If I was asked to describe belly fat, I would call it the creeping invader of the late twenties and persistent friend of the late thirties. It is the friend that takes the vow of alliance seriously. It understands the importance of keeping secrets, and will happily stay put in waist trainers, barely trying to stretch its arms as friends and strangers admire our tiny perfect waist lines. It does not rat us out beneath all types and colors of shape-wear and does not hold a grudge by the end of the day when we let it flow freely, relieving ourselves from the strain of arduous breathing. It is the friend no one wants, but one we are likely to get if we keep thinking that we can wish it away as we trust in our ‘fast’ metabolism.
I used to be one of those people – I had so much faith in my fast metabolism, did not really understand why I needed to workout, and was able to eat almost anything without consequence. But as I turned a chapter after 25, I started to notice an undesirable horizontal expansion in places I would have preferred to keep tight and fit. This expansion, although slow in its encroachment, began to bother me and it was only a matter of time before it became a battle I wanted to fight wholeheartedly.
So I did what everyone was doing – I joined a gym in my area and decided it was time to start working out. In fact, I started to fantasize about the toned body I was going to build and was no longer a fan of my slim-but-not-firm body.
At first, I would go to the gym and spend 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer, and another 30 minutes fooling myself into thinking the halfhearted crunches and sit-ups I was doing were sufficient for me to lose this layer of belly fat that I could not stop seeing, even though my friends and acquaintances claimed they could not see it. I guess I don’t need to tell you that by the end of three months, I was exactly in the same place I was when I started.
Frustrated, I delved into research and got the gist of what I was doing wrong – spending hours on a cardio machine was not going to help get the toned body I wanted. I needed to move with confidence into the intimidating weights section of the gym and lift weights.
After talking myself up for several days and strategically eyeing the times of the day when the weights section of the gym was close to empty, I eventually made my way to the weights and attempted to do a 25 kg deadlift. The contents of my stomach mixed vigorously together and after a few lifts (and by few, I mean three), I made a good decision to drop the barbell and walk stylishly to the ladies room. From there I went straight home. Deadlifts were certainly not my friend. The first time I lifted 40 kg a few weeks later, the room spun and my whole body shook. I sat on a bench for 20 minutes, hoping my body was not going to disassemble into bits. Those were the funny early days, and I wish I could say they yielded the desired results but they did not.
After every workout session, I was so ravenous, I would eat a steak with vegetables and ten minutes later, be found sitting on my couch eating a packet of plantain chips. I was insatiable after every workout. I remember going out with a friend for breakfast at a new spot he really liked. He suggested I order an omelette and I remember saying “Just that? I am really hungry!” He looked amused and when the omelette arrived, I understood why. There was no way I could finish the large omelette AND the slices of brown toast I had ordered. It was the first time I was defeated by food, but I still continued with my plantain chips routine and would occasionally snack on a chocolate bar, nuts and all other kinds of small bits. The result? I started to look bulky. My shoulders were wider, breasts larger, butt rounder and belly fat? Persistent. I remember standing in front of my bathroom mirror one day wondering what I was doing wrong.
I ate a lot of proteins – beef, chicken, fish fillets, and no carbohydrates. I used only olive oil in my cooking. I drank water and freshly-squeezed orange juice most of the time. Fizzy drinks have never really been my thing so they were not a problem. I had the occasional glass of wine and sometimes, when I was out with friends, I had cocktails and “100% juice”. But surely, those should not have been enough to undermine my efforts in the gym.
It took a presentation by some of my students for me to realize that not eating carbohydrates did not mean I was not getting carbohydrates. Did you know that your body converts proteins to carbohydrates when your blood sugar is low? I immediately changed my game plan.
Low quantity of carbs + lean proteins + healthy fats to yield a calorie deficit daily became the plan.
Thankfully, the results are now better. I have lost the bulkiness of an aspiring body builder and I am well on my way to achieving a toned mid-section – which is really the most difficult part for me. I mean, it seems all the fat I had in other parts of my body migrated to my belly to set up a defense camp against my efforts, but my mama did not raise a quitter so I am pressing on, not by faith, but by strenuous workouts in the gym.
I work out four days a week and on one of the other days, I do a 5km run within the neighborhood. I have split my body, not into parts, but into sections – my upper body and my lower body. Because I never really had a butt when I was younger, and I really wanted one, I hit my lower body with heavy weights and many reps three out of four days. (By the way ladies, hit that booty as often as you can. Don’t give up on it! Working out your glutes will do your body a lot of good). Chest, arms and back workouts are two days a week (I combine the third day of lower body workouts with light upper body workouts), and abs are every workout day.
I eat more fibre-rich gut-friendly meals. One of my favorite breakfasts is a banana, berry and chia seeds smoothie which I pack up with a tablespoon of gluten-free oats whenever I am feeling really peckish. For lunch, I indulge in delicious vegetable casseroles or a delightful mix of lean proteins, chickpeas, and vegetables. Dinner is always something light, like a delicious carrot and coconut soup recipe I stumbled on.
No, I no longer drink orange juice even though it is freshly squeezed at a farmer’s market near me. Water is my best friend. I start my day with warm water and lemon, and by the end of my morning workouts, I consume about one litre of water. I consume more during the course of the day.
Yes, I still hang out with friends and I enjoy an occasional treat of waffles and ice cream when the craving overwhelms me, but all in all, I am doing pretty good and a gut healthy diet has been the best decision I’ve made on this fitness journey. Still a work in progress but I am happy with how I feel. Yes, that’s me featured on this post.
I intend to post my workout regimen soon so keep an eye out for that. For now, get rid of all the fizzy stuff, give the cookies away and replace your baked snacks with baby carrots. Get into some cardio and body weight exercises at home, and if you are wondering what you can eat, my advice is to stick to food that grows, not food that is synthesized.
With all that said dear community, what are your workout and diet tips? Please share in the comments. I will be delighted to read about how you are all challenging the creepy invader called belly fat.