BEATING STUBBORN BELLY FAT
Joey Bull on life, loss and coming back stronger, plus what to do if you’re still in pursuit of a flat belly.
Joey Bull, 54, is a fitness professional and qualified bioregulatory medicine practitioner, who has won four GB titles in the world of Fitness Competition. Here, she explains how she has stayed motivated over the years, as well as how she’s coped with unimaginable tragedy to come back stronger. And if you’re inspired to strengthen up too, she’s here to lend a helping hand, revealing the surprising reasons why you might be struggling to lose stubborn belly fat…
The fitness world has taught me plenty over the past 30 years – as much about what not to do as what to do. After all, they say nothing beats experience and if you’ve been around as long as I have, that experience racks up! I’ve always been active, but after an education at Elmhurst Ballet School, my planned dancing career was ultimately thwarted by knee reconstruction surgery. Ironically, the lengthy rehabilitation period that followed led to Fitness Competition.
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I won four UK national titles and competed around the world, ranking well inside the international Top 10. Having hung up my sparkly bikini, I turned to genuine passions of mine – outdoor pursuits, travel and adventure. And there’s no better way to combine these things than international adventure racing. I competed with British teams in some harsh environments, including the densest of jungles and towering mountain summits.
At 39 I had my first child. Four years later, I should have had my second but, after a healthy and straightforward full-term pregnancy with no anticipated problems, baby Edward died during delivery. This was utterly shattering, both mentally and physically. All my health and fitness beliefs were now challenged.
But it was my work with others and all I’d been evangelising about that helped me put one foot in front of the other again and, three years later, at the age of 45, I was blessed with a daughter.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Now aged 54, I’m able to draw on decades of life experience and my work around the world, achieving results with many people, from A-list celebs to first-time exercisers. I’m also still managing to be a magazine covergirl, more than 25 years after my first cover! I’m a big believer in instructing and motivating by example, as well as using evidence from my own life and work to help every client achieve genuine, meaningful results. I’d love to help you, too. If you’ve been struggling with stubborn belly fat, here is my advice…
Joey on belly fat storage Have you been exercising methodically for years and paying close attention to what you eat, yet those longed-for abs have remained annoyingly elusive? Perhaps, despite years of effort, they appear further away than ever? Please don’t worry – you’re not alone. So, what is the obstacle? Is it the type of exercises you’re doing, your diet (however healthy), or are you simply a victim of unlucky genetics? First, let’s have a quick look into some of the reasons why you may have belly fat. Fat stores around the middle for a few reasons…
Your choice of food could be causing bloating, inflammation and creating an acidic effect. This adds up to mild dysfunction, which makes losing a few surplus pounds slow. A bloated belly can come from food that the body can’t assimilate. Additionally, as well as digestive problems and bloating, the acidity levels can also cause sore joints, degeneration and chronic problems. But how does that affect fat storage? In this dysfunctional state, the body is most likely to be acidic. So, to buffer the chemical imbalance of sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium, the body holds water to safeguard the acidity.
This means it’s going to be very slow to mobilise fat – in fact, using fat for fuel is the least of its priorities. Try this simple test to see if this is your issue: you can tell the difference between fat and water retention by doing a belly shake in front of the mirror. Expose your tummy, jig up and down, then stop suddenly and see if the belly movement stops too, or if it continues with a mini ripple. If it ripples, then water retention is the issue and your ground regulatory system needs attention. This means drink more water, make some green juices, cut out refined and processed foods, eat real foods (some raw) and get more alkaline. A pH level much below 7 will thwart fat loss. If you raise the standards, your body will find its function and then you can start to shift excess fat.
A note on genetics Different postural types display abdominals differently. The slightly lordotic or curvy lower back, with a pelvis that tilts forward, display abs well. Others need to get super lean for theirs to show. Of course, genetics shape us, but given an improved environment of balanced and tuned nutrition and exercise, we can navigate ourselves around our genes when it comes to shaping up.
A hormonal imbalance
This could be stress hormones or oestrogen dominance. Oestrogen is both made and maintained by belly fat, which explains why, in middle age, even slim ladies get a bit of extra fat, to store the oestrogen required. It’s a good system, but may not be the look that we want. A little too much stress over a long period will build up adrenal fatigue and excessive cortisol release. But stress can be stealthy and most of us aren’t aware of chronic levels, especially when our lives and patterns fluctuate and transition over the years. Is your life stressful? It can be difficult to fully register and acknowledge this, until you have a strong urge to fall asleep in the wrong place at the wrong time, while your waistband increasingly strains. But since oestrogen storage can add excess fat, too, how do you tell the difference?
If a disproportionate amount of fat sits higher on the belly, it could be insulin resistance and/or the result of high cortisol levels. Make it easy on yourself by stabilising your blood sugar levels. Don’t reach for doughnuts or starchy food because of an energy slump. It’s not just the calories – it’s what this does to your insulin levels. Eating a more protein-based diet will help. Managing a stress belly requires a lifestyle change. Less stress, more nutrients and gentle exercise (the ‘gentle’ part is essential here for a stressed-out body). High levels of stress blocks progesterone receptors, which is the start of oestrogen dominance and oncoming inflammation. You also need to fuel the body with good cholesterol. While cortisol levels rise, cholesterol levels deplete and the liver has to produce more cholesterol. Avoid putting that strain on the liver by eating more egg yolks and fatty fish on an empty stomach.
Now you’re heading into flat tummy territory! For a hormone imbalance that suggests oestrogen dominance, there could be other symptoms alongside excess belly fat, including disproportionate fat around the hips and thighs, fatigue, poor sleep, headaches, other aches, PMS and bloating. Here, we move into the expansive and delicate subject of hormones. You could start by looking into adaptogenics that support the oestrogen dominance, such as agnus castus, essential fatty acids containing omega 3, 6 and 9, hemp oil, egg yolks and maca.
Ageing and belly fat Naturally with age our habits change. These changes can be so incremental, they are barely noticeable. It’s all too easy to lay the blame on the natural process of ‘getting older’. But it’s not just a powerless slide into age-related deterioration, but more likely an accumulation of disorder that can be addressed.
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