Men’s Health on Seeing that Six-Pack

running hill

Do you want to see those six-pack abs? Well, they are probably there, but they are probably buried under fat. Even though we try and try to lose weight and gain muscle, the “six-pack look” seems elusive. First, be aware that seeing a six-pack may very well involve removing some excess water off of the stomach. This can be accomplished via Water Pills (another cheap one). Second, it takes a pretty low  body fat percentage to see six-pack abs, and even those of us who are healthy, aren’t quite there. The recent issue of Men’s Health provides a diet plan by Alan Aragon that just might work to help you see those elusive ab muscles. We’ll see. It takes discipline, and is different from my current diet, but I may give it a try. Below are the steps:

1. Calculate your calories:

Aragon suggests setting your calorie goal based on your ideal weight. To do this, he provides the following formula: if you exercise 1 hour or less per week, multiply your ideal weight by 10. For every hour a week over 1 that you exercise, add another 1 to the multiplier. For example, if you exercise 3 hours a week, and your ideal weight is 150, you would take 12×150, for a daily calorie target of 1800. Yeah, that’s low, but losing that final gut fat ain’t easy!

2. Adjust your fat, protein, and carbohydrates accordingly:

Here’s where it may get a little tricky, so pay attention. Aragon advises that you consume the same amount of protein (in grams) as your ideal weight. So, in the example above, our man would consume 150 grams (600 calories) of protein per day. For fat, Aragon suggests halving that number, so our hypothetical person would shoot for 75 grams (675 calories) of fat. Carbs make up the rest, and you can figure the exact grams of carbs allowed by adding the calories from fat and protein, and then subtracting from your calorie goal. In this case, it would be 1800- (600+675)= 535 calories from carbs. Now, divide 535 by 4 (since there are 4 calories in a gram of carbs), i.e. 535/4, and you get 131 carbohydrates a day.

3. Eat Good Foods

Avoid junk like refined grains, sugary foods, etc. A diet of only 1800 calories is pretty low for an active man, but if you eat the right foods, you should get the nutrients you need (including fiber).

4. Make The Diet Work

Aragon suggests eating plenty of fruits and veggies, as well as making sure that 1 hour before, and within 1 hour after, exercising, you eat, in order to make sure you have the fuel you need.

5. Forget About the Details

(apparently after you work out the aforementioned details!)

Image has nothing to do with a six-pack, but I did lose a lot of weight by running this very hill regularly!

Attacking Cortisol and Belly Fat

As mentioned in a previous post, that flab that hangs around your belly (sometimes quite literally) even after doing all the right things with diet and exercise, may be due to the body’s overproduction of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands as a response to chronic stress that can increase the fat around your belly (since that fat has more cortisol receptors). The bad news is that cortisol may be destroying your chance for perfect abs. The good news is that it’s not terribly hard to lower your cortisol levels (and stress).

I workout a lot and eat very healthily. In fact, I’m probably in the top 1-3% of the population in terms of my diet and fitness routine. Yet, I am also frequently stressed out as with most Americans. I started researching cortisol and have come up with the following plan to fight stress and belly flab:

1)  Practice breathing techniques throughout the day, especially during stressful situations. I’ve found Andrew Weil’s three breathing techniques, especially the second, very useful.

2) Practice chi gong (qigong) techniques throughout the day. This is a Chinese form of meditation/exercise that helps to lower stress. This site has really good information on techniques. Click on each exercise for more detail and photos. 

3) Cut back on caffeine. The body can react to caffeine by making more cortisol. I am going to drink only tea, not coffee, after noon.

4) Take phosphytidylserine (aka PS), a brain supplement that some research indicates can help lower out of control cortisol levels

I’ll let you know how the whole strategy proceeds. Numbers 1 and 2 are the areas where I’m most hopeful. Stress is the major contributor to cortisol production and I hope to get it under control for the summer beach season.

Lose the Stress, Lose the Flab

Looking for the source of your belly bulge? Ice cream? Doughnuts? Coke? Look again. It may be the screaming kids, the grumpy boss, or the constant breakdown of your car. Well, not those incidents specifically, but anything that causes stress.

The body responds to high stress by releasing the hormone cortisol which protects the body from harm by creating a fight or flight response (or anything in between). This was an adaptation from the days when we could be surprised and eaten by a tiger or today when we could be attacked by an intruder. Chronically high cortisol levels have been shown to contribute to the long term accumulation of abdominal fat.

The problem today is that while our body is not constantly responding to intruders or wooly mammoth stampedes, we are constantly dealing with low-mid level stress that can be endless, e.g. financial worries, job stress, etc. This keeps our cortisol levels high enough to keep that abdominal fat from leaving no matter how many crunches we do or hours we may spend on the cardio machine.

So, while giving up the ice cream, doughnuts, and coke are important, if you truly want to be thin and fit, especially in the belly, you also need to give up…the stress.

Article partially used for this entry: Cortisol Stress and Weight Loss