Abs are made in the kitchen – the truth about burning belly fat

Chloe  Reynolds - REPs member

Guest blog from REPs Member Chloe Reynolds

One of the questions I get asked most by my clients is “how do I get rid of belly fat” or “how do I get a six pack”. To many people, the dream of a toned tum is only a few hundred crunches away – however we know as fitness people that this just isn’t realistic, or fun. Otherwise we’d all have rippling eight packs right? Wrong. Many traditional ab exercises such as sit ups, bicycles, and ab curl machines are a sure way to a bad back & a rounded shoulder posture – attractive!

To help us understand why this doesn’t work let’s look at the reasons we store fat around the stomach. Belly fat is a result of too much processed food in the daily diet, inactivity & our body’s hormonal response. For example, high levels of the hormone cortisol (which is elevated by stress, overtraining and lack of sleep) affects our response to insulin and encourages fat storage around the middle.

So how do we chisel away those abs safely & efficiently? It all begins in the kitchen. First of all, if we look at the abdominal muscle group we will see that each of us has abs, and that it is the natural shape of the muscle which gives the appearance of a ‘six pack’, however in order to make these muscles prominent we must melt away the overlying subcanteous fat layer, & thicken the muscle.

In order to do this we need to get our clients to clean up their diet & get plenty of greens in (cruciferous veggies are an excellent fat burner). Reduce or eliminate processed foods, grains, soy & wheat (it is thought 6-7% of the population are intolerant to gluten), as these can cause inflammation of the stomach & promote fat storage. Also drinking plenty of water to flush out any nasty toxins – another cause of fat storage. It’s amazing how much of an effect what we eat alone has on the appearance our stomach. Processed foods can cause bloating, and too much salt in the diet can cause water retention which will affect the appearance of the midsection.

Now on to those exercises. Exercising at a high intensity with compound movements, and bouts of high intensity cardio are a quick way to melt away excess fat. Be sure to encourage adequate rest & good quality sleep in order to reduce cortisol levels.

Ideal core exercises promote strength through the mid section, improve our day to day functional movement and improve posture.

Avoid exercises which cause excessive flexion of the spine & instead opt for exercises which counter any bad posture & hit all planes of motion. Improving posture alone can make you look taller and give the appearance of a flatter stomach. The transverse abdominus muscles act as the body’s natural corset to pull us into good alignment (making us look slimmer) & also help us to avoid muscle imbalance & injury. Great exercises to improve posture are cobras, wall angels & bent over rows.

Ideal ab exercises include woodchops, turkish get ups, hanging leg raises, reverse curls, Kettlebell windmills, medicine ball throws, leg lowers, or Jackknives. These are just a few examples of fantastic exercises you can get clients to perform safely, whilst fine tuning the abdominals. The list of exercises is extensive, and with different progressions of each you can keep challenging your clients, and have fun with it.

Once you get your clients to clean up their diet and perform some of these exercises they will soon start to see a difference. Perhaps get them to do you a food diary to monitor progress – often people don’t realise what they eat throughout the week until they see it written down on paper.

Preparing food in advance is also a key way for your clients to stay on track with healthy eating, cooking extra of a healthy dinner to take for lunch saves both time & money, and stops clients from grabbing something convenient yet unhealthy which will contravene their goals.

A flat stomach or a six pack is one of the most sought after aesthetic results that clients of today seek – time to ditch the crunches and clean up the diet!


9 responses to “Abs are made in the kitchen – the truth about burning belly fat

  1. While I agree with the sentiments of this article to a degree, I am intrigued by some of your comments.

    1. High levels of Cortisol production causes fat to be stored around the mid section. I was under the impression that this is a major organ related storage area issue, not subcutaneous fat?
    2. The idea that gluten intolerance causes fat stores to build round the middle. Not sure where this comes from either. I am a coeliac (which is not a simple intolerance, but the principal remains good) and my biggest problem is gaining weight, not storing fat.
    3. Don’t get the point re toxins making us store fat. Where’s the evidence for this? We have a highly efficient system for dealing with toxins, and all of the detox stuff we hear about is, not surprisingly, promoted by companies selling “detox” products.

    Some of the exercises you mention as an antidote to spine flexion, require spine flexion (otherwise you just exercise hip flexors), so again, a bit confusing. Most of the exercises will certainly engage tranversus but not rectus abdominis (i.e. if your article is about 6-packs, then you need to address rectus abdominis).

    I get your underlying message, but the industry spends too much time pushing people from one fad to the next. We need to be consistent, and back up our statements with evidence and as the 6-pack’s function is to assist/cause spine flexion, it is difficult to exercise that specific muscle without the flexion that you dismiss.

    But as every professional knows – seeing a 6-pack is the issue. A balanced diet with a range of activities for strength, endurance, CV and flexibility is probably what our clients need most to move towards that goal.

  2. chloe

    Hi Steve,

    Appreciate the comments. Hormones (or more precisely, hormonal imbalances) affect where fat is stored in the body. High levels of cortisol have been shown to be linked to excess fat storage around the mid section – this is proven by many studies and solid research as can be found from Charles Poliquin and many others. Fat storage around the middle is an issue for major organs as the fat is stored closer to the heart and lungs, which increases risk of CV diseases.

    Gluten intolerance causes fat storage in many of the population (not everyone but a good majority), as many of the above points it is linked to stresses in the body on insulin levels, which affect fat storage in the body.

    Spinal flexion is not what I believe to be the issue regarding the point on posture – it is how the exercises are performed. Encouraging a forward shoulder position, or forward rib angle can negatively affect posture, whereas the exercises above target all sections of the abdominals without encouraging excessive forward shoulder positioning.

    Here are a couple of links to back up the article above. There are a few more online especially on the gluten subject:




  3. Joocc

    All the concerns I had whilst reading this article have been articulated well, by Steve above! So no need to add to this. I do wonder however , does anyone actually vet this type of article before being published? Particularly when they are posted under the REP banner?

  4. Chloe,

    I’m really sorry but none of the sites you refer to offer any clinical evidence. They all appear to be commercial sites attempting to sell the public a variety of products or services. This immediately introduces a conflict of interest. We should all appreciate the difference between a clinically controlled, regulated and tested dietician, versus a nutritionist – a function that is useful, but not to provide us with our underlying guidance. To make claims, we need to quote clinical research papers with something as potentially important as this.

    I have regular gluten related meetings with a gastro dietician who only helps those who are coeliacs or have related stomach complaints. Fat is not the issue – trust me. Plus, I know of no link between gluten issues and insulin/stress. Where is the properly conducted research on this – I am genuinely interested for obvious reasons.

    My point re cortisol and fat in the mid section is that the storage is organ related and not sub cutaneous and is therefore not directly relevant to the 6 pack which I thought was the point of your article. Clearly rectus abdominis sits over the fat covered organs hence the point you make is not relevant in your article – though you are right to point out that this organ storage is extremely dangerous.

    Bit confused again by your flexion comment. I was not talking about posture (not sure where you get the info re crunches etc causing bad posture either). Your article is about “abs”. To get any ab definition regardless of whether there is sub cutaneous fat, you will need to exercise your abs!!! Rectus abdominis require spine flexion, which you appear to be largely dismissing.

    I am a Phase IV Cardiac Rehab instructor and additionally am part of a Cardiac Rehab team in a hospital. I am possibly more aware than many other exercise professional of what causes CVD. If I made these sort of statements in that environment I would rightly be questioned and have to provide real evidence that what I’m saying is accurate.

    Peoples’ health is directly affected by what I tell them. We should all see our clients this way.

    We as an industry have no credibility with clients, health professionals or sportspeople if we cannot prove that what we say is correct.

  5. cis

    Another wishy washy article without any decent research to back it up.
    Is this what our membership money pays for?

    • Anna

      This article is specifically about burning belly fat, some people will criticise anything in fitness but I agree this post is accurate & think you will find most knowledgable industry experts would agree it.

      Good post!

  6. Pingback: What Causes Belly Fat? The Science Behind It

  7. Crunches are not an effective abdominal exercise.They won’t “spot reduce” fat on your stomach, and they only engage a percentage of your abdominal muscles and can put a strain on your lower back and hip flexors.Get off your back. If you want to work your core get off your back and start doing full body exercises that work your core and stabilization muslces will much much more for you than spending an hour on your back doing 1,000 crunches. Also, planks are awesome. Do those instead.f you want to lose weight, you don’t need a single piece of equipment. Skip the treadmill, and do sprints outside. Instead of bench press, do pushups. Instead of throwing tons of weigh ton of weight on a squat rack and butchering a squat, do air squats or lunges to start.

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