You exercise like a demon, eat like a saint (with the exception of the odd burger every now and again) and guzzle water like you’re in the Sahara desert. So, why haven’t those elusive abs made an appearance yet?
Of course, we all know you (unfortunately) can’t eat healthy for one day and expect to wake up with a six-pack. But it can be frustrating when you’ve been doing all the right things for ages but still can’t quite seem to reach those #abgoals.
While it’s tempting to slash your kilojoule intake further or add in more gym sessions in pursuit of visible abs, you may actually be doing yourself a disservice. You see, there are a few other factors that may be getting in the way of that six-pack. You can diet and exercise until you’re blue in the face but unless you get these things right, you may never see your abs. Read on for the 7 surprising reasons that may be causing your abs to go AWOL.
1. Your hormones are out of whack
If you’re reasonably lean but can’t seem to shift that last layer of fat on your tummy, it may be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. Women who are dominant in the sex hormone, oestrogen, tend to store more fat around their midsection and hips—and find it far harder to lose. This can be caused by excess soy consumption or being on The Pill. If you suspect this may be the case, ask your doctor or naturopath for a hormone test. They’ll be able to check your levels and give you advice on balancing your hormones if needed.
2. You’ve been abandoning your core
Most of us know by now that you can do all the crunches in the world, but you won’t be able to see your abs until you’re at a certain body fat (usually around 16 to 19% for females). But some people reach that level and find they still can’t see their abs. Why? Because they’ve forgotten about their core muscles! In order to have visible definition, you do actually need to have a strong core. This means doing core workouts that work every part of your mid-section, like this great all-rounder from yogi Kate Kendall.
3. You’re not eating enough
Bet you didn’t expect to see this one on here! But ensuring you’re eating enough is essential for building lean muscle mass (which plays a big role in giving you those visible abs you desire). When you chronically undereat, it can slow down your metabolism, which not only makes it difficult to gain muscle but to lose fat, too. A great way to find out how much you should actually be eating (as well as a breakdown of your ideal macros ie. carbs, fat and protein) is with a DEXA body composition scan.
4. You’re stressed
For many of us, stress is just a normal part of our everyday lives. But not only can this wreak havoc on your overall health, it may also be what’s standing between you and your six-pack. The more stressed you are, the more cortisol you release. This can lead to the accumulation of stomach fat (and makes it nearly impossible to lose it). Obviously, it’s not possible to remove all stressful situations from your life. But by introducing self-care practices like meditation into your schedule, you can make it far more manageable.
5. You’re not getting enough sleep
Speaking of cortisol, the cheeky stress hormone also tends to make an appearance when you’re not getting enough sleep. So, in case you needed yet another reason to get more shut-eye, it could be the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to showing those abs!
6. You have food intolerances
It’s possible that you’re actually closer to having visible abs than you think—you may just be bloated! While there are various things that can lead to bloating (it’s important to talk to your GP to rule out anything serious) food intolerances or sensitivities may be to blame. Some common triggers include wheat, dairy and flavour enhancers like MSG. Keeping a food diary can be a great way to pinpoint the foods that don’t agree with you. Eating a diet high in sodium can also lead to bloating, so you may want to limit the amount you eat out (as many restaurants add excess salt to their dishes).
7. You’re doing the wrong kind of cardio
Just when you thought we were done with cortisol, it rears its ugly head again! Doing long stretches of steady state cardio (like jogging or using the elliptical) also stimulates the stress hormone, which, of course, is not a good thing! Instead, shorter bursts of cardio (think HIIT sessions or sprint) combined with weight training sessions is one of the most effective ways to reduce body fat and reveal your abs.