If you have a pair of jeans you want to get back into, or you noticed that when you sit, there’s a little more flab pushing down on your belt than you’d like, you may be wondering how to shrink your waist. It isn’t hard to do, but there are some misconceptions to address.
The Myth of Spot Reduction
When most people try to take inches off of their waist, they immediately overload on abdominal exercises. Infomercials are packed with ab machines that promise to help you lose those last inches. Unfortunately, spot reduction—the idea that you can shed fat from a specific body part by focusing on it with exercise—is not reality. Shrinking your waist means losing fat which is lost (and gained) in relatively even distribution across the entire body. Let go of the idea that you can target the fat on your waist without targeting the fat on your entire body.
Basal Metabolic Rate and Metabolism
Your body requires energy to perform its functions. Whenever you eat and/or drink something, the process by which the body turns what you consume into energy is called your metabolism. Even the tasks that your body performs involuntarily—breathing, digesting, cellular repair, etc—have to have fuel if they’re going to happen. That energy comes in the form of calories. The amount of calories you need in order to keep all of these “behind the scenes” processes in working order is called your basal metabolic rate.
A “slow” metabolism is often blamed for weight gain, a plodding, frustrating rate for weight loss, and more. While it is true that some people truly do seem to be able to drop weight more quickly than others, there are a lot of factors that go into weight loss. There is one safe generalization that can be made, however: every single body will lose weight as long as it is burning more calories than it expends. Whatever the speed of your metabolism, hypothetical or otherwise, in order to shrink your waist you must burn more calories than you expend. Here are a few ways to do it.
In the beginning of your waist shrinking quest, the goal is simply to do more aerobic exercise than you have been. If you’ve been largely sedentary, don’t think that you have to go jump onto a treadmill or a rower for 45 minutes today, or to plunge headlong into an aerobics class. Just do more. Go for a walk. Ride an exercise bike for a few minutes if that’s all that you can handle, but commit to doing.
Once you are more comfortable with low-level aerobic exercise, you can increase the time you spend on the bike, the rower, and so on, and you can increase the intensity. Walk faster. Row harder. Keep it challenging, but not excruciating. If your heart rate is elevated, you are burning more calories than you would have if you were sitting still. Once you are regularly performing 30 minutes of intense aerobic exercise, several times a week, your body will become more efficient at burning calories (and fat).
Training for Strength
Strength training is typically performed with weights heavy enough so that you could only lift them for 4-6 reps. It is not meant to be cardio. However, training with heavy weights (heavy for you, it’s all relative) will lead to more muscle, and muscle of denser quality. The last thing most people want to hear when they want to lose weight is that they may need to gain a few pounds of muscle, but it’s often the truth. A pound of muscle requires more energy to sustain it than a pound of fat. That means the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, simply because the muscle is there. Regular strength training, combined with aerobics and healthy nutritional habits, will make you very happy with your future waist.
Now that you are committed to doing more exercise and getting stronger, it’s time to actually talk about diet. It is a common saying that abs (and waists) are not made in the gym, but in the kitchen. No matter how strong you make your abs through all of those crunches, you’ll never be able to see them if they are hidden under a layer of fat. A smaller waist begins with nutrition.
If you eat 2500 calories a day and you want to lose fat, you can reduce your daily intake to 2000 calories and evaluate your results. The trick here is that in order to operate at a caloric deficit, you have to track your calories. You can’t make those adjustments on behalf of your desired waist size until you know what numbers you’re working with. Buy a food diary and spend some time crunching the numbers.
“Eat less food” sounds simple to the point of being insulting, but it isn’t simplistic. Do not think of it as eating less, even though we’re talking about lowering the number of calories. Just think of it as a balancing act. Once you know how many calories you’re eating, you can figure out how much you have to restrict them in order to slim down your waist, or how many more calories you need to burn with exercise and strength training in order to balance it out. Make sure you’re also getting the correct macro nutrients for your goals. We have a macro calculator here you can use.
Once you have lost the fat and your waist is measurably smaller, you can certainly tone it up and make it tighter with exercises. “Strengthening the core” has become a buzz phrase in fitness circles, but a strong core, with minimal fat, is going to look good. Recommended exercises for the abs include hanging leg raises, planks at various inclines, deadlifts and front squats, and crunches.
At the risk of belaboring the point, here it is one more time: learning how to shrink your waist is yet another simple fitness task that comes down to common sense and diligence. Focus on becoming more active while eating fewer calories than you expend. Also make sure that the calories you eat are from whole foods with a healthy balance of carbs, protein and healthy fats.