Why Are My Abs Not Showing and How Do I Achieve Defined Abs
Why are our abs not showing despite all our hard work, and what can we do to get that flat belly and those toned muscles? We interviewed Dr. Mark Lim from Halley Body Slimming Clinic to get the answers.
As much as we work out regularly and eat healthily, it isn’t exactly easy to achieve six-pack abs.
Dr. Mark Lim, Halley Medical Aesthetics and Halley Body Slimming Clinic
Q: Dr. Mark, what kind of diet will you recommend for someone who is trying to lose weight and to achieve visibly firmer and toned abs?
Dr. Mark Lim: To lose weight, it is essential to achieve a calorie deficit through a healthy balanced diet. A calorie deficit means that the daily calorie intake is less than the daily caloric requirements from our activities as well as our baseline metabolism. Simply put, to lose weight, energy in must be less than energy out. When we achieve a calorie deficit, our body draws energy from our fat stores instead, resulting in weight loss.
A recommended daily calorie deficit would be in the range of about 300-500kcal. Our daily caloric requirements are estimated based on our gender, age, body weight, and how active we are.
Another easy way to calculate recommended daily calorie intake for weight loss is an estimated target of 22-29kcal/ kg body weight which translates to 1100-1450kcal for someone weighing 50kg.
Q: Also, what does a well-balanced diet look like to you, and is there any way to curb bad snacking habits?
Dr. Mark Lim: A well-balanced diet for weight loss should ideally consist of high protein, low fat and carbohydrates, as well as a good portion of fruits and vegetables. Water is an often-overlooked component. It is the best way to stay hydrated and contains zero calories. Our body can sometimes mistake dehydration for hunger, so it may be a good idea to reach for your tumbler to curb your snacking impulses.
Good eating habits are equally important. Front-loading calories, like the saying “eat breakfast like a king but have dinner like a pauper”, holds some truth. It helps reduce your appetite for the rest of the day and also reduces snack cravings. As your metabolism dips in the later part of the day, heavy, late meals can predispose to unnecessary weight gain.
Curbing bad snacking habits is also essential! Snacking is the easiest and worst way to sabotage a successful diet. Some tips I would like to share include avoiding cues and triggers such as avoiding walking past the BBT shop or fast food restaurants, opting for healthier snacks such as fruits and nuts, purchasing less at the supermarket as well as managing stress (adequate sleep and exercise) instead of turning to snacking as an outlet.
Q: Why is it that even with exercise, it’s hard to achieve defined abs?
Dr. Mark Lim: The “6-pack” refers to the rectus abdominis muscle, which everyone has. It is a paired muscle that runs from the front of the pelvic bones upwards to the lower border of the ribcage and the horizontal and vertical lines that we see on “6-packs” are due to tendinous intersection bands.
The main reason for not being able to see our 6-packs is due to the thickness of the overlying fat layer, and to a smaller extent, the size of the muscle. To achieve a visible “6-pack” silhouette, we need to achieve a body fat percentage of under 15% which requires very conscientious dieting. For perspective, the average body fat percentage for men is about 18-24% while that for women is about 25-31%. Poor exercise form and technique can also sabotage our goals – some may be contracting their hip flexors instead of correctly isolating the abdominal muscles while others may be using momentum to carry them through the motion of the sit-up.
Q: What would you recommend to those who are already working out, eating healthily, and are already lean, but are still not getting the defined abs that they want?
Dr. Mark Lim: It can be really frustrating and exasperating when you have put in so much effort into your diet and exercise but yet not see any significant results. Trust yourself and trust the process, weight loss is a gradual process that requires hard work and commitment. It is important to note that even with healthy food choices, portion control is still important. Healthy or not, a calorie is a calorie.
Even with the best efforts, you might find that results plateau as we are limited by our lifestyle, personal commitments, and genetic makeup. There are a variety of body sculpting treatment options that you can explore to complement the hard work that you have put in so far.
Q: Also, I understand the fat gain is inevitable due to a slower metabolism as we age, so are there ways we can counteract this through fat reduction treatments?
Dr. Mark Lim: Yes, it is definitely not uncommon to put on the pounds as we grow older for a number of unsurprising reasons. New mothers experience huge changes in their bodies and often find it difficult to get back their pre-pregnancy figure. Young working adults with a demanding work schedule or active individuals recuperating from an injury may find it challenging to maintain their previously high activity levels. Many middle-aged patients also cannot seem to lose stubborn fat, particularly in the torso area, that they never had when they were younger, even with diet and exercise.
Effective fat reduction treatments include CoolSculpting and Vanquish. CoolSculpting uses cryolipolysis technology where fat is sucked into a vacuum applicator and subzero temperatures are applied to induce inflammation and apoptosis, or programmed cell death, of the fat cells. Vanquish, on the other hand, uses non-contact selective radiofrequency technology where a spaceship hood is placed over the target body area and radiofrequency waves passing through the area heats up the fat layer to 40-42 degC without heating up the adjacent skin and muscle, which also causes apoptosis of the fat cells.
To simplify, CoolSculpting uses cold while Vanquish uses heat. While both are US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved with proven safety and efficacy, it is good to distinguish that CoolSculpting targets discrete bulges of pinchable fat and is more useful to carve out a more attractive silhouette. On the other hand, Vanquish, which is non-contact and does not require pinchable fat, gives a more generalised slimming effect to a selected body area.
Q: How then, should we deal with loose skin after weight loss or fat reduction?
Dr. Mark Lim: Stretch marks and loose skin post-pregnancy and after successful weight loss can make it difficult to fully appreciate the progress we have made.
This is best treated with skin tightening procedures such as the Exilis Ultra 360, which uses radiofrequency waves and ultrasound, and the Ultracel Q+, which uses high intensity focused ultrasound or HIFU for short. Both are non-invasive with no downtime and improve skin laxity and elasticity by heating the tissues and stimulating collagen remodelling.
Q: What about abs? It is often said that doing crunches cannot give us beautiful and defined abs. Any tips for us?
Dr. Mark Lim: It’s not entirely true that crunches will not give us nice abs because they can. However, you will need to perform a significant number of reps and you will need good form to isolate and train the muscle properly.
Tesla Muscle Former for muscle toning
The Tesla Muscle Former uses a changing electromagnetic field to induce an electrical field which then stimulates muscle contractions painlessly. By inducing supramaximal contractions that are stronger and more rapid, the Tesla strengthens, tones, and increases muscle mass. And it is particularly useful in helping people who:
(1) not engaging the correct muscle due to poor exercise technique
(2) are nursing an injury and cannot exercise
(3) are trying to kickstart an exercise regime.
The treatment can be quite tiring for patients and you may even break into a sweat!
Q: How many sessions are needed to achieve the most natural-looking, and defined abs?
Dr. Mark Lim: You will experience an immediate improvement in muscle tone, but muscle size will require time. I typically recommend 1-2 treatments weekly over a 6-8-week period for optimal results.
Q: I understand that maintenance after each treatment is crucial, and this treatment will work hand in hand with our lifestyle habits as well. To better supplement the aftercare of the treatment, what lifestyle/diet/exercise tips will you recommend for a slim figure and visibly firmer abs?
Dr. Mark Lim: Weight loss requires discipline, commitment, and patience. Consistency is key and you must trust the process. Abs are never built overnight. The various treatments we offer only complement the hard work you put into your body and are not an end-all solution. In fact, the end goal should not be weight loss but rather achieving a sustainable, healthy lifestyle that you are comfortable with for truly lasting results.
Lastly, I am extremely proud to share the Slimming Booklet. It was put together by our Slimming Ambassadors to crystallise and share their years of experience into an easily accessible format aimed to inform, guide, and encourage all those who are ready to embark on their journey of weight loss.
Watch our interview with Dr. Mark Lim on how to achieve defined abs here:
Schedule your appointment now to embark on your journey towards your ideal body with Halley.
Halley Medical Aesthetics
Tel: +65 6737 8233
WhatsApp (Call/Message): +65 9816 6148
Halley Body Slimming Clinic
Tel: +65 6246 8806
WhatsApp (Call/Message): +65 8879 4938
Tele-Medicine is also available at Halley Medical Aesthetics and Halley Body Slimming Clinic.