What is the best way to get rid of my post-holiday belly bulge? – Ryan B.

Do you desire to get rid of that annoying belly bulge that hangs over your belt and makes fitting into your clothes a challenging and emotional experience? The first step in beating the “battle of the bulge” is to understand that there are two types of belly fat. These include visceral fat, which is fat that sits underneath the abdominal muscles and lies close to the internal organs; and subcutaneous fat, which is the fat that sits above the abdominal muscles and can be pinched. The amount of belly bulge you have is not only caused by the storage of excess calories, but also two main hormones called insulin and cortisol. The amount of insulin in your body is influenced by the amount of starchy and sugary foods that are consumed. Cortisol levels are influenced by stress levels and both quantity and quality of sleep. An elevated level of insulin in the body will shut down any fat-releasing activity hormone such as cortisol and influences the negative fat storing effects; these two hormones together coupled with excess calorie consumption are the real culprits of belly fat bulge.

Starch and sugar combined with fat – such as found in doughnuts, pizza, French fries, hamburgers, and Mexican food – are a detrimental combination due to the spike of insulin levels, creating a perfect environment for fat storage around the mid-section. When you also incorporate high levels of stress and low amounts of restful sleep, the battle of the bulge becomes a tug-of-war match.

Here are three essential parts of the flat, toned belly equation:

1. Lean protein and fiber. Replace starchy and sugary foods with lean meat, eggs, and vegetables. This combination will keep your insulin levels stable, calorie consumption lower, and your hormone levels more balanced.

2. Sleep at least 8 hours per night. High-quality sleep will lower cortisol levels and increase the production of the Human Growth Hormone, a fat burning and muscle building hormone.

3. High-intensity circuit weight training: Walking or running alone will not beat the battle of the bulge.  Lean muscle is your metabolism’s best friend. Exercises that combine more than one body part performed in a circuit will increase your fat burning potential.

Belly fat cannot be decreased with exercise alone. The consumption of starchy and sugary foods combined with fat will continue to increase the amount of fat that protrudes from your mid-section. A diet high in lean protein and fiber, coupled with eight hours of quality sleep and high-intensity circuit weight training, will increase your chances of becoming victorious in the battle of the bulge.

–Chelsea Paul, Certified Personal Trainer, NASM, AFAA