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How to get rid of an apron belly

Plus, what may cause it and how it can impact your health.

How to Get Rid of an Apron Belly | Juniper

The apron belly, sometimes known as a pannus stomach, is a condition where the belly hangs or extends over the pubic area.

It is often marked by excess skin and fat that drapes down excessively, typically as a result of weight gain or pregnancy.

For some people, having an apron belly can impact their self-esteem and body image. Moreover, stomach fat has been linked to several health risks — particularly visceral fat (the kind that sits deep in your body, surrounding organs like your intestines and liver).

So, the million-dollar question: how can you tone and reduce an apron belly?

That's exactly what we'll guide you through in this article, as well as what may cause an apron belly to form and how it can impact your health. Let's dive in.

What is an apron belly?

The term 'apron belly' describes the appearance of a larger lower belly that can hang over the pubic area and affect the contour of the waistline.

It happens when the skin in your abdomen stretches and the fat cells expand, leading fatty tissue to form and hang down.

This is a common complaint among individuals who have lost a significant amount of weight, women post-pregnancy, and those who are naturally predisposed to store fat in the lower abdomen.

What causes an apron belly?

Many things can lead to the development of an apron belly:

Pregnancy

Pregnancy is one of the main causes of the apron belly, due to the extensive stretch and strain placed on the abdomen's skin and muscles.

Throughout pregnancy, the growing uterus stretches the skin and can separate the abdominal muscles (a condition known as diastasis recti), leading to a protrusion of the abdomen postpartum [1].

While the body can recover to some extent, significant stretching can result in lasting changes, leaving many women with a hanging belly, often referred to as a "mother's apron."

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes, particularly as women approach menopause, can play a significant role in the development of an apron belly.

During this phase, fluctuating levels of oestrogen can contribute to the redistribution of fat, shifting more weight to the abdominal area [2].

This process, along with a natural decline in metabolic rate and potential loss of muscle mass related to ageing, makes it increasingly challenging to maintain a firm and toned midsection.

Significant weight fluctuations

Rapid weight gain stretches the skin and underlying tissue, while significant weight loss may lead to excess skin that can't retract to its former elasticity.

This cycle of stretching and loosening the skin, especially if recurrent over time, exacerbates the sagging appearance that characterises an apron belly.

This highlights the importance of taking a balanced approach to weight loss and explains why consistency is more powerful than quick fixes — especially when it comes to preserving skin elasticity and body composition.

Genetic factors

The way your body responds to changes is largely predetermined by your genetics.

Some people are simply more predisposed to developing excess skin than others, regardless of their efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Ageing

The ageing process is marked by changes in our body at the cellular level.

As we age, our levels of collagen and elastin, the proteins responsible for our skin’s firmness and elasticity, drop, making it harder for skin to snap back once it's been stretched [3].

This explains, for example, why wrinkles and fine lines may start to appear on your skin — and why you may notice an apron belly starting to form.

The health risks of having an apron belly

The presence of an apron belly extends beyond aesthetic concerns, posing significant health risks.

For one, this condition can be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, as visceral fat is known to worsen insulin resistance [4].

Secondly, having excessive fat around the waistline can impact your heart health, increasing your risk of cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, as a result of the inflammatory substances produced by abdominal fat [5].

Beyond physical health, an apron belly can also impact some people's mental health, leading to issues with self-confidence and body image.

Finally, there's the potential for physical discomfort, irritations and infections that can happen in the folds of excess skin and potentially lead to further health complications (if not properly managed).

Can you get an apron belly removed surgically?

There are several surgical options available for those looking to remove an apron belly, each with its own procedures and outcomes.

Abdominoplasty (tummy tuck)

Abdominoplasty, commonly known as a tummy tuck, involves the removal of excess fat and skin flaps from the abdomen to create a firmer, more toned appearance [6].

During this procedure, weakened or separated muscles in the abdominal wall can also be repaired.

The process typically includes making a horizontal incision across the lower abdomen, through which the surgeon can remove excess tissue and reposition the remaining skin for a smoother contour.

This option can be effective for people with significant amounts of excess skin or weakened abdominal muscles.

Panniculectomy

A panniculectomy specifically targets the removal of the apron of skin and fat that hangs over the lower abdomen, rather than focusing on tightening the muscles [7].

This surgery is often recommended for those who have experienced massive weight loss and are left with large amounts of excess skin that can cause hygiene issues, discomfort, and skin infections.

Liposuction

Liposuction is a surgical procedure used to remove localised deposits of fat, though it doesn't address excess skin [8].

It can be performed along with a tummy tuck or panniculectomy for optimal results.

During a liposuction, small incisions are made in the target area, and a cannula (a thin tube) is inserted to loosen excess fat, which is then suctioned out of the body.

Liposuction is best suited for people who are close to their ideal body weight and have firm, elastic skin but are looking to refine and reshape certain areas.

Each of these surgical options requires a thorough consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon to discuss goals, expectations, and potential risks.

Recovery time, potential scarring, and the necessity for future procedures should also be considered when deciding if surgery is the right choice for you.

The best exercises for getting rid of an apron belly

If you've decided to go for a needle-free approach, there are many exercises you can add to your workout routine.

It's important to mention that doing these alone will likely not get you the results you're hoping for, but they can play a crucial role in your journey towards a flatter stomach.

For the best results, be sure to combine these exercises with a healthy diet (more on this shortly), as well as other types of workouts, such as weight training, Pilates or swimming.

Now that that is out of the way, here are some of our favourite exercises for targeting stomach fat:

  • Planks. The trusty plank is an isometric exercise (meaning it involves the contraction of a muscle without any joint movement) that engages your entire core, including the often-neglected transverse abdominis (the deepest of the ab muscles).
  • Russian twists. Russian twists are excellent for both the obliques and the deeper abdominal muscles, helping to improve your strength and muscular endurance.
  • Bicycle crunches. This dynamic move further targets the obliques, while its twisting motion effectively engages the rectus abdominis, which is the muscle group more commonly known as the '6-pack.'
  • Mountain climbers. One of the best full-body exercises, mountain climbers are great for working on your core stability.
  • Squats. Focusing on your form, squats can help build glute and leg muscles, contributing to overall body strength and fat-burning capacity. Just be sure to engage your core as you go up and down.
  • Lunges. Another lower-body-focused exercise, lunges can help reduce belly fat but again, you do need to consciously engage your ab muscles.
  • Cardio. Cardiovascular exercise is non-negotiable when it comes to reducing body fat, whether that is by running, swimming, boxing, jumping rope or doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

As you get stronger, you can also incorporate dumbells, kettlebells or a barbell into a lot of these exercises and make them a little bit more challenging, particularly Russian twists, squats, and lunges.

Tips for reducing excess belly fat

As we touched on, although exercise plays an important role in burning stubborn belly fat (and losing weight), it's not the only lifestyle change you can (or should) make:

Eat a healthy diet (and prioritise protein)

The age-old advice of consuming more whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and good fats remains a reliable guide for shedding belly fat.

Protein is particularly important here, as it plays a key role in weight management due to its ability to facilitate muscle repair and growth, especially when combined with weight training.

Plus, protein has a higher thermic effect compared to fats and carbs, meaning the body expends more energy digesting it, which can contribute to fat loss [10]; and it helps you feel fuller for longer periods, reducing the likelihood of you overeating or snacking between meals.

Stay hydrated

Did you know that your water intake can impact your weight loss results?

Drinking enough water can increase your energy expenditure, which means your body burns calories at rest.

Water is also a great (zero-calorie) natural appetite suppressant, with research showing that drinking 2 cups should be enough for you to feel full [9].

Finally, it reduces cravings because often when we feel peckish, we're actually thirsty [11].

Getting into the habit of reaching for your water bottle first, and then checking if you're still hungry, can be an effective way of cutting down calories and staying within your deficit.

Keep your stress levels under control

The release of cortisol (a.k.a, the stress hormone) is associated with increased abdominal fat storage, and there are many reasons why.

For some people, eating is a way to deal with stress and other negative emotions — what's known as emotional eating.

Plus, cortisol-induced weight gain usually shows in the stomach, in what's referred to as a 'hormonal belly' [12].

To prevent your stress levels from causing fat to accumulate in your midsection, try incorporating relaxing activities into your daily life — things like journalling, walking in nature, meditating, or stretching.

Mindful eating can be another useful tool for preventing cortisol-related weight gain, as it helps you listen to your body and understand when you're actually hungry, versus when you're eating simply because you're overwhelmed, bored, or sad.

Get enough sleep

Sleep, the often-neglected aspect of the fitness triad (along with diet and exercise), is important for many body functions, from metabolism regulation to muscle repair, hormonal balance, and more.

It's also closely related to body fat.

In fact, one study found that when dieters cut back sleep over 14 days, the amount of fat they lost dropped by 55% (even though their calorie intake didn't change) [13].

So, if your sleep hygiene could use some work, consider:

  • Establishing a consistent sleep schedule
  • Making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet when it's time to sleep
  • Leaving screens outside the bedroom for 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed (and picking up a book instead, if you need something to do before you snooze)
  • Avoiding coffee in the afternoon

Target stomach fat with Juniper

Sometimes, expert guidance is necessary to make the complex, simple — and that's exactly why we created Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme.

Designed by UK clinicians, this programme can help you lose weight and body fat, and keep it off in the long run.

It uses breakthrough weight loss medications (Wegovy or Mounjaro) and combines them with ongoing support from health experts, as well as access to a community of like-minded women on the same journey as you.

Image credit: Getty Images