A ripped core signals good health, a fit body, and sex appeal. But when it comes to sculpting one, we make excuses.

Truth? Excuses are bull. Arm yourself with these six simple steps – and four exercises –finally reveal your six-pack and enjoy a flatter belly for life.

1. Sleep more

Here’s a truth you’ll appreciate: one of the best things you can do for your body is spend more time in bed. Harvard researchers who studied more than 68 000 people found that those who slept less than five hours a night were 2.3 kilograms heavier and more likely to become obese than those who slept more than seven hours. One reason: just a single night of inadequate sleep may increase activity in your brain’s reward centre, particularly regarding food. To point: a University of Chicago study found that “short sleepers” took in an average of 220 more kilojoules a day than those who logged adequate z’s.

QUICK FIX
Eight hours of sleep a night – and never settle for less than seven. Here’s a scary fact for some added inspiration: if you are a habitual short sleeper, your chance of an early death rises by as much as 12%, Italian researchers say.

2. Lift more often

Your treadmill’s kilojoule tracker might make cardio seem like a fat-loss genie, but don’t be fooled. The more kilometres you log, the more efficient at running you become and the fewer kilojoules you may burn. Plus, running long distances can take a physical toll that can dampen your enthusiasm. All that pain and boredom causes many people to burn out and give up.

QUICK FIX
Weave “The Best Abs Workout Ever” into your fitness plan. Just three days of resistance training a week can offer the metabolic boost you need to slash fat and finally fit into slimmer, more flattering clothes.

3. Lift heavier weights

Now that you’ve made it to the gym (or dusted off your weights at home), reach for the larger dumbbells. Lifting heavy weights not only burns more kilojoules during your workout but may also increase your sleeping metabolism by about 8%, say researchers at Washington University school of medicine in St Louis. Yep: you’ll burn more kilojoules as you lie on your back and dream of Scarlett Johansson. That 8% might not sound like much, but it can add up to about two kilograms a year.

QUICK FIX
Push your limits. As you feel yourself becoming stronger and more comfortable during a workout, don’t be afraid to go bigger.

4. Eat when you want

You’ve heard that you need five or six meals a day for fat loss. The simple rationale is this: digestion requires energy, so spreading your kilojoules over many small meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism humming and your hunger at bay. The problem? It’s not how frequently you eat but rather what you eat that affects how many kilojoules you burn at mealtime. So if you take in 8 000 a day, it doesn’t matter how many meals you’ve eaten; your kilojoule burn from digestion remains the same.

QUICK FIX
Take a week and write down when you feel most hungry. Then adjust your eating patterns accordingly. The key is to pack each meal with foods that provide the greatest metabolic boost.

5. Load up on protein

Every time you eat a meal that doesn’t include protein, you’re telling your body you don’t want to burn more kilojoules. Here’s why: protein helps control your blood sugar, keeps you fuller, reduces hunger,and burns more kilojoules during digestion. So you can stay lean and still enjoy your favourite foods. Also, the protein stops muscle breakdown and provides the raw materials for laying down new muscle.

QUICK FIX

Carbohydrates are not evil. But when you eat them alone, they set off a series of events –including a rise of insulin – that cause you to crave more food and store more fat. So whether you’re snacking or eating a meal, include some protein and you’ll drop fat. For meals, a 170g portion of fish, chicken, or lean beef is reasonable. For snacks, try a handful of nuts, a cheese wedge, or plain yoghurt.

6. Snack smarter

While the number of meals you consume doesn’t matter, the size of your snacks does. Since the 1970s, the average snack size has increased from 1 500 to 2 400 kilojoules, according to research from the University of North Carolina. When you consider that the average man snacks twice during a workday, you’re looking at almost 1 800 additional kilojoules every 24 hours because of the increased snack size. Over the course of a week, that can contribute to an extra 450g of fat.

QUICK FIX

Use one hand to defeat your cravings. (Mind out of the gutter, fellas.) If a portion does not fit into your hand – whether it’s almonds, a chicken breast, cheese, or fruit – then the portion is probably too large. If it’s packaged, read the label. You want 800 to 1 200 kilojoules in each serving, with 15 to 20 grams of protein and about the same amount of carbs – what you might find in a cup of plain yoghurt and some dried cranberries.