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If you always feel bloated, it may mean you are overloading your system. Waste can build up, clogging the 28 feet of intestines with undigested food which, in turn, produces bad body odour and breath. It also puts pressure on the abdominal wall, pushing your tummy forward causing the bass-drum effect.

It used to be fashionable to be heavy. In times gone by a potbelly was considered a sign of wealth and success. Landed gentry in the middle ages wore their bellies as a badge of honour. Captains of industry early this century revered their girth as a symbol of wealth and power. But times change.

Nowadays, being lean is a status symbol, while hang-over-the-belt bellies for men evoke images of football fans on holidays in Spain. Too bad for us, because a potbelly is easy to get, but it can be as hard as hell to eliminate.

Reason 1: Fat Potbellies can comprise two types of fat, and all it takes is a poke in your paunch to tell which kind you have in surplus. Place your hand on your belly and press. Does it feel soft like a marshmallow, or hard like the belly of a pregnant woman? A soft potbelly is made largely of subcutaneous fat -- fat that lies beneath the skin and above the muscle tissue.

A hard potbelly has more visceral fat -- between your muscles and organs. These fat cells push against the abdominal wall, says epidemiologist Dr J Anthony Spartaro. So the guy who pats his belly and says "It's muscle", is right, but there is lots of fat underneath.

Hard bellies place you at greater risk of cardiovascular disease and intestinal disorders as they push against your internal organs, disrupting the digestive and circulatory systems, but any belly raises your cholesterol level and increases your chance of coronary-artery disease. Whether that doughnut you just ate winds up as a subcutaneous or visceral fat is mainly down to genetics, but, for the most part, a poor diet will lead to excess fat of both kinds.

To stop fat collecting around your midriff, cut dietary fat, take aerobic exercise and lift weights to increase your resting metabolism (the rate you burn energy while watching TV). Obviously, you need to watch your diet to get rid of a belly but here are some tips you might not have heard before . . .

Eat from the East: The Chinese don't generally get potbellies the way we do. Dr A Scott Connelly, a metabolism researcher, says edible compounds called phytoestrogens found in soy products, bean sprouts, seeds and nuts may help distribute fat evenly on the body. Connelly notes a native Chinese diet is about 50pc phytoestrogens and very low in fat.

Watch the Clock: You can eat the same foods and exercise as you do now, but lose weight if you consume 60pc of your daily kilojoules in the morning instead of the evening. How? In healthy people it is normal for insulin levels to rise after eating. Connelly says: "The more you eat at night, the more food is available during the insulin surge and the more your body can convert into fat."

Reason 2: Weak muscles Your potbelly is partly due to your abdomen being continually stretched. Visceral fat pushes out and weakens the abdominal muscles which lose their ability to hold your stomach in place. Weak abdominal muscles can also cause strain on the lower back.

The same thing can occur if you eat a big dinner just before you sleep. As you sleep your abdominal muscles relax and stretch under the pressure of food in your stomach.

Here's how to get a flat stomach: Your stomach muscles are extremely pliable and can snap back into their original shape, if you give them a chance. Eating frequent, small meals early in the day will strengthen them.

Hold your stomach in -- and not just when a gorgeous woman walks past. With practice, holding your muscles in will become second nature and a lot easier.

If you want immediate results, or a flat stomach like reality-TV star Mark Wright's, you will have to include some abdominal exercises in your general workout:

Crunch and reach. Lie on your back with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet flat on the floor. Reach out between your knees with both hands and slowly curl your torso forward, raising your head and shoulders off the floor.

Keep your neck straight throughout the movement. Reach as far forward as you can, hold for a second and slowly curl back to the starting position. Do 15-20 reps.

Reason 3: Poor posture The muscles that run along the spine and support the upper body are known as the postural muscles. If the ones supporting your lower back weaken, you slouch and develop "sway back", a sloping of the spine that accentuates your stomach.

That's because big biceps are more on a man's agenda than those of his back, so these muscles are often neglected. So strength training for your back is a great way of shrinking a potbelly.

Strengthen your back with a good weight-training programme with a good personal trainer who understands how the back works.


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