Belly fat may be dangerous, but it's also responsive to traditional weight-loss strategies of diet and exercise. One pound of fat equals 3,500 calories; thus, to lose a pound, you must consume 3,500 calories fewer than you burn. In a week, you can't afford much more than a 3,500- or 7,000-calorie deficit without severely depriving yourself of nutrients and solid food. This deficit means you'll lose 1 or 2 pounds per week.
An easy way to determine if you have too much belly fat is to measure yourself at home. Take a measuring tape and wrap it around your bare stomach, directly above your hip bone. The tape should be snug but not too tight. For women, a measurement of 35 inches or more indicates an unhealthy amount of belly fat. For men, a measurement of 40 inches or more indicates an unhealthy measure.
There are currently no legal requirements for food manufacturers to label trans fats, according to the British Dietetic Association, so you need to check ingredients lists for hydrogenated fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils. The biggest culprits? Your ‘cheat day’ favourites: cakes, biscuits, ice cream, popcorn, pies, fried food, fast food, takeaways — the list goes on.
“Under normal conditions, humans absorb only about 80% of the nutrients from the food they eat,” says A. Roberto Frisancho, Ph.D., a weight-loss researcher at the University of Michigan. But, he says, when the body is deprived of nourishment, it becomes a super-efficient machine, pulling what nutrients it can from whatever food is consumed. Start eating again normally and your body may not catch up; instead it will continue to store food as fat.
A 2015 study from Brown University found that you’re likely to have less belly fat if you have a high degree of “dispositional mindfulness” — where you’re naturally inclined to pay attention to your present thoughts and feelings. The researchers speculated that this kind of “everyday mindfulness” helps overcome the instinct to stock up on calories, which are not in short supply to use modern humans.
You know that friend who casually chats about the healthy meals she whips up for her fam like it's NBD? She's planning ahead, and you should be, too. "When you plan an entire week of dinner in advance, you're way less likely to go off course and indulge in foods that aren't good for you," says Salzman. (Her weekly dinner planner is a favorite for Elizabeth Berkley when she needs food-spo.) Science backs her up, as those who spend more time prepping food at home eat at least eight servings of fruit and 13 servings of veggies each week, while those who don't tend to eat only six servings of fruit and just under 11 servings of vegetables. So get into a routine and, after weekly grocery shopping, kick the kids out for playtime with Dad so you can knock out as much work ahead of time as possible — cleaning and slicing veggies, portioning out chicken breasts for each meal, etc. Come dinnertime, there'll be barely any work before food is on the table.
If you're among the 30% of Americans who sleep less than six hours a night, here's one simple way to whittle your waistline: catch more Zs. A 16-year study of almost 70,000 women found that those who slept five hours or less a night were 30% more likely to gain 30 or more pounds than those who slept 7 hours. The National Institutes of Health suggest adults sleep seven to eight hours a night.
Don’t let extra hours lounging in bed stand between you and a flatter belly. While getting enough sleep can help boost your metabolic rate, sleeping in may undo any benefit you’d enjoy from catching a few extra winks. One study reveals that late sleepers who snoozed past 10:45 in the morning ate nearly 250 more calories over the course of the day, despite eating half as many fruits and vegetables as their early bird counterparts. Even worse, they chowed down on more salty, sugary, and trans fat-laden fast food than those who woke up earlier. If you happen to head out of the house early, you’re in for an additional metabolic boost; researchers at Northwestern University have found that people exposed to just a short period of early morning sunlight had lower BMIs than their late-waking counterparts.
Science backs these ideas up when it comes shedding belly fat: In one study published in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers had overweight men and women follow a high-protein diet (30 percent protein, 40 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat) or a high-carb diet (15 percent protein, 55 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat). After one year of weight loss and maintenance, they found that the high-protein group experienced a 21 percent greater weight loss and 27 percent greater body fat loss on average than the high-carb group.
No belly-busting diet is complete without a super-charged arsenal of healthy, satiating snacks. By planning ahead for those times you get stuck—think traffic jams and long days at the office—you’ll be equipped to fight against any unhealthy temptations or poor food choices. “I would definitely have snacks planned throughout the day. It’s very important to eat throughout the day to make sure you’re not famished at some of the bigger meals. I would definitely have snack jars with things like granola bars, protein bars, almonds, dehydrated fruits, turkey jerky, and a lot of high-protein snacks stashed at work, in the car, or at home,” says White.
Eating slowly will also help cinch your waist, too. Inhaling croissants while run-walking to work will do little to satiate you – not that you’ll do much digesting anyway, with all that cortisol flooding your system. Instead, by making time to eat and focusing on your food (that also means not scrolling through Instagram), you’ll wind up eating less and you’ll feel fuller for longer.
“Belly fat or abdominal fat is the subcutaneous (which means under the skin) fat that sits around the waist and provides a store of energy, and also protection and heat, for the organs,” says Tarik Belalij, personal trainer and nutritionist at Everyone Active Becontree Leisure Centre. “Small amounts of fat below the skin is normal and healthy, it is the visceral fat, which surrounds the organs that can be the most dangerous type of fat – leading to heart attacks and diabetes.”