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How To Finally Lose Your Stubborn Muffin Top

Fab tips so that you will be so much happier with what you see in the mirror.

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Cristina Spanò
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There is a classic episode of Seinfeld (Season 8) where Elaine Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) discusses the virtue of muffin tops. According to Elaine, the tops were the best part of the muffin.

Of course, the muffin tops that Elaine was raving about were the ones attached to actual baked goods. I don’t think Elaine would have such kind words for the “muffin tops” that many of us find forming in our midsections as we get older.

So what exactly is a muffin top?

Muffin top is defined in Merriam-Webster as a slang term to describe the fatty flesh that hangs over tightly worn pants. On Seinfeld, Elaine describes the muffin top as the part that spills out over the top of the paper cup. Similarly, the human muffin top spills out, too — over the top of the waistline. Other unaffectionate terms used for middle-aged belly pooch are love handles, menopot or — as Oprah calls it — “dunlap syndrome” (cause “that’s when your stomach done lap over your jeans,” she jokes).

Why does fat accumulate in this area?

While anyone of any age can have gained weight in their belly, muffin tops tend to be very prevalent when women are perimenopausal or in menopause. The drop in estrogen levels causes body fat to redistribute from other areas (hips, thighs, butt) and land in the abdomen.

Liz Josefsberg, health and weight loss expert and author of the book Target 100, says, “Women notice more inflammation, more bloat and that we are holding on the weight in our abdomen in middle-age.”

Why should I care?

So what if you gain a few pounds with age? A woman shouldn’t feel bad or self-conscious if she has some belly fat. Here’s the problem: While a 2- to 5-pound weight gain that lands in the belly probably isn’t cause for concern, more than that can be bad for your overall health. As explained by Pamela Peeke, M.D., in a 2010 article for WebMD, “You need some fat in your belly, but when it becomes excessive, I call it ‘toxic fat.’ That’s because excessive amounts of visceral fat increase inflammation in the body and ultimately contribute to several conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

The more weight you gain, the harder it is to take it off — especially as we age. Metabolism slows with age, making it harder to maintain or lose weight.

Constance M. Chen, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist, says, “As we get older, poor dietary habits — such as poor portion control or ingesting items with poor nutritional value — can catch up.”

Surgery is probably not the answer

There are many in-office procedures that offer a chance to reduce belly fat quickly. But if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t the answer.

According to Chen, “Nonsurgical methods of minimizing belly fat beyond diet and exercise and surgically removing fat are generally ineffective. Some practitioners use these methods to entice patients to have surgery after the surgical methods don’t work. They are considered entry treatments for this reason.”

As for surgical methods of fat reduction such as liposuction or tummy tucks, Chen says, “(Surgical options) are still popular because people want to improve their shape overnight without changing their diet and exercise habits. But, these procedures don’t have the same health benefits as diet and exercise unless cutting out the fat allows a person to move more easily to exercise without the extra (weight).” Also, all surgery has potential risks. “The best candidate for a surgical procedure is a person at her ideal weight who maintains a healthy diet and exercises regularly,” Chen says.

Don’t diet … but change your diet

So if weight gain as we age is common and surgery isn’t an easy fix, is there anything we can do to rid ourselves of muffin top? Yes, but unfortunately the options aren’t quick and sexy. They take time, patience and consistency.

First off, don’t go on a diet. That is not a typo. As Josefsberg explains, “Going on a diet implies you plan on going off at some point.”

And Chen says, “Fad diets aren’t the best way to reduce belly fat or to maintain a healthy weight over the long term. A more effective strategy is to concentrate on eating whole, unprocessed foods — primarily fruits, vegetables, lean protein (eggs, fish, and white meat poultry), nuts, seeds and whole grains.”

Eat clean, real foods. That means cutting out the refined and process carbs that contain white sugar. Eating sugar spikes insulin, which makes you crave more sugar and overeat. Excess sugar consumption also makes the body store more fat. A good rule of thumb is if the food packaging has a long list of ingredients (many of which you can’t pronounce) or a sell-by date way in the future, avoid it.

Josefsberg also suggests minimizing the temptations that surround you. “When we see food, we want it,” she explains. “So, don’t keep food that triggers you to overeat in the house. And avoid cooking shows, TikTok videos, etc., that might derail you from your overall health goals.”

Get to stepping

“There are exercises that target the midsection, but spot exercises alone won’t get rid of love handles,” says Chen. “You need to combine targeted moves with aerobic exercise to raise your heart rate and burn calories, and resistance training to tone your muscles and build strength.” Adding weight training to your routine a few times a week will also help to boost your metabolism rate.

Another tip is to keep moving. Many of us have become sedentary this past year working from home. Aim for 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day in addition to your formal exercise routine. Movement is good for digestion, weight maintenance and mental health.

Don’t get discouraged

If you ditched the “real pants” in favor of sweats this year, you might get emotional when you finally try on your old favorite pair of jeans. But stressing about a muffin top is counterproductive, since stress itself can cause you to hold on to weight in your abdomen.

“We are constantly battling immediate gratification (grabbing a cookie, indulging in the third glass of wine) with overall gratification — such as long-term health and well-being,” says Josefsberg.

Change your mindset. Focus less on fitting into a certain pair of jeans or watching for a specific number on the scale, and more on getting healthy. Good health should be your motivation. When you feel better and take care of yourself, you really will be happier with what you see in the mirror.