Operation: Flat Abs

Reach your goal with these four steps.

Forget the six-pack or washboard—you just want flat. No more beer belly, muffin top, love handles, or spare tire. While defined, toned abs would be icing on the cake, your goal for now is just to banish the excess fat and find some pants that fit. A flat stomach is a wonderful thing to work towards, but don't expect to see changes overnight. Fat around your belly is one of the hardest areas to lose, but it can be done.

It's time to find the abdominal muscles hidden somewhere between an outer layer of subcutaneous fat and an inner layer of visceral fat that surrounds your internal organs. It's this visceral fat that's so dangerous to your health, increasing your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. Reducing the fat around your middle will not only improve your appearance and self-confidence, it'll also improve your health.

So no more sitting around waiting for things to get better on their own. These four lifestyle changes will enable you to see results. 

Change 1: Cardio Exercise

When it comes to burning calories and losing extra weight around your middle, high-intensity cardiovascular exercise is your answer. Low-intensity exercise done for a longer period of time may burn the same amount of calories, but it's not as effective at targeting visceral fat. This means you may have to work harder but for a shorter length of time. Find an exercise you enjoy, whether it's jogging, swimming, tennis, or cycling and break a sweat at least three days a week.

Change 2: Proper Posture

Slouching when you sit or stand makes your belly appear bigger than it really is, but proper posture makes you taller and leaner—and more confident. Align your body in a straight line by keeping your ears above your shoulders and your shoulders in line with your hips, knees, and ankles. Don't let your shoulders roll over or inward but imagine your shirt is hanging on a hanger. Not only will good posture make you appear thinner, but you'll also have more energy and lung capacity.

Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen. - Michael Jordan

Change 3: Whole-Body Exercise

A thousand crunches a day aren't your answer for flat abs. Spot reduction or training isolated body parts just doesn't work. What you want to focus on are exercises that engage multiple muscle groups at once. While crunches target your outer abdominal muscles, other exercises work this muscle as well as your internal and external side muscles and your deep internal ab muscle all at the same time. Whole-body exercises develop strength, burn more calories, and get the job done in a shorter amount of time.

You don't need props like stability balls, free weights, or elastic bands to effectively work your core. On alternating days between your cardio workouts, try Pilates, yoga, or simple body weight exercises like planks, superman, and bird dogs to slim down, tone up, and get the flat abs you desire.

Change 4: Eat Right

Proper posture may help hide belly fat, exercise help burn some calories, and your workout tone and strengthen abdominal muscles, but if you're eating too much of the wrong kind of foods you won't see much of a difference in the appearance of your stomach. In order to decrease body fat, you've got to expend more calories than you eat. Take steps today to cut calories, increase your protein intake, eat more fiber, and make water your go-to drink.