Hands up who wants a flatter tummy? I’d wager a guess that 90% of readers would love to lose a stubborn belly roll or two.
A spare tyre can seriously affect self-esteem, but this type of fat does more than make us feel self-conscious. Research has shown that a big tum raises the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease because we are storing visceral fat around our vital organs. A major US study in 2015 even found that a big tummy puts us at higher risk of an early death than obesity.
So what causes us to carry weight here? A high-fat, high-sugar diet and alcohol all contribute. As we get older, hormones also play a part. In our 30s metabolism starts to slow down, which means we burn less energy and store more fat. For men testosterone levels also start to fall, which leads to a tendency to store fat on the stomach, while for women the culprit is a steady drop in oestrogen and progesterone leading up to the menopause.
‘Stress belly’ is often overlooked. When we are stressed, the body releases cortisol. When cortisol levels are raised, the body actually resists weight loss. As part of our complex ‘flight or fight’ response, the body thinks times are tough and holds on to fat, especially on the stomach. It can also be responsible for sugar cravings.
There are so many factors at play that you need to look at the mind and body as a whole. First, address your food intake. Make changes gradually — be sensible, eat little and often and don’t deprive yourself to change your eating habits for good.
Take a good, hard look at life’s stressors. Some cannot be avoided — but some can. Think about how you like to relax — from sex to socialising, reading to cooking — and try and do more of these activities.
Cardio exercise is essential to boost your metabolism and burn fat. It doesn’t have to be hardcore — think walking, cycling or anything else you enjoy that raises your heart rate — this way you will keep at it.
Add yoga into the mix and you can tone up that hard-to-shift tummy fat and improve your posture to make you more body confident. It will help you relax, too.
Here are two yoga poses to start you off — they really work the obliques to whittle the waist. Gradually increase repetitions and if this sort of thing is new to you, go slow especially if you have back issues.
1. Lay on your stomach. Position your elbows directly under your shoulders and clasp the hands together.
Push up onto your toes and take the body off the ground, keeping it in a straight line. If this feels tough, keep your knees on the ground. Draw your navel in towards the spine and pull up with the pelvic floor so you feel as if you are zipping everything in. Relax the muscles of the face and focus on breathing steadily.
If you feel ready, on an exhale drop your right hip towards the ground. Inhale and come back up. Repeat several times.

2. From a seated position, lift your chest and take the feet off the ground. Hold behind your knees and see how you feel. If you can, release the hands. Keep lifting the chest and breathe steadily.
If you feel ready, on an inhale twist to the right, taking your right hand behind you. Keep the shoulders relaxed. On an exhale return to face forward. Repeat to the left. Continue for several rounds.

Finally, if your tummy is just slightly rounded, do try and keep it in perspective. There is no correlation between happiness and having a six pack…

First published on Tuesday April 18, 2018, in the Irish Daily Mail