Carbohydrates are a touchy subject: while some blame them for all fat gain, it’s the type of carbs you eat that’s key. A 2011 study out of the University of Alabama found that a diet that slightly cut back on carbs, and which comprised mostly low-GI carbohydrates, lost more deep abdominal fat than those who ate a lower-fat diet. GI stands for glycemic index, a measure of how fast carbohydrates supply your body with energy: high-GI foods make you spike then crash, while low-GI foods provide a slow burn.
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.
So it’s not uncommon for people to carry excessive amounts of fat (that we can’t see) around their vital organs despite not appearing to be overweight at all. These people have a phenomenon known as “skinny fat.” Skinny fat refers to someone who’s weight outwardly looks trim for their height, but have high levels of visceral fat inside and are susceptible to the same health problems as someone who is overweight such as high cholesterol or hypertension.
Go ahead. Pop up a bowl. Sans the butter and salt, popcorn is a real gut whittler. Why? Because popcorn is a whole grain—and a study revealed that people who ate lots of whole grains had smaller middles compared with folks who ate mostly refined grains. So while you're waiting for yours to pop, clear all the white rice, pasta, and bread out of your cupboards. (Related: Give your popcorn some low-guilt flavor with these tips.)
Keeping a toothbrush handy can do more than polish up that smile (and counter the effects of all that belly-slimming garlic); brushing your teeth throughout the day can also help you ditch that belly fat fast. A study conducted a sample of over 14,000 participants found that brushing after every meal was linked to lower weight. That minty toothpaste flavor not only clashes with virtually every food, brushing may also trigger a Pavlovian response that tells your brain the kitchen’s closed.
People with chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to carry excess visceral fat. Foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI), which uses a ranking system of 0 to 100, cause more rapid spikes in your blood sugar, in turn triggering the release of cortisol when glucose levels crash. The constant up and down of your blood sugar levels can also lead to insulin resistance — the first step on the road to type 2 diabetes. To help keep cortisol levels stable, choose low-GI foods (with a rating of 55 or less) like beans, lentils, and chickpeas, instead of high-GI options like white rice and potatoes. To find the GI rating of your foods, use the University of Sydney’s database at glycemicindex.com.
Bring on the heat! "Spicy chili peppers contain capsaicin, a compound known to increase satiety and decrease caloric consumption," says Hever. "It also helps encourage fat burning. Enjoy capsaicin by sprinkling ground cayenne or chili pepper over food or in beverages such as tea or lemon water, or cook hot peppers into stews, chilis, and soups." Or, you know, pop raw ones straight. If you're really brave!
Here’s a shocker: When a group of U.K. researchers told 30 women to avoid chocolate, then packed them into a room filled with the stuff; the women were much more likely to sneak a bite than individuals who hadn’t been given the order. Blame the allure of the forbidden: The more you tell yourself you can’t eat something you love, the more you’re going to want it.
Add resistance training. A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests that combining cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise with resistance training is more effective than cardiovascular training alone in getting rid of abdominal fat. You can do resistance training with free weights, exercise machines or resistance bands and it may also be useful to train from unstable positions due to increased muscle activity.
Intermittent fasting has blown up in the past year, but scientists are just starting to figure out how it can help you lose weight. In one study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers compared obese people in a traditional weight loss group and fasting group. For the experiment, the calorie-restricted group simply reduced the amount of calories they ate by 25 percent each day. The fasting group, however, alternated days: they ate 25 percent of the calories they needed one day between 12 and 2 p.m., and then had feast days the next, where they ate 125 percent of their required calories.
Consider this specially-bred strain of seaweed the protein-packed answer to your prayers. Eating just a little of it each day (seriously, you only need three grams — or one heaping teaspoon — to get your fill, says nutritionist Tali Pines, R.D.) will give you a hefty dose of important antioxidants like beta-carotene and echinenone, both of which help curb cravings and fight illness. Bonus: the levels of beta-carotene found in Hawaiian spirulina suppress cholesterol levels (great news for your heart), and the high levels of iron improve weakness and fatigue so you have enough mojo for your next workout. Get your fix by popping a daily supplement, adding it to your morning smoothie, or simply stirring a spoonful of the powdered version (which is the most easily digestible, according to Pines) into a glass of water.