Routinely squeaking by on five hours or less per night increases visceral fat levels, according to a 2010 Wake Forest University study. What’s more, after analyzing 28 different studies, UK researchers found that people who slept 5.5 hours or less per night ate an extra 385 calories the day after compared to those who snoozed for at least 7 to 12 hours. On top of that, they preferred to munch on fatty foods full of empty calories, like chips.
Avoid over stuffing yourself at meals; eat small meals throughout the day. Chewing gum and drinking with a straw can cause excess air to gather in the digestive tract. Carbonated beverages, spicy foods, large servings of beans or cruciferous vegetables, dried fruits and fruit juice often induce gas and bloating. If you're lactose intolerant, avoid dairy products to help reduce belly swelling; make sure you obtain important nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, from milk alternatives or other fortified foods.
When researchers at the University of Tennessee put a group of volunteers on one of two diets—one high in calcium and one not—and cut each group’s calorie intake by 500 calories, they found that the people getting calcium lost twice as much weight (an average of 13lbs) compared with people on the standard diet. Study author Michael Zemel, Ph.D., believes extra calcium helps the body burn more—and store less—fat.
That sour cherry is pretty sweet when it comes to your health. The results of a study conducted at the University of Michigan found that rats given high-fat foods along with tart cherries ditched nine percent more body fat than those in a control group over just 12 weeks. Cherries are also a good source of antioxidant pigment resveratrol, which has been linked to reductions in belly fat, dementia risk, and lower rates of macular degeneration among the elderly.
Remember that it takes a 3500-calorie deficit to lose one pound of fat. That is, you have to either burn off 3500 calories through exercise or eat 3500 calories less than you burn in a week. Break this up into daily limits. To burn 3500 calories a week, you should aim to have a 500 calorie deficit every day. For example, you can exercise to burn 250 calories and cut 250 calories from your diet.
Our increasingly slothful lifestyles are partly to blame for skyrocketing obesity rates, so it’s no surprise that being more active is a simple fix for belly fat. In 2003, a first-of-its-kind study from Duke University showed that sedentary adults accumulated abdominal fat surprisingly quickly — and that sedentary women stacked on fat more visceral fat than sedentary men, even though they added less fat overall.
Which means, sadly, the more glasses of rose and chocolate-coated pretzels you eat, the longer it will take to reach your flatter belly goals. “When you digest large amounts of calories, your body allocates some of these to functional systems which work to keep you alive (think the brain, muscles and organs),” says Belalij. “It also uses it to fill up energy stores. Any excess is then stored in fat cells around the body – typically being those of the belly.”