Thursday 10 February 2011

Tummy & Co

First published in 2009 as Lifestyle article. In the new ILP setup however, it fits better into the Health and Beauty section.

Tummy, ABS, Stomach, Midriff, Waist and Belly, only boobs and willies carry more names and thus we seem to consider it the third most important part of our bodies, most of the time it being a nuisance. This alone I felt was incentive enough to write another article on the matter, but now I am receiving an increasing amount of emails, commenting on my tummy videos with a cry for more help.

Apparently I have become some sort of authority for the midriff area and as you all know: I am vain! So let me indulge in a bit more of lecturing.

Actually, there is no difference between belly fat and the wobbly bits arranged on other areas, except of one though, and that is age related. Over time legs get thinner, while bellies get bigger. ‘Leg’ people might become ‘tummy’ people – or more likely both, while ‘tummy’ people will become bigger ‘tummy’ people.


But not all tummies look the same. Especially from India I get emails saying that they are generally thin just calling some fat around the middle their own. In Europe it is often combined with a bit of overall chubbiness, and for English gals it usually goes along with huge boobs. Generally one can assume that the ladies have it sitting more on the hips extending into the rear while the boys just grow towards the front.

So the different types of fat distribution seem to be firstly a matter of culture – a lot of Indian people are small framed – and a matter of gender.

Women are supposed to carry weight around their bum and legs as energy stores during their period of fertility. Around the bottom area it doesn’t pose as much of a threat for the cardio system, as it does when accumulated in the upper body - hence the higher mortality rate of overweight men. Once the lady is past her best off date and fertility is not the issue anymore, the fat all of a sudden subsides from the legs and due to reduced energy needs, it beginning to accumulate around the belly.

Given all these differences it becomes obvious that there is no single simple solution… well, there is a single solution, but unfortunately it is not simple! 

About Quick fixes
The one thing you will not get from me is quick fixes, because there aren’t any which work for good. Quick fixes not just only don’t work, they have a huge negative impact on the confidence. Every quick fix that backfires is conceived as a failure and makes things even harder the next time round.

So before you start into a weight loss, fitness programme you have to ask yourself if you want a short term solution like needing to fit into that dress and not bothering afterwards, or if you want a change for good.
I am not judging: Both are valid reasons! I am just saying – if it is the first one, then I am not the best person to ask advice from. However as long as you know what you want and not expecting more then this is absolutely OK.

If you are hoping for a long term solution, then you have to make your peace with the fact that you will have to change your life. You will have to make time! Time, that you will have to take away from other areas, and that means that you will change your life in a way that it affects other people. You will have to be strong, determined, selfish and stubborn at times. If you embark on the journey in that frame of mind you already have come a long way. I only discovered it as I went along and the insight sometimes threw me off my course.

The Path
Following somebody else’s rules is like living somebody else’s life. We are all individuals and much too different in our physical and psychological set up. The only advice you should take on from this whole article is:
Find your own way!
Told you! No simple solution! 

Finding your own way does not mean that you are alone, though. There are so many things which influence the outcome: Food, sport, time and lifestyle in general.

I see this as a journey during which I try things out. The gym and the kitchen are my laboratories and I am my guinea-pig. Listening to others, observing, making sense of it - so many things sound incredible but don't really fit the picture - testing out the promising ones and taking on board what works while discarding the rest.
This implicates that one has to develop a certain pleasure for playing with stuff, a genuine interest into the own body and life altogether.

The most critical ingredient for the recipe is time. A lot of things which could work are going down the drain because of the ‘time issue’. Be honest, how often did you hear or even used this reason yourself for NOT doing something. However, when things are starting to fall into place one might even find that some of the time invested is now flowing back.

It starts with the body
My top credo is: You only can work with your body and not against it!

This is what all the quick fixes ignore. They are overriding one mechanism of the whole chain of events which is taking place in the body, creating a short cut.  But the body is smart, it balances it out by adapting the other mechanisms and everything goes back to normal. This way quick fixes only create a short term success plus a huge negative impact: Now the whole system is working on a different level, the body has learned something about your behaviour and will outsmart you faster the next time.

So the task is to learn the rules of the game that your body is playing.

Playing the game
Meet the players


Fat Energy

Learn the rules

  1. Every single cell in the body, whether it is fat of muscle, burns energy
  2. Calories is the name for the energy (actually it is a unit with which the energy is measured, but let’s not get too scientific)
  3. Food is energy that goes in
  4. Movement is energy that comes out
  5. The body needs a basic amount of energy to sustain life (basic metabolism), that is the energy burnt in the cells when you rest
  6. The basic metabolism of an average person is about 1300 calories (depending on number of cells)
  7. Usual daily activity, walking, sitting, thinking, housework increases total calories needed to aproximately 2000 for women, 2300 for men - not fair, I know!
  8. Muscle cells need more energy than fat cells – you might want to remember that one!
  9. 1kg of fat is worth 7000 calories - Eeek!
  10. Muscle as well as fat are the energy storages of the body
  11. When calorie (energy) intake is reduced during diet, the muscle is more likely to be used to make up for the difference than fat… this is the meanest rule of all!
  12. Muscles are not just moving and bringing us from A to B. When stressed (like during sport) they produce all sorts of chemicals which make the mechanisms of the body work well together.
  13. Skin is shrinking slower than the fat cells
    … and what do we learn from that?

    It is good to have a lot of cells – just not fatty ones
    - the body needs a minimum amount of fat to be sustainable, though -
    Fat people often claim that they have a low metabolism – cannot be true (see above): Compared to a slim person they have just too many cells (this was actually measured in an experiment during a TV show)

    Success comes slowly – that’s what your skin is telling you
    Fat cells do not vanish evenly, and they do not vanish from the places you want them to vanish from. It is up to the body to choose the cell that goes, and the body has no beauty conscience! It usually does it in patches causing orange peel. And the skin which usually would hold it all tight, becomes saggy and needs time to shrink.

    Hence one has to live with the fact that there will be a period of time when the scale and the waistband say ‘Yippee!’ while the mirror insists that one looks more horrible than ever before. Patience is key during these times, enhancing blood flow by exercise, good skin care and going ahead slowly, slowly… The slower the process, the better the chances the skin will get tight again.

    The more cells we lose the harder it gets – that is so mean
    Well, we don’t actually lose fat cells they just shrivel away and go to sleep. However, the fewer awake cells we remain from dieting, the less energy we need, so we would have to diet even harder. Low fat content is almost impossible to sustain just by dieting and the diet would quickly become imbalanced and unhealthy.

    The harder it gets the more muscle is used up – even meaner
    It’s much easier for the body to use muscle rather than fat when on a diet. That is why diets make us feel weak. The closer the daily calories get to the basic metabolism (that is the 1300 calories mentioned above) the more it nips into the muscles and not the fat. A lot of  those ‘Lose 5kg in 2 weeks’ diets suggest around 1000 calories per day. A few things they don’t tell you, though:
    • The diet usually does not contain salt, so the body instantly loses at least 2kg of water worth a kilo each. Even if you drink a lot – what is good, in a way – the body can’t keep it in, it goes straight through… Yay! 2 days - two kilos - unfortunately no fat, just water.
    • Usually you are asked to drink at least 2l of plain water. When you drink too much of it you are even draining more salts from your body, dehydrating even more. In the end you may have lost about 3kg of water which was previously stored in your cells.
    • 1 kilo of fat is worth 7000 calories. If the diet reduces calories from 2000 to 1000 per day one can lose a kilo in one week – However, 1000 is far below the basic metabolism and thus one will lose mainly muscle and not fat. Additionally muscle is heavier than fat, so on the scale this will look really great.
    • One might feel great because the psychological effect is so big and one might eventually fit back into this particular piece of clothing. But two weeks is about the limit that the body can take this. One will be happy that it is over and will gradually fall back into the old habits. Water will come back on first, and then fat will build up.
    Wait a minute! We just established that mainly muscle will be gone… and now fat is building up? That would mean that with every extreme diet I am replacing muscle with fat cells…

    Yep! That is how it works! 

    All the above accumulates in one fact:

    The only sustainable way to manage the energy levels for the body and to encourage the skin to become tight again is to replace fat cells by muscle cells – and not the other way round.

    And that means Sport
    What brings us back to:

    Determination ...
    Try out everything! Go running, take up dance classes, do boxing, rowing, weight lifting, swimming, cycling, do it in a Gym, with friends, alone,… but don’t give in. We have this perception of people doing their sport regularly without faltering – and they are the good ones. Rubbish!

    I am not a cardio person, so I have developed a cycle throughout the year which keeps me going. I hate running, but in spring I am yearning the fresh air and for a short period of time I go out for runs with a friend, although I like doing things alone – running I only do with her. Then my enthusiasm fades and I go back to indoor rowing. I like to try out classes, although I hate having to be some place on time, parking car, not forgetting half my kit. I am still hoping to find one that I really like. The thing I continuously do is my Bodybuilding, but even there I have times of lesser performance. The important thing is that I pick it up time and time again.

    Time and selfishness ...
    Consider yourself as important as everybody else in your family! I see so many mums devoted to their children, scared the kids might miss out on something should she fail to be the perfect chauffeur to the various events the little ones are booked to. However, in all the well meaning she might forget what kind of example she is setting:

    Son: Look for a wife that is a similar idiot as I am. She should take it all on her shoulders and the lack of responsibility I taught you, she should respect.

    Daughter: Be the same obedient idiot that I am and take it all on your shoulders, otherwise you never will get a husband. And because life will get hard for you soon enough, let me spoil you rotten.


    I do acknowledge that parents wish the best of headstarts for their kids, but it will be you to decide how much sacrifice you are willing to give. If you are an unhappy bundle of a person... it might be time to get the rest of the family into the boat. I don’t say it is easy, but if you want to succeed you have to find this me-time. However, who am I to advice? You chose to embark on the journey, you will have to find your own way! 

    Experiments …
    If I would call myself experimental in my choices of sport, I wouldn’t know what to call my kitchen activities. There was a time when I stopped cooking altogether. It was one of my favourite hobbies, another one is eating! I had a rather reduced fun-less diet which made me realise that I actually did lose weight, but that I never would sustain this. 

    So, I went back into the kitchen and started to play with food, stripped my original recipes and swapped ingredients until it was a healthier fun dish again. Now I have a list of ingredients I can live with for good and from which I can derive new recipes whenever I feel like it, I have an array of sports interests which I am attending to whenever and however it suits my lifestyle and I have a few tricks to bring me back on track should I slip, like the Sugar Experiment.

    To wrap it up!
    I set out to write a sport article and again it became a lifestyle one. As usual I am addressing women - we are a ladies website after all - but again, everything applies to our better halves as well. As a matter of fact some of the emails I get are from male online friends and I am proud and happy that they trust my expertise. Apart from a bit of testosterone we are not really that different, the mechanisms are the same: One cannot separate sport, from nutrition, from other lifestyle choices. That is as true for men as it is for women. So again it turns out:

    We are sitting in one boat,
    all we have to do is to choose a direction!

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