Sometimes, even though you’ve hit the gym hard and have been doing all the right things, it may seem like your stomach is just not cooperating with whatever effort you’re putting in. Interestingly, there may be some hidden and less obvious reasons why you can’t get a flat stomach. Here are 10 reasons why you may not have the stomach of your dreams.
1. You’re doing the same old crunches
Experts suggest Pilates-based exercises for the best results, which help to work the “deepest layers of the abdominals,” in addition to bicycle crunches, plank poses, and movements that work the entire body, such as those dreaded burpees that we all hate but are oh-so good for us. Prevention also suggests doing crunches on a stability ball instead of the floor, which will challenge your balance and force your core muscles to work harder to reach your flat stomach goal.
2. You’re eating the wrong foods (and too much of them)
Abs are not made in the gym, they’re made in the kitchen. In other words, if you want flat abs, a healthy diet is the easiest and fastest way to get there. “You could do 1,000 ab exercises a day, but if you’re consuming too many calories, your rock-solid six-pack is going to be hiding under fat,” says Clayton. If you really want to see those rocking abs, Clayton suggests watching your alcohol and sugar intake, and eat fewer refined carbs (bread, pasta, potato chips), as these foods will pack on fat in your midsection. Instead, aim to fill up on lean protein (legumes, fish, chicken, low-fat dairy) and good colorful veggies like broccoli and spinach.
3. You’re not concentrating on your core
The key to revealing washboard abs lies in training your entire core — not just your abs. Not sure what your core is? The core is the “centerpiece for any muscular physique” and consists of four different parts in and around your abdominal area that can be trained to give you a strong, toned midsection. Core exercises are an essential part of a well-rounded fitness program and they’re quite often neglected. When trained, your core — those muscles in and around your trunk and pelvis — help your pelvic muscles, lower back, and abdomen to work in harmony, leading to better balance and stability, which translates to a stronger midsection.
The key is to do exercises that engage and stimulate all of those muscles individually or together as part of a well-rounded exercise routine. So get to it!
4. You’ve swapped your sugar products for sugar substitutes
In an attempt to cut out sugars, you’ve opted for foods with sugar substitutes, or sugar alcohols, which are found in low-carb breads, sweets, and energy bars. You may even be using several sugar substitute packets in your morning coffee. Your gastrointestinal tract can’t absorb these sugar alcohols, which go by the names xylitol or maltitol, and though they are low in calories, they cause bloating and possibly diarrhea. Bloating = not flat abs.
5. You eat foods that make you bloat
In addition to sugar substitutes, you may be eating foods that cause fluid retention, constipation, and gas from air you may have swallowed — all of which are byproducts of digestion. To avoid these feelings of bloat, it’s important to opt instead for foods that are less likely to cause stomach problems. For example, instead of eating breads that are labeled as “low-carb” or even “low-calorie,” reach for whole-wheat bread instead, which contains fewer ingredients and is much healthier for you.
Additionally, when you can, opt for whole, lean proteins such as grilled chicken breast instead of deli meats or tuna salads. These tend to be loaded with sodium and can make your body retain water, thus causing bloating, says Felice Schnoll-Sussman, M.D., a gastroenterologist, to Cosmopolitan. Schnoll-Sussman also warns to not eat too much protein (about 4 to 6 ounces) in one sitting, because too much can cause bloating too.
6. You’re skimping on sleep
If a flat stomach feels out of your reach, then a lack of sleep may be to blame. “Numerous studies have linked not getting enough sleep to weight gain,” says personal trainer Jessica Smith Gomez, co-star of the 10 Minute Solution: Best Belly Blasters, to Prevention. “Lack of sleep can affect your blood sugar, your hunger hormones, and even the rate at which you burn calories throughout the day.” Studies show getting less sleep is associated with an increase in hunger as well, so make sure to hit the sack early.
7. You haven’t embraced HIIT
You’re probably incorporating cardio into your workout routine, but it may not be enough to blast fat, especially if you’ve hit a plateau. By simply incorporating HIIT exercises, you’ll be able to blast away calories and form (or re-form) your physique. High-intensity interval training involves intense periods of work, in this case cardio, with short recovery segments. You transition from low-moderate intensity intervals to very high intensity intervals. In simple terms, it works you out at maximum intensity while still maintaining proper form.
8. You eat too much before you work out
9. You’re really stressed out
While stress could be to blame for bloating, the nervous habits that many of us pick up when we’re anxious could also be the culprits. We chew gum, down carbonated drinks, or even gulp air when we’re nervous or feeling anxious. All of these habits push extra air into the stomach, which the body can’t digest. This abdominal side effect is yet another reason to practice yoga, go for a run, or do whatever it takes to de-stress.
10. You have IBS
If you have feelings of constant bloat or constipation, you may have undiagnosed digestive problems, which constipation, gas, and food intolerance are associated with. This could be a sign of IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome. IBS affects somewhere between 25 and 45 million Americans, with most being women. IBS is a combination of having stomach discomfort and irregular bowel habits, including constipation and diarrhea in relation to the foods you eat as well as your environment. Though it’s not life-threatening, it may cause a lot of excess gas and bloating, as well as a belly that sticks out.
While there’s no single treatment that works for everyone, it’s best to consult with your doctor to find the right treatment plan that will help to manage your symptoms. You may need to make some lifestyle changes (figure out what causes your IBS symptoms to trigger, such as certain foods) and/or take medication to help with symptoms.