Our physical form is not just a direct result of what we put into our bodies and the exercise we do - it is also affected by our thoughts and beliefs and the tension we carry both energetically and physically on a day-to-day basis. While we might be hyper-focused on trying to work on so-called “problem areas” like the belly, why is it that often we don’t see the results we want? The reason belly fat can be so hard to lose is because it requires a shift in focus from the usual routine of starving yourself and doing crunches or planks to a more evolved version of the mind-body connection that helps us shed stress and emotional baggage, release toxins, and cleanse and rejuvenate the body from the inside out.
In other words, the reason you aren’t losing that pesky belly fat is because there’s a lot more to belly fat than meets the eye which means we need to think about it a new way beginning with the way the environment and your emotions impact your body, to reframing your connection to your deep core, and also - in many cases - forgetting what you know about exercise.
So let’s look at the keys to ditching belly fat once and for all!
1. Stress and Emotional Baggage
When we’re stressed out, our body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol forces immature fat cells to become mature (note: immature, or "baby," fat cells lurk in the walls of the blood vessels that nourish fatty tissue, just waiting for excess calories to help them grow into the adult monsters responsible for packing on the extra pounds). These cells are often centered around your belly which leads to belly fat. In times of high stress, cortisol is also like the devil on your shoulder, causing you to reach for not-so-good foods that are high in sugar or refined grains. When you eat sugar or refined grains — which turn into sugar — with spiked cortisol levels, you experience a euphoric sensation that tricks you into thinking you have found temporary relief from the stress you are experiencing.
Chronic stress has been called “the silent killer” because it causes inflammation and compromises the immune system, leading to some of the most chronic and persistent diseases in Western Medicine, including obesity. Many of us spend our lives in a constant state of white-knuckling and jaw and butt clenching, forcing our adrenals to work overtime and causing our systems to become sluggish and bogged down by toxins and blocked energy. For many of us, this is actually subconscious and we only become aware when the pain, tension or discomfort shows up.
The pelvic floor is also an area where the body holds stress, which can cause major tension or misalignment in the hips, pelvis and spine and that disconnect from our deep core, creating compression in the body and making belly fat more prominent. I like to call the pelvic floor the stress “on/off button”. Our nervous system is composed of a network that runs up and down our spinal cord, from our cranium to our sacrum. A powerful force of energy runs along our spinal nervous system, all the way from our sacrum to our cranium and back again. Our sacrum—the triangular bone at the base of the spine—is located directly above our pelvic floor. This means that if we want to manage stress, we have to combat it at the beginning of the network—you guessed it! The pelvic floor.
This button is flipped on when we react and clutch in our pelvic floor. Stress and clutching go hand-in-hand. When we are stressed, our natural biological reaction is to clutch the pelvic floor. This clutching then sends out a system-wide message that throws our body into the sympathetic nervous system state of fight, fright, or flight, which accelerates the aging process and makes us live in a reactive state.
Our cavemen ancestors needed this stress button for their literal life or death survival. When true danger loomed, they needed a hit of adrenaline to flee to safety. But the world is different now. We still have the stress button and sometimes wedoneed it during those moments when we are in danger. However, most of us don’t live our lives under constant life-or-death threat. The problem is that our bodies think we do because of this vicious subconscious clutching cycle. We live in a constant state of clutch and compression, so our bodies think we are under duress, and our fight or flight system kicks into gear. Constantly.
The busy-ness of the world exacerbates this problem even more. We clutch because we’re stuck in traffic, because our inbox is jammed, because we’re worried about money, or because we have too much to do and not enough time to do it. In response, we clutch, push through, try to make things happen and, attempt to control everything. Most of us are stuck here, and we don’t even realize it. This bared down, white knuckling way of life has become the new normal.
The good news is that it’s much easier than you think to shift your perspective and channel the energy we’ve been dedicating toward stress in an entirely different, more joyful, and more beneficial direction.
When we are in an optimal, balanced state, our parasympathetic system runs the show. It is from this state—and only from this state—that our bodies kick into rest and digest mode, which I believe is the fountain of youth.
Reconnecting and relaxing this area of the body can work wonders for the deep core and, ultimately, the belly area. Learn how to restore your pelvic floor and reconnect to your inner core, in my bookThe Power Source
2. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
You might be wondering what sleep has to do with belly fat and the answer is A LOT. Sleep is nutrition for the brain and not getting enough triggers a cortisol spike which makes your body more susceptible to holding on to fat.
In fact, sleep is just as beneficial (and vital) as diet and exercise when it comes to maintaining a healthy body. Research shows that lack of sleep can have an enormous impact on the body as sleep influences the body’s neuroendocrine function and glucose metabolism. Without a good night’s sleep, this influence can lead to increased cortisol (there’s that stress hormone again!), decreased glucose tolerance, as well as increased hunger and appetite. All of this can lead to belly fat and even obesity.
So, how do you get more sleep? That’s easier said than done. But I do have some go-to tips to help you improve your sleep hygiene.
Turn off your phone/TV before bed:To set yourself up for success, give yourself a device and TV “curfew” every night. Though they might seem harmless, screens release blue light which directly impacts the body’s circadian rhythm. Turning the TV off and shutting down your devices at least two hours before bed will help you avoid this interference. As a bonus, you could also try dimming the lights in your house to signal to the body that it is almost time for bed.
Body rolling, breathing, meditating or stretching before bed:Movement can get your heartrate up, but slow and gentle movement or mindfulness can also put your body into deep relaxation mode. Before bed, spend a few minutes stretching, doing some yoga, or releasing the daily grind on aBody Rolling Toolcan make a huge difference in your sleep quality.
Journal before bed: It’s hard to fall asleep with all of those thoughts racing through your head. Instead of storing them back in your mind, let it out with a journal and pen. Journaling can help you release thoughts and often feels very meditative, putting you in an excellent mindset for bed.
Check your magnesium levels: When it comes to sleep, magnesium is one of the body’s most essential minerals but many of us (roughly 40% of the population) are deficient in magnesium. Take a magnesium supplement before bed for best results. (Consult with your doctor before taking any supplement to find out what dosage is best for you.)
3. Breath It All In - And Out
One of the coolest things about breathing is that we don’t even have to think about it — we just do it! But, that can sometimes have a negative impact on the body as most of us only use a small percentage of our lungs’ full potential when mindlessly breathing in and exhaling out. Breathing is particularly important while working out not just to prevent you from passing out, but because breathing properly can actually help you lose fat! Studies show that when you lose weight, the fat that you are ‘burning’ is actually mostly turned into carbon dioxide. In other words when you breathe out, you are literally converting and releasing fat! How cool is that?
That being said, you won’t just lose weight by simply breathing in and out. But, when you are breathing deeply and efficiently and using as much of your lung capacity as possible, you will better dispose of fats you might take in by converting it to CO2.
Breathing can also have a major impact on the body when dealing with stress, which can also help you lose belly fat (and keep it off). To get started, try a simple breathing exercise called box breathing where you inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, hold your breath out for a count of four, and repeat. For an added stress release bonus, try exhaling for six to eight counts. Exhaling longer than inhaling can reset your nervous system and add a sense of calm to the body. You can find some amazing breathing sequences and hours of movement medicine in my virtualAligned Life Studio.
4. Make Fat Flushing Food Choices
Two other bodily systems that play a key role in how much fat we store on our bodies are our digestive and lymphatic systems. And these systems are largely affected by diet - so choosing healthy, ‘high vibration’ foods are a must. After all, abs are made in the kitchen!
One reason why you might be stuck with some stubborn belly fat is because you are eating too many processed foods and not enough fiber and antioxidant-rich foods. Even if your diet seems healthy, those healthy packaged “snacks” are hardly doing anything to help your cause, especially if they contain refined grains or sugars. And the sneaky added sugars make it nearly impossible to get results without cutting them out altogether. Both refined grains and sugar wreak havoc on the body, leading to increased inflammation, which belly fat is linked to. Swapping out the bad stuff for antioxidant-rich natural foods — such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains — can actually have a reverse effect as they are anti-inflammatory and may even help prevent belly fat in the first place.
Fiber is undervalued in our diets as many of us usually take about 15 grams per day, when we really should be doubling that and consuming around 35 grams! The reason why we need more fiber? It works wonders! Fiber balances our blood sugar, which makes us feel less hungry. On top of that, it helps exfoliate our bellies from the inside out and who doesn’t want that? For a delicious, fiber-rich meal, check out my Skin Brightening Stew Recipe featuring high fiber lentils — yum! And check out my FREE ImmUNITY Boosting Program which features tons of healthy recipes as well as workouts designed to reduce stress and help your body and spirit thrive.
5. Forget What You Know About Exercise
Choose quality over quantity when it comes to building a strong and confident body. Moving with integrity - in other words moving with awareness and mindfulness as you work out - is very important no matter what your health goals might be. But, you don’t have to overdo it to get the results you want.
This is especially true for belly fat as some forms of exercise can actually cause physical stress on the body, leading to a spike in cortisol and the retention of that stubborn belly fat. Not to mention common ‘ab exercises’ like crunches, sit-ups, and planks are good to strengthen your core but they are not considered fat-burning exercises. The best workout for ditching belly fat is one that is gentle yet effective with a focus on the deeper layers of the core, pelvic core and creating space in your waist area that helps improve digestion and overall body detoxification. Incorporating some self belly massage on squishy ball, (such as my signature Body Sphere) as a phenomenal way to clear tension, blocked energy and help flush fluids as well in this area. The Flat Belly Body Love sequence in the online studio is amazing at releasing blockages in the gut to kickstart digestion to get a flatter tummy.
Instead of logging miles on a treadmill, ditch your sneakers and have some fun on a rebounder. Bouncing on a rebounder is low impact and, according to NASA, it’s 50% more effective at burning fat than running, making it the best form of cardio out there. Rebounding also enhances the body’s digestion and elimination, which is essential always but especially when targeting pesky belly fat. When digestion is slow and imbalanced, fat starts to accumulate, which is why a workout that flushes the body and improves digestion is key to getting rid of belly fat.
Twisting is another exercise that can work wonders for the belly and digestion (are you starting to connect the dots here?). Twisting movements can ring out the organs to release tension, bloating, and improve detoxification and is common in mindfulness practices such as yoga. You can actually get a lot of benefit from gentle twisting using a foam roller. For a simple and effective digestion-focused workout, see my Foam Rolling for Digestion workout.
Summing it all up
Getting rid of belly fat is all about a shift in perspective and awareness — and sometimes forgetting most of what you thought you knew about belly fat and Abs. When it comes to our core, it’s absolutely essential that we find a connection to our pelvic floor and release stress there, as this area directly impacts the outer belly. With proper pelvic floor connection, we can access our deep core while moving our bodies on a rebounder, inverting our bodies, side bending, flexing and extending in addition to practicing healing twisting movements that help ring us out. And while these are great tools and beneficial to reducing belly fat, it’s also important that we get a good night’s sleep and reduce stress as both can have an alarming impact on the body and undo all of our hard work. Lastly, what we put in our body is essential to our health and outer appearance — belly included. Most of us only receive about half of the necessary daily fiber intake we need to reduce blood sugar and curb our appetite (which is especially helpful during stressful times). Upping the ante and eating natural, whole foods like fruits and veggies as well as high-fiber dishes like my Skin Brightening Stew Recipe can help you reach the daily recommendation of 35 grams of fiber, counter some bad food habits, and beat belly fat from the inside out.
I hope this helps you with one of the most common problem body issues people get frustrated by. And trust me I know this approach works. I’ve used this with many sceptical clients who thought they were doing everything right - and never imagined these things would help - only to be amazed at the results. So what have you got to lose? Apart from the belly fat that is.
Head over to the Aligned Life Studio for your 7 Day FREE Trial. Here you can try the Flat Belly Body Love sequence AND you will find hours and hours of workouts and rejuvenating sequences to feel great, get strong, feel confident and perhaps most importantly right now, boost your immune system in the comfort and safety of your own home.