BEWARE THE NEGATIVE MESSAGE YOUR FLABBY GUT MAY BE SENDING

By JOANNE RICHARD
SPECIAL TO THE TORONTO SUN ... May 22, 2003

It's time to sit up and talk tummy. That gut has gotta go. Sucking it in isn't going to do it, and situps alone won't fix that miserable-looking midriff.

Flab-ulous abs are the gym jackpot. "Everybody wants to have good looking abs, especially for the summer -- a washboard stomach shows that you have been training hard throughout the winter," says Dr. Sender Deutsch.

"The athletic, lean and toned look is in today, looking like the cover model from Men's Health or SHAPE magazines is what people strive for," says Deutsch, director of SHAPE Health and Wellness Centre on Davenport.

According to New York anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher, we revere ripped, defined abs: "In this nation of fat people, washboard abdominals embody health, ambition, good genes and the discipline to buck a powerful drive -- to eat, eat and eat."

They're a great advertising mechanism, she says. "We all pick different things to display and a flat stomach sends a powerful and positive message," she says, while a fat gut signals apathy and lack of discipline.

Battling the stomach bulge is front and centre for many of us, say fitness experts, because when it comes to fat, the stomach's the first place to show and often the last place to go.

"Stomachs are the big problem spot. When people come to see me, it's usually their gut they're complaining about," says Matt Fortune, fitness director at The Rock Health and Fitness Club on Clarkson Rd. in Mississauga.

Firm, flat abs are generally considered an accurate indicator of overall fitness, yet they're elusive for many. "Human beings are predisposed to depositing fat in certain areas first, especially the belly, and then the fat is distributed to other areas," says Dr. Eileen Alexander of Burlington.

MISINFORMATION

And, she says, pot bellies only tend to get bigger over the years as metabolisms decrease along with energy expenditure, while eating habits remain the same.

Training these muscles has been the subject of more mythology and misinformation than any other body part. Spot-reducing theories are still alive and well, but exercising only your abs won't take inches off your waist, says Fortune.

"Spot toning just doesn't work," says Fortune, although you could end up with toned abs hidden by the slab of flab.

Adds Alexander, "you can't eat thousands of calories and then do 200 situps expecting to burn off the fat. As we age, we can't metabolize large meals, so a lot of it is deposited as fat -- unless energy demands are high."

There's still time to make a dent in that flab before the end of the summer rolls around by trimming down your caloric intake and beefing up your energy output.

"A perfect six-pack takes hard work and dedication -- and a bit of genetics to achieve. Unfortunately, your love handles will not go away unless you decrease your body fat by changing your diet and exercising both aerobically and through a proper weight-training program," says Deutsch, who suggests springing into shape by going for a long power walk or run while keeping your heart rate within your target-heart rate zone.

For effective and safe workouts, Fortune recommends joining a gym or at least making a few dates with a qualified personal trainer in order to get started on the right foot.

He says workouts should incorporate progressive intensity, as well as properly spacing them out to avoid over-training or under-training, he says.

Having excess body fat is linked to disease and mortality -- it "increases your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and certain forms of cancer, osteoarthritis, and back and joint problems," says Deutsch, adding that our society is facing an obesity epidemic.

A LAUGH A DAY

Meanwhile, you may want to add a few laughs to your life to lessen those love handles.According to a '90s Stanford University study, a laugh a day keeps some of the fat away. Laughing produces the deep contractions similar to a sit up, and also provides an aerobic workout -- three minutes of laughing equals 10 minutes of rowing.

But a bulging belly is nothing to laugh at in the bedroom -- it could be responsible for some fizzling attraction, according to Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil.

If your partner's growing girth doesn't do anything for your libido, this is not uncommon. "People actually break up because of this," says Eaker Weil, a New York therapist who specializes in adultery.

It's not superficial to be affected by a partner's physical appearance: "We were attracted initially because they looked a certain way," she says, adding that men are especially visual and want their partner to look good.

The love-me-as-I-am attitude just doesn't cut it, she says. "It's just as tough to keep someone, as it is to get someone," she says, and "by losing interest in how you look, you run the risk of your partner losing interest in you."

A lot of people just stop trying to look good for one another once they tie the knot, she adds. "That's a big mistake. You owe it to one another to stay healthy and care about your appearance." Weight gain is an extremely sensitive issue and should be addressed in a loving, caring way, she says, adding that it's meaner not to say anything.

"If you let the resentment grow, there'll be no sex at all and, possibly, no marriage."