Get rid of your gut with a gluten-free diet
Let's start with why you clicked on this blog post. Firstly, you must either have a gut (or think you do) and secondly, I'm willing to bet you've tried quite a few things to get rid of it.
Thirdly, you'll be wanting iron-clad proof that I don't have a gut myself so here's a photo to prove it. And if you're sceptical about camera trickery, lighting or my pose, keep reading, because there are photos further down of my before & after belly. In other words: irrefutable proof I've got rid of my own gut and know what I'm talking about.
But first! How did I get here? Well, it all began with thinking I knew how to get a flat stomach and not actually having a clue. Let me walk you through it. I'll pretend it's ten years ago and you're me.
How many of the following can you tick off?
An absurd diet (like the maple syrup diet, juicing (without anything else), tiny calorie intake...etc...).
Sucking in your tummy at dawn and not exhaling until dusk.
And after you tried these things, how did you feel?
Deflated (you only managed to do it for 5 days before 'breaking' and eating proper food).
Upset. It didn't work (and you now don't think anything can).
Resentful (because other people seem to be able to get a flat stomach and you can't).
Secondly, I'd like to know why you're focusing on a gluten-free diet. Is it because you already have to do it out of necessity (e.g. you're coeliac) or because you think gluten-free is healthier? If it's the latter, I'm afraid you'll get short shrift from me (find out why in some of my other blog posts).
But let's not digress.
The important thing is you're here because you have a gut to get rid of.
My next question to you would be what's your motivation?
It looks unsightly.
You don't want to feel mumsy (or dadsy, if that's a word).
You're worried it's bad for your health.
The latter is pretty much the only reason to get rid of a gut. Aesthetics are all very well and good, but vanity shouldn't come before well-being. We need to be sure our efforts are supported by the right guidance, and I like to get mine from trusted sources.
The NHS tells us that fat around our middles, particularly for people who are slim, means "twice as high mortality risk than those who are overweight". The interesting (and somewhat scary thing to note) is they focus on people with a normal BMI (and if you're wondering how to calculate that, you can do that here).
Both of these issues applied to me. I had a normal BMI but also a mum tum. I wondered whether it was just one of those things - that after having children you couldn't revert to having a flat stomach again.
But this would have been a lie. I've always had a bit of a belly (aside from that time in the summer of 2005 when I hardly ate anything after a break-up - my only consolation for suddenly being single).
So my understanding around bellies used to be pretty poor. I was under the misconception you either had to half-starve yourself to get a flat stomach or spend 3 hours a day in the gym, neither of which seemed like a fun - or feasible - option.
Nevertheless, I was determined there had to be a way. And it all began when I got a PT.
Initially, my goal wasn't to do with a gut at all. I needed to get rid of neck and shoulder pain, which I managed quite quickly.
After about 5 months I filmed myself doing a workout. I couldn't help but notice the fat roll around my middle. Ugh. I'd been doing lots of exercise. Why hadn't it shoved off?
So I asked my PT about it. He said it came down to diet and wanted me to change mine.
I was reluctant, to say the least. It seemed such a hassle. I was already doing a gluten-free & IBS-friendly diet. Trying anything else would be too much.
But then I looked at stills from the video on my phone (oh, the joy of modern technology!).
All right, I said. I'll do it. And here's what happened. I went from this:
So why did I choose photos of me on all fours? It's because it's easy when you're standing up to be misleading. You can suck your stomach in, have good lighting, drop your hip or pull your bikini bottoms up and everything suddenly looks a lot better. (Check out the brilliant Danae Mercer for videos on how to do this.)
I wasn't interested in tricks. I wanted good honest photos.
How long does it take to get rid of your gut?
You'll see from the dates it took me roughly 14 weeks.
That is, 14 weeks after I'd already been on a steady exercise programme for 6 months, which just shows that (a) things take time and (b) exercise alone isn't enough.
In November 2019 I committed to exercising 3 times a week, which was 2 hours in total. By May I'd worked my way up to 6 times a week (around 4 hours in total), and a typical week looked like this (and still does):
Monday: 30 mins cardio & weights (lower body) & 10 mins abs
Tuesday: 1 hour (with PT - combination of TRX, weights, cardio & other gym equipment like cones and parallettes (google 'em).
Wednesday: rest day
Thursday: 30 mins plyo (basically, jumping with weights) & 10 mins abs
Friday: 30 mins pilates
Saturday: 30 mins cardio & weights (upper body) & 10 mins abs
Sunday: 30 mins yoga
How I exercise now
I change things every week but 2 things stay the same: Wednesday is a rest day, although I might go for a walk or run around with my children in the park playing football, and I don't really exercise more than 30 or 40 minutes except on Tuesdays.
But that wouldn't be enough to get rid of a gut.
Why exercise isn't enough
If I were to think of getting a flat stomach as a large pie (an odd image, I realise, but bear with me) it'd look like this:
Yes, there's a heavy emphasis on food and exercise, but there 3 crucial areas I didn't know much about prior to starting.
Protein: my PT says it's really important to include protein at every meal. It's essential for the body to grow and repair itself and it also keeps you feeling full. (Btw, I do realise protein should really come under food but its importance is so prevalent I decided it deserved its own pie wedge.)
Consistency: it's no good doing something half-heartedly or allowing yourself 'cheat' days. More on this later.
Willpower: notice how little emphasis I place on this. Yes, there are times when I might fancy another chocolate or a second glass of whisky (yup, that's my go-to favourite drink) but it's not the battle I might have had in the past (I'll give you the reasons shortly - keep reading!).
Food (and what to change)
I honestly didn't think food was important because I already ate healthily and wasn't gaining weight.
Moreover, as a coeliac it's been very important to me to focus on getting the right nutrition for my body. After doing a gut reset last year, I thought I'd learnt all I needed about giving my body what it needed. It didn't occur to me that what I was putting into my body needed to be more than just wholesome.
But there were two things I wasn't doing and these turned out to be crucial to my getting a flat tum.
To find out if you're making the same mistakes, you'll need to start tracking what you're eating. I was told to use MyFitnessPal. It's a free app you can get that'll break down everything you're eating into macros, calories and portion sizes.
Initially, you don't need to do anything except use the app for the first week. It's really important you don't change what you're eating or drinking. Track everything. In fact, you might want to use pen and paper at first simply to avoid the desire to change - it's pretty tough seeing exactly how much fat and calories goes into a lamb korma without suddenly halving your portion size.
You may mistakenly think a gluten-free diet is naturally healthier. It can be, if you're doing it properly, but if you're heavily reliant on gluten-free convenience foods or snacks like biscuits, you may not realise just how much fat and sugar you're consuming.
Honesty is the best policy
If you're not candid throughout this process, you won't get the answers you're looking for. It was hard for me to see my results but they weren't what you might think. Taken overall, in a week I didn't consume more calories than I should have, nor did I drink to excess or chow down a great wadge of fat. My problems lay elsewhere: I simply wasn't consistent. There'd be days when I'd have 2,300 calories, including a couple of whiskies and some chunks of Toblerone (hullo, Friday night!) but then there'd be days where I'd only have 1,600 calories. I had no idea I was doing this. I thought I was eating intuitively in a way that was beneficial but the fluctuation of my eating wasn't actually helping me at all.
My PT made it clear I had to keep to the same number of calories every day. He wanted to find out my BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) so we began on 1,900 calories to see if my weight changed. (And if you're wondering, my goal was not to lose weight but to lose fat from my middle - this is crucial to anyone trying to understand why they're slim and have a healthy BMI but still can't shift their gut.)
Sticking to a set number of calories was my first rule. The other was to have 30% of them as protein.
I found myself in new territory. I'd never really thought about protein before. I knew it'd be in fish, meat, eggs and cheese but had no idea about other sources. Also, as I clocked up the meals I was eating in MyFitnessPal, I realised I wasn't having nearly enough. How on earth would I cram more in?
Chicken turned out to have the most protein out of everything I ate. I then discovered liquid egg whites make fantastic omelettes and are much easier than eggs (no messy shells to deal with). My neighbour alerted me to protein yogurts (Lidl do some delicious ones by Milbona that have 20g each and cost 65p, the cheapest I've found). I searched for gluten- and oat-free protein bars but then discovered a lot of them are crammed with sugar so switched to ones that didn't (an error as they tasted like cardboard and gave me tummy cramps). A little bit of searching and a Twitter shout-out later, Sarah Howells pointed me in the direction of Protein Pow, the genius behind protein cookies that you can either eat as cookie dough or bake into a cookie. (I'm hooked.)
As for calorie counting, on some days I felt as though 1,900 was plenty and I actually found myself at the end of the day trying to make up the calories with a hot chocolate. On others, I felt I was at starvation central and lamented the calories I wasn't allowed.
This led me to 3 conclusions:
There are certain foods that are best avoided if you want to feel full. For me, this included cheese, raisins and pasta. You may be thinking, "But cheese is protein!" True, but it also contains a high percentage of calories. So to stick to my 1,900 calories, I couldn't also get all the protein I needed from cheese. The raisins also clocked up masses of calories and just didn't seem worth it. As for the pasta, portion-wise I didn't feel as full as I did when I ate brown rice or potatoes, even though I'd chosen brown rice pasta from Doves Farm.
Timing. To begin with I was eating 3 large meals a day but feeling desperately hungry in between. My PT recommended I eat smaller meals more often and this worked a treat.
On the days where I chose 'empty calories' (like a glass of wine) I was setting myself up for failure the next day. That glass of wine could have been a nourishing jacket spud or banana. By eating those instead I wouldn't have found the next day so hard.
Why willpower isn't the be-all and end-all
You may have thought (as I did) that having strong willpower is the key to a good diet plan. I've now realised this is a load of cobblers. Yes, you'll need to stick to what you're doing, but with the right strategy it won't feel like a big effort. As long as you plan your meals properly and (crucially) enjoy the food you're eating, you'll stay on track and still be able to have the occasional curry or chocolate bar.
The planning stage
Once you get used to using a food app, it's actually fairly easy to plan your meals. Sometimes I'd put in what I'd be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner and then I'd decide what I wanted to do with the residual calories. Most of the time, I'd choose a protein bar or yogurt. Occasionally I'd have a scoop of icecream (especially after I managed to get a box of gluten-free waffle cones online from Barkat).
Waiting it out
The final thing I realised (and I believe this is true for many things) is to wait. And wait some more.
There is no quick fix when it comes to getting rid of a gut.
I don't care how many adverts you might see with fantastic claims. None of them are particularly clever. What's the point of a huge calorie deficit combined with a killer workout if you feel near death while you're doing it? You'd need extraordinary willpower to see the thing through. Ultimately, most people won't manage it, and then they feel like utter failures, sobbing into a pint of Haagen-Dazs washed down with a few beers.
Working out my BMR was also important but it can't be done quickly. After a month, it seemed as though 1,900 calories a day was a few too many as I'd put on a tiny amount of weight. So I went down to 1,800 calories and monitored things for another month. After I'd lost some weight, I tried 1,850 calories. This may seem like a trifling amount to be bothered about, but if you recognise that 100 calories too many each day over a month leads to weight gain of nearly a pound, over a year that amounts to nearly a stone.
Get rid of your gut - actions you can take now
My story is all very well but it's important to remember not everyone's the same.
I therefore recommend you do the following:
Contact your doctor to check you've no underlying health conditions.
Get a PT to make sure you're doing the best exercises for you and without risk. The PT will also keep you accountable.
Take a before photo. If you ever think you haven't come far, your before photo will be reassuringly awful.
Let me know where you're at! I'd love to hear from you below.