Find out how to control the real root of stubborn belly fat.

By Joe Dowdell, CSCS, CPT
Updated: March 09, 2012

Q: What's the best way to burn belly fat and get rid of my muffin top?

A: In a previous column, I discussed the underlying causes for what many people refer to as a "muffin top" (Check it out here if you missed it). Now, I'm going to focus on what you can do to beat them. Here are my top tips for how to deal with the two hormones often at the root of stubborn belly fat:

How to Control Cortisol Levels

1. Eat regularly. Missing meals increases your cortisol (stress hormone) levels. To avoid adding more stress to your system, try to eat something every three to four hours. In fact, this may be the single best diet tip ever, as it not only helps manage your stress hormones, it will also help you avoid overeating later in the day.

2. Get enough sleep. You may have noticed that sweets seem to call your name when you're exhausted (I had a rough night so I deserve this cookie). Lack of sleep ups your cortisol levels, and high cortisol ups your cravings for fatty, sugary foods, making it a battle of wills to stay on track.

3. Work out harder, not longer. Try to avoid too many moderate-intensity, lengthy workouts like jogging. Instead, focus on shorter bursts of high-intensity exercise such as weight training and sprint intervals. It's true that intense exercise is stressful on your body, but this type of training ultimately helps negate the effects of cortisol by increasing your lean hormones: growth hormone and testosterone. But remember: It's very important to bring these hormone levels back down shortly after an intense workout. This is where nutrition comes into play. Plan ahead so you have a post-workout recovery drink or snack ready (I like to drink a shake with 25-30g of whey protein, 1/2-cup berries, 1 tsp of honey, water, and ice).

How to Manage Insulin

1. Don't be fooled by alluring headlines. "Flat Belly Foods" is a great way to get your attention, but it's a little misleading. Eating a larger amount of specific superfoods will not rid you of your muffin top as well as, say, simply skipping the muffins. For maximum fat loss, limit your intake of starchy carbohydrates such as cereal, rice, and bread to about 1/3 or 1/2 cup per meal. Once you reach your ideal body fat level, you can enter a "maintenance phase" in which you're free to experiment with adding more carbs into your diet. But while you're trying to lose body fat, it's important to keep your carb intake low. Note: I didn't say no carb, I said low carb.

2. Eat a breakfast that promotes fat burning, not storing. Experiment with a low-insulin meal like an omelet made with cage free, omega-3 enriched eggs, vegetables, and some healthy fat like avocado.

3. Fill up on fiber and high-quality, lean protein. These are the two closest things to true "flat belly foods." And I'm talking about vegetable fiber, not grains. Fibrous veggies will not only help fill you up on fewer calories, but more fiber also prevents your meals from entering your blood stream too fast, which slows down the insulin response (digestion). This slowing down of digestion also prevents drastic dips in blood sugar-which again triggers cortisol and carbohydrate cravings.

Personal trainer and strength coach Joe Dowdell is one of the most highly sought‐after fitness experts in the world. His motivating teaching style and unique expertise have helped transform a clientele that includes stars of television and film, musicians, pro athletes, CEO's, and top fashion models from around the world. To learn more, check out JoeDowdell.com.

To get expert fitness tips all the time, follow @joedowdellnyc on Twitter or becoming a fan of his Facebook page.

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