No matter how many miles you've walked, how many diets you've tried, or how long it's been since giving birth, that extra bit of flab on your belly, which arrived along with your baby, doesn't seem to want to budge. Sound familiar? That's why we've gathered these simple ways to reclaim your prepregnancy stomach, once and for all!
The stubborn tummy (why crunches don't always work)
During pregnancy the outermost abdominal muscles stretch and separate to make room for the expanding uterus. Even after birth, though, when the uterus shrinks back to its original size, these ab muscles can stay separated (after a vaginal delivery or a c-section). And crunches can do more harm than good when trying to lose baby weight. "Crunches put pressure on the tissue that connects the outermost abdominal muscles, which can further separate them," says Julie Tupler, a nurse and coauthor of Lose Your Mummy Tummy. The key to toning up your tummy: Brace your stomach and focus on engaging the innermost ab muscle, the transverse abdominus, since this is the muscle that really supports the uterus and gut and keeps your belly sucked in. This also helps prevent back pain.
You can engage and tone your transverse ab muscle while you do almost any activity - or when you're just sitting around. How? Sit up straight, shoulders down, and draw your belly button in toward your spine. "Imagine you're wearing a corset and you're pulling its strings tight," says Lisa Druxman, a fitness trainer and author of Lean Mommy. Believe it or not, sitting this way (say, while you're reading to your child) or standing this way (maybe while you're waiting in line at the store or changing a diaper) will make your abs firmer and flatter. It'll instantly elongate your torso and strengthen your abs and back. If you think you'll forget to do this, tie a piece of string around your waist while your ab muscles are drawn in, and leave it there. Every time you expand your stomach, you'll feel the string pull and remember to keep your abs taut.
Once you know how to engage your abs (see above), you can turn simple activities into toning exercises. For instance, instead of holding your baby on your side (which causes you to jut out your hip and let your stomach go), hold her in front of you with both arms. "Use your baby as a stabilizer," says Brooke Siler, a Pilates expert and author of Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge. Keep your shoulders down and back straight while pulling your belly in toward your spine. "It's hard to hold your baby and that posture for very long, but doing it for even two minutes at a time is a great exercise," she says.
Two tummy toners
If you've just given birth, wait until your doctor gives you the green light - usually about six weeks post delivery - before doing these exercises.
Baby Reverse Curl
- Lie on your back with your baby on your chest.
- Bend your knees, bringing them in to your chest.
- Rest your baby on your shins, holding her hands, and then lift them up so that your shins and your baby are parallel to the ground. Your thighs should be at a 90-degree angle to your torso.
- Contract and engage your abs and lower your shins (and your baby) so that your feet are slightly off the ground. Hold for a moment, then lift your shins up so that they (and the baby) are parallel to the ground again.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times (your baby will like flying through the air while you tone up).
- Lie on your back and extend your arms behind you as far back as you can reach. Hold on to a sturdy table leg or couch leg.
- Bring your legs straight up into the air so that they're at a 90-degree angle to your torso.
- Engage your ab muscles (especially your transverse ab muscle) and lower your right leg down so that it's just off the ground. Hold it there for a few seconds while keeping your pelvis stable, your tummy taut, and your back flat.
- Snap your right leg up, and repeat with your left leg. Try 10 reps on each leg.
- Drink lots of water, to flush excess fluid out of your system and help move high-fiber foods along the intestinal tract.
- Eat water-rich fruits and vegetables, like oranges, tomatoes, asparagus, and celery, which act as gentle, natural diuretics.
- Eat potassium-rich foods, like bananas, spinach, and apricots, since this mineral counteracts sodium and helps rid the body of water.
- Eat slowly; when you eat quickly, you gulp more air, which leads to gas and bloating.
- Drink lots of carbonated drinks, which cause gas and bloating.
- Eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli) right before putting on a slim-fit dress, since this causes gas and bloating.
- Eat foods high in salt, which causes water retention throughout the body and belly. Chew gum, as it makes you swallow air and become - you guessed it - gassy and bloated. - From Lyssie Lakatos, dietitian and cofounder of The Nutrition Twins
Looks to avoid
Tucked-in tops, which accentuate the belly.
Oversize clothes: "You may think you look thinner in clothes three times too big, but this actually makes you look larger, especially in the waist," says Rachel Florio, a celebrity-trend expert in New York City.
Empire-waist tops paired with A-line skirts: The two trends together will make you appear round all over.
Fat blasters (cardio counts, too)
There's no way around it: Cardiovascular exercise is crucial to getting rid of belly weight. But this doesn't mean you have to devote hours a day to working out. An easy fat-blasting exercise: a power walk, even with the stroller, keeping abs pulled in and spine straight. If you want to burn fat faster and increase metabolism (which enables you to burn more calories even while resting), increase the intensity of your walk for a few minutes at a time, or put your baby in a backpack to add extra weight to your walk, says New York-based fitness expert Ken Mahadeo. Also consider a weight-lifting program, since this builds muscle and boosts metabolism. Shoot for an hour of exercise most days. It doesn't have to be all at once - you can break it up into 10- or 20-minute slots.