Stephanie Fraze is a personal trainer who believes in setting realistic goals and being clear about motivation.
So when we sat down over a cup of coffee to talk about how to get rid of belly fat and even achieve rock-hard abs, she asked me what she asks every potential client: "What do you want to do?"
I considered the fact that many of Fraze's clients are women, drawn to her because as a 41-year-old mother of three, she understands their concerns. "They feel comfortable with me because I look like the girl next door," she said. "I am not some supermodel."
I thought about my wife, and how she might respond to Fraze's question.
"Look good in a bikini," I replied.
"That may take some time . . . ," Fraze said.
I clarified my position and asked if the path to a flat stomach is all that different for a woman than it is for a man.
"No," she said. "The first step is to burn that fat."
No quick fix
Americans are suckers for fad diets. The grapefruit diet, the cookie diet, the pizza diet, you name it, we've tried them all.
However, the only real way to lose the layer of fat covering your abdominal muscles is to eat less and exercise more.
In fact, Fraze believes that the most important part of any exercise plan is nutrition.
"Having flat abs is 10 percent genetics, 10 percent exercise and 80 percent diet," she said. "If you have bad genetics when it comes to your abs, you are going to have to work extra hard on your nutrition."
Fraze knows how hard it can be to lose weight. She gained about 70 pounds with each of her three pregnancies.
"That is just what my body did," she said. "Everybody is different. For me, it took a lot of work to get back down to my normal body weight."
The miracle diet
Fraze counsels her clients about nutrition before they embark on a fitness routine.
"I am a big fan of the magazine Clean Eating," she said. "It is not a diet. It is a lifestyle." (Get a taste of the magazine at www.cleaneatingmag.com.)
The philosophy is simple: Avoid processed foods and eat foods as close as possible to their natural state. That means lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and water to wash it all down.
"Moderation is the key," Fraze said. "Watch your serving size. Your protein should be no larger than the palm of your hand."
Fraze then cupped one of her hands and said, "Your carbs should fit here." Then she put both hands together, palms up and said, "This is your salad."
The main object is to lose inches. "I never put my clients on a scale," she said, "but I do use a tape measure."
Burn, baby, burn
While you are working on your diet, you also need to stoke that body furnace.
"I believe in an allover body workout," Fraze said. "Interval cardio-training boosts your metabolism and burns fat like candle wax."
Fraze typically takes her clients, men and women, through exercise routines that combine strength and cardiovascular exercise. The trick is to get the heart pumping, back off, get it pumping again, back off . . . you get the picture.
"I recommend working out with a trainer three days a week and then exercising on your own three days a week if you really want to see results," she said. "You have to build in a day of rest."
Roughly 15 minutes of an hourlong workout routine should be devoted to various abdominal exercises (see sidebar).
"But you can work on your abs all day long," she added. "Whenever you think of it, try to touch your belly button to your spine. Before you know it, your abs will be tight and you will have greater stability. It really strengthens your core."
A MOM'S ADVICE
Fraze is 5 feet 6, and at 140 pounds is in the best shape of her life. She said she doesn't want to look like a supermodel or Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2.
Her personal favorite cardio workout isn't to be found in a gym, but out on the open water. She says she gets a great allover workout with stand-up paddleboarding, which she also teaches. The key is to find what you love to do.
"When I ask people what they want to do, nobody ever tells me that they want to weigh 115 pounds," she said. "It's always, 'I want to play tennis with my kids,' 'I want to run a 5K,' 'I want to look good at the beach.' "
If you want a flat stomach, forget the numbers, Fraze said.
"Just be the best you can be," she said.
Terry Tomalin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.