Health & Fitness

By Kate Becerra

When I noticed the belly becoming as much a fashion accessory over the last few years as the garments worn above and below it, I looked down at my own and said “Hmmmmm? Needs help.” “The stomach can be the most alluring body part on a woman,” according to one of the most attractive men l’ve ever known. This comment resonated with me, mainly because although my legs and butt are okay, up top…I got NOTHIN’! A toned stomach would offset other shortcomings, I reasoned. Plus, it gives you better posture and makes you stronger and those are both good things. So I made achieving a bare-able belly my goal.

Often people complain that it is so difficult to get a flat tummy. Yeah, it IS hard work, but with commitment it is an attainable goal. The solution is a combination of both diet and exercise. I am neither a nutritionist nor a certified personal trainer, but I can recount what I picked up along the way on my quest for adornable abs.

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First, I hit the floor and learned to love that “burn” that Jane Fonda used to allude to back in the day. Crunches will tighten and strengthen your muscles in a way that gimmicky machines won’t. Today, I do my crunches in sets of fifty. I usually do 300 at time for maintenance purposes, but earlier on, when I was just trying to lose the flab, I did closer to 600 per session. The most important thing to be concerned about is your neck. You don’t want to strain or injure your neck, and if you let your head and neck do the work, you will lose much of the benefit of your efforts. Therefore, pay careful attention to feeling your abdominal muscles WORK as you do your crunches. You will know that it’s happening cause it will burn like hell.

The first set is the traditional, back on the floor, knees-bent, elbows-raised, hands on either side of the head sit up. Lift your head toward your knees until you feel the burn in the area just above your belly button. Lower your head. Back up. Fifty times. Work your belly, NOT your neck. Next, cross your left heel over and rest it on your right knee. Place your left hand on your stomach and your right hand behind your head. Reach your right elbow toward your left knee. Fifty times. Then reverse. This develops your oblique muscles and helps define the outer edges of your stomach. This is how a six pack develops. Finally, cross your ankles and raise your straight legs until your feet are almost directly above your head. With both hands behind your head, raise your head towards your knees. Fifty times. This helps your lower abdominals.

I also learned that there’s a reason personal trainers and fitness magazines repeatedly extol the virtues of the bicycle move. Get a mat or put a few towels down and lay on the floor. Lay on your back, knees bent, feet up in the air, hands supporting head. Pull your left knee in toward your head and, raising your head toward it, reach with your right elbow. Fifty times each side.

Regular cardio a few times a week….of course after getting the thumbs up from your physician, will help you in your endeavor, speeding up your metabolism and giving you the extra energy you’ll need to work those abs. You see, you need to burn calories in order to show muscle or even just to show toning.

As far as diet is concerned, personally I have basically said goodbye to white flour, rice and potatoes. I’ll still drink a beer now and then and I eat all other vegetables, plenty of fish and drink yogurt-based smoothies every day for lunch. I feel as if my metabolism is more efficient now, as opposed to all those years that I followed the low- or non-fat philosophy and watched in dismay as the pounds slowly piled on.

Now? REWARD TIME!!!!Finally the work DOES pay off. When I felt that my stomach was no longer something I wanted to keep under wraps I went and ( ::Mom, stop reading here please::) got my belly button pierced. Briefly painful and the ring was boring, but when enough time had passed for it to heal, it was time to shop for something FUN! All of this just in time to discover that belly button jewelry has climbed out of the gutter. No more biker chick or metal-head garb, navel rings now are as decadent and girlie as any bauble you would want to put on a finger or around your neck.

Here in Manhattan the pioneer in high-end navel ring jewelry is an East Village designer by the name of Maria Tash, an FIT educated artist whose store, Venus, is the second piercing studio to have opened in New York (the first is now closed). According to Tash — who started up with your basic studs and ring and ball designs– her eye for beautiful belly button jewelry evolved with her own taste in design. She was one of the very first to seize upon the trend in low-rise pants and cropped tops and see a need for beautiful adornment in the mid-region, and her pieces, which are truly gorgeous, are emulated by designers everywhere.

Venus carries two mouthwatering lines of navel rings. The more affordable line is comes in 14 karat white or yellow gold pieces with semi-precious stones, which range from 45 to 200 dollars apiece. Tash’s higher-end line comes in platinum or 18 karat white or yellow gold and can contain diamonds or other precious stones. These glorious garnishes range from 300 to 3000 dollars. The good news, says Tash, is that people no longer need ‘starter’ navel rings. Today, with proper clinical care in piercing and maintenance, a customer can walk in, get pierced and walk out bearing a fabulous ornament within minutes. The evolution of the stomach as art may have been slower than that of other body parts, but Tash reports that navel piercing is more common today than nose piercing. “I think its here to stay,” she smiles. “It’s sexy and has become mainstream enough that it is a totally acceptable way to wear jewelry.”

Originally published September 2003
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