“Body shapes come in and out of fashion, but the classic ‘hourglass’ figure is something a lot of people want to achieve, regardless of what is in trend,” says trainer Luke Worthington of the near-universal pursuit of a honed waist. You only need glance at Billie Eilish, resplendent in a corset in British Vogue’s June issue, or Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Serena Williams or Jennifer Lawrence’s early summer looks to know that this erogenous zone is truly having a moment.
But working on your waistline is about more than just its aesthetic appeal. Studies show that excess fat in the area is linked to a higher risk of early death, while a strong waistline actually helps to improve issues with posture.?
The trouble with abdominal fat is that it is often indicative of visceral fat. “Visceral fat refers to the fat inside your belly that starts to surround your organs,” explains Rhian Stephenson, nutritionist, naturopath and founder of Artah. “This is a particularly dangerous type because it drives inflammation and insulin resistance, while also influencing other important cardiovascular and metabolic markers.” It also increases the risk of various chronic diseases and can even affect the immune system, with recent studies showing that increased visceral fat influences the severity of Covid-19.
Stephenson recommends a diet packed with healthy whole foods and nutrients, as well as lots of fibre. Start by focusing on good quality fats and protein while eliminating processed foods?– including excess sugar and refined carbohydrates – which is particularly important for those with a lot of visceral fat. Say goodbye to sugary drinks and foods with high fructose corn syrup, as well as alcohol.
“Another really important factor is maintaining lean muscle mass to ensure you have better metabolic control and help with insulin sensitivity,” she says. “I’d advise including strength work in your weekly regime, so that you can build or keep this healthy muscle – it’s an excellent preventative step, particularly as we age.”
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Bloating is common and there are myriad reasons why it happens. While some are more obvious, such as constant snacking, individual factors play a big part, so Stephenson recommends first cutting out ultra-processed foods and eating a healthy balanced diet to see if it makes a difference.
She also makes the point that stress is a big factor. “Not only does it perpetuate habits that lead to bloating, like eating quickly or on-the-go chewing, but it can also impair your digestion,” she says. “If you’re chronically stressed, looking at some simple habits, to switch out of the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ mode into the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ mode, can be hugely impactful.” For that, she recommends yin yoga, mindful eating, and meditation.