We want our bodies to be the graceful pear or hourglass shape. Instead, let’s face it, we look more like our breakfast cake: the muffin top.

The muffin top, or love handles, located along your midsection can be difficult to get rid of. Though we all want a basket full of muffin tops like Lorelai in Gilmore Girls, we want healthy, toned bodies even more.

So what exactly is abdominal fat and why is it so hard to get rid of?

There are two types of fat found in the abdomen. The pinch-able fat is called subcutaneous, which is divided into layers. The other type of fat is called intra-abdominal fat, also known as visceral fat, which is an excess amount of tissue or the tissue that is stored deep underneath the skin. In X-ray scans, the fat appears to be in a gel-like form that wraps itself around the internal abdomen organs. Visceral fat means trouble.

The excess visceral fat is more harmful than the subcutaneous fat but it is the relationship between the two types of fat that determines the at high-risk for disease patients. [1][2]

The excess visceral fat can lead to increased risks of diseases such as:

  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Sleep disorders
  • Dementia
  • Depression

When there is too much glucose in our blood, provided by simple-carbohydrates, the extra amount turns to fat. Processed food like starches and high-sugar foods rapidly enter the bloodstream triggering the insulin gland, which pushes blood sugar into our cells. Higher levels of insulin provides more sugars, which adds up to more calories turned into body fat. What makes the fat particularly dangerous is its location, scientists have found. The fat hovers around the portal vein, which transports blood from the intestines to the liver organ, and any substances that are released from the fat, such as fatty acids, are thus carried with the blood. When they enter the liver it influences the organ to produce extra blood lipids, which triggers high cholesterol and insulin resistance.[3]

How to lose this fat?

Attack the problem early.

There are two major ways to address the muffin top and several other factors that you may or not may not always think about when it comes to trying to lose weight.

These include:

  • Age: The decline of your metabolism in aging men and women means your body needs and uses less calories to function normally. Women also go through menopause where the production of the estrogen and progesterone hormones slow down. The slowing down of the body results in an easier time to hold weight in the belly.
  • Your doing the wrong workouts: Cardio is all well and good for your heart, but it is a balance of cardio and weight/high-intensity exercises is the best way to burn fat calories.
  • Being stressed: Stress triggers cortisol production and affects the body’s control on appetite and cravings, the metabolism, and sleep.
  • Getting enough sleep: To fall asleep quickly and stay asleep helps keep your appetite and stress hormones in check. [4]

Diet and exercise are the two biggest factors when it comes to losing weight throughout your body, particularly the midsection. These two solutions are of balance to each other, not cause and effect. A healthy diet does not mean you can skip the workout today, and a good gym session does not mean you can go and eat pizza for the next two days. Balance is key.

Diet

The number one thing to do? Eliminate all processed and high-sugar foods. Easier said than done, yes.

Insulin is one of our body’s most important hormones and the release of it is directly affected by our diet. When a cell is flooded with high levels of insulin because of the large amounts of glucose, then the cell’s ability to function at a normal rate begins to break down. This results in the reduction of insulin receptors, leading to insulin resistance. A constant meal of refined carbohydrates and sugars spike insulin and the extra fat in the midsection is due to the insulin’s ineffectiveness of working normally. Refined carb examples include white bread, pasta, and rice as well as processed snacks like cereals and other treats.

One way to reduce the processed foods is making sure you eat fat. Not any kind of fat, the good kind of fat found in avocados, coconut oil, nuts, and fish. Proper protein is another staple in losing weight to help avoid refined carbs. Sources can include wild fish, hormone-free organic eggs, raw dairy, beans. A good example of a good diet to follow, which negatively affects the regular eating of processed foods, is the 20/20 Diet. The diet was created by Dr. Phil and helps fight fat by allowing dieters to choose a list of thermogenic foods to enjoy.[5]

Workouts

Cardio – running, swimming, biking –are all great forms of exercise and are known to be excellent for heart health. These exercises are the best way to melt away the fat fast when trying to lose a high number of pounds, however, the muffin top, the stubborn areas, are not going to be melted away with low intensity workouts. The best way to burn fat and gain muscle is in lifting weights and engaging in high-intensity training. These HIT workouts are short workouts of heart-racing burst exercises, such as sprinting, rowing, and even workouts like CrossFit’s Workout of the Day. High intensity workouts improve the body’s ability to use oxygen and your VO2max, which is the best indicator of the body’s cardiovascular endurance. [6]

In addition to HIT, the best way to target the muffin top area is performing specific exercises focused on the abdomen.

Below are some examples of exercises guaranteed to help shrink the muffin top belly.

When first starting out, these exercises are best done slow and deliberate, making sure it is done properly and all muscles are being used.

#1. Stability Ball Oblique Crunch:

Three sets of 15 repetitions.

stability-oblique-crunch-exerciseHow to: For beginners, place your feet against a wall for a bit more stabilization, then lay sideways on the ball. The ball should be placed under the lower torso. Extend the body over the ball, then rise back up crunching the abs and obliques. Once you get more comfortable with the exercise, move away from the wall.

Impact: The side crunch, along with the stabilization, works the external core muscles of the abdomen called the oblique. The fat of the muffin top mostly covers the oblique muscle so by focusing on the side muscle groups, you’re targeting the areas not affected with just plain crunches.

#2. Rotational Twist, a.k.a Russian Twist with weight

Three sets of 30-50 repetitions each side.

russian-twistHow to: Sit in a seated position, lean your torso slightly back and keep your legs either on the floor for an easier workout, or lifted for a harder exercise. With some type of weighted object in your hands begin to rotate side to side, bumping the weight to the floor on either side of. Core should be flexed in an engaged position as it twists from left to right.

Impact: This exercise again targets the obliques in a different direction than crunches. In this upright, tense position, the abs are constantly in a strained and working state.

#3. Standing Oblique Crunch and Standing Oblique Dip

standing up-oblique-dipThree sets of 30-50 repetitions each side.

How to: Stand up straight with both feet hip distance apart. Standing on one foot, lift the other knee up while crunching your side toward your knee. Perform all reps on one side before switching to the other side.

For the oblique dip, stand up straight with both feet on the floor, arms hanging down at your sides. With or without a weight, crunch your side down toward the floor, then reverse and come back up toward the standing position.

Impact: These exercises are a simple way to work the obliques in an isolated way. They also target the lower obliques, right along the waistline.

#4. Plank Cross Crunch and Spidermans

Three sets of 15 repetitions each side.

plank-cross-crunchHow to: In a plank position bring your right knee to the left elbow and back. Continue for all repetitions before switching legs.

For Spidermans, starting in a plank position as well, bring your right knee to your right elbow, resembling the spider crawling up a wall.

Impact: These two exercises originally work the abs in a plank stance, but with the crossover of your leg, it forces your obliques to work in the side crunch position. With spidermans, it is another way to engage the obliques in the crunch position, but effort is being used while in the plank position.

#5. Cable Crossover

cable-crossoverThree sets of 15 to 30 repetitions each side.

How to: Stand a few steps away from the cable machine with your body lined up to the machine. With the cable at breast-level, place both hands on the handle with arms straight. With your abs flexed and tense, move your arms from across your chest to straight in front of you, while keeping your arms straight. Weight should be at an effort to do up to 30 reps at a moderate pace. Then switch sides.

Impact: Abs are forced to contract with each side rep. With the weight, the obliques are being used both ways, when bringing the weight forward and releasing it slowly back.

#6. High-Pulley Cable Crunch

Three sets of 15-30 repetitions.

cable-crunchHow to: With the cable pulley at the top, and at a moderate to high weight, attach the rope attachment. Holding onto the rope, lower down to your knees several spaces away from the machine. Place the rope slightly behind your head and crunch down toward the ground, rise slowly back up.

Impact: This variation of crunch uses the abs when crunching down and the slow, controlled release back up to the kneeling position. Allows a full range of motion and a greater strain on the lower obliques.

#7. Leg Lifts/Flutter Kicks

Three sets of 15 repetitions.

flutter-kicksHow to: Lying on your back, lift your legs up off the floor toward the ceiling. Then lower the legs coming down, keeping your legs inches from the floor. For a harder exercise keep your arms above your head. For flutter kicks, hover your feet off the floor and do a scissor or freestyle kick.

Impact: These exercises engage your lower abs and obliques while your legs are lifted off the ground. The flutter kick motion alternates the sides of the abdomen muscles. [1]

Tips on Staying Motivated
  • Set up a workout routine: Morning? Afternoon? Night Owl? Whatever time it is, stick with a workout time of day that will keep you accountable. Once a routine is set, which is usually after seven days, the motivation and drive to get up and go comes easier and easier.
  • Get a buddy: Stay liable with having to meet someone at the gym. You cannot back out of your 6 a.m. workout when your friend is at the door!
  • Stretch and warm-up: The last thing you want is to pull or injure a muscle during your first few minutes of exercise. Make sure you spend at least 15 minutes warming up your muscles and stretching. It is better to keep long static stretching to after your workout and keep your before stretching to more flexible, flowing movements.
  • Re-hydrate and refuel: 30 minutes after your workout make sure to refuel your body with carbohydrates and protein. Also, lots of water and electrolytes will help replenish any lost fluid, especially sweat in the hot weather.

Losing the muffin top will take time and effort, but it all comes down to choices. Stealing a line from “Friends,” “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips,”… is the breakfast muffin worth it? No.

Is the cardio jog, 30-minute weight session, and meal of healthy fruits and vegetables worth it? Yes.

These exercises are supposed to be tough, but they are chosen to help you accomplish goals. The stubbornness of belly fat can be overtaken by a strong will, determination, and hard work. Temptation will come, but remember: muffin tops are only good on the plate.