you to lose fat, you’re also going to look emaciated from all the muscle you lose, as well. Therefore, a healthy fat loss strategy means that you must carefully reduce the amount of calories consumed, but not so much that it can leave you nutrient deficient and you have to be sure your diet is preventing muscle loss, too.
Understanding energy balance can be a huge help to successful fat loss in order to get a flat stomach. Macronutrients contribute to your caloric intake because each macronutrient (fat, carbohydrates, protein, and alcohol) contains calories; fat has 9 calories (kcal) per gram, carbohydrates and protein each have 4 kcal per gram, and alcohol has 7 kcal per gram. Your metabolism, physical activity, and the thermic effect of food all contribute to caloric expenditure. To lose fat, you must be in a caloric deficit, meaning that your caloric intake must be lower than your caloric expenditure. While in caloric deficit, your body resorts to the stored energy in your body fat to get additional energy that may be needed.
To calculate approximately how many calories your body burns in a given day, using the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation can help with that. The equation takes into consideration a person’s height, weight, age, and gender, which gives you your resting metabolic rate (RMR). The RMR is the estimated calories you burn when doing nothing, like when you’re watching TV. Assuming that you’re not just sitting on your couch all day, you still need to go another step to calculate calories burned when physical activity is considered, which means that you shouldn’t be using the straight RMR for subtracting calories, otherwise the deficit will be so great that it leads to muscle breakdown.
What is meant with “caloric deficit” is consuming fewer calories than the body burns in its regular functions (such as digestion and respiration) and daily activities. By reducing caloric intake, increasing physical activity, or combining both, this can increase the extent of the caloric deficit. However, the amount of caloric deficit needs to be carefully managed to maintain lean muscle mass. In the meta-analysis (Murphy & Koehler, 2022), researchers indicated that a caloric deficit greater than 500 calories could halt muscle hypertrophy gains (muscle size growth) and, if taken further, can lead towards muscle loss.
By now, I’m assuming that you know that it really doesn’t matter which diet you have selected for your fat loss process to get a flatter stomach, just as long as it’s not leaving you deficient of nutrients and a negative energy balance (aka caloric deficit) is achieved. Even then, I have to implore that you’re also taking a close look at your protein intake because this important in helping you maintain muscle mass. While the general RDA recommendations suggest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight (g/kg), according to McCarthy & Berg (2021) consuming more protein is suggested to maintain muscle. While an exact number doesn’t exist, depending on the intensity of the exercise, training experience, total amount of training, and how much fat loss is desired, 1.2-2.2 g/kg may suffice.
Resistance training has been shown beneficial with fat loss because it can help maintain muscle mass better than strictly doing cardio, however, this doesn’t mean you’re required to become a gym bro and throw around heavy weights, especially if that’s not something you like. Resistance training can come in many forms, and one of the best tools for that resistance is your own body weight, meaning that yoga, rock climbing, and jiu jitsu can be just as effective with training the muscles, especially when you enjoy those exercises.
Adopting healthy eating habits and consistent resistance training can be one of the most effective fat loss strategies that can last for the long-term, namely because this involves a lifestyle change. The caveat is that such a fat loss strategy is going to be slow, and those around you may not be able to notice the change, so you may not get the immediate praise from others. On the other hand, short-term weight loss challenges often employ drastic reductions in caloric intake and high-intensity training, so the results can come much faster. However, such challenges have a very poor record as a long-term solution, namely because once the challenge is over, so is the drive to remain committed to training and maintaining the strict diet.
Getting a flatter stomach isn’t easy because it requires constant discipline with your eating and training consistency. You’ll always here about little tidbits like eating spicy foods or adding cinnamon to your diet can help you burn more calories; while some of these are actually true, don’t center all of your hopes on those claims because the actual amount of fat loss that they bring is really small. Nevertheless, you’ll hear me say this a bunch of times, the likelihood of your success with any weight loss regimen relies on you, your consistency, and how much you’re enjoying your new lifestyle, therefore, testing out diets and workout programs for a week or two before totally diving in can help make sure you made the right choice.
Coach Julio is an expert in fitness and nutrition, having helped hundreds of busy professionals in their 30s, 40s, and 50s be healthy, as well as offering nutritionist counseling services. He works out of El Paso, Texas, but also offers remote nutritionist counseling and online personal training. Coach Julio’s expertise is backed by over eight years as a personal trainer and a Master’s degree in Nutrition.
For information about working with Coach Julio for online personal training and nutritionist services, visit https://www.365physique.com
McCarthy, D. & Berg, A. (2021). Weight loss strategies and the risk of skeletal muscle mass loss. Nutrients, 13(7), 2473.
Murphy, C. & Koehler, K. (2022). Energy deficiency impairs resistance training gains in lean mass but not strength: A meta-analysis and meta-regression. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 32(1), 125–137.