Midlife. Midsection. You’re getting older and it’s getting … bigger, softer, flubbier. Why? You think you’re eating right, and you’re just as active as you've been for years. It’s almost seems like there are outside forces conspiring to make your trim waistline a thing of the past. The good news is, nothing’s out to get you. The bad news is, there are multiple internal forces at work that make busting belly fat far more difficult than you’d ever imagined.
Hate having to pass on the potatoes for the sake of your pants size? Well, you may not have to. Just eat them cold—as in vinegar potato salad. If you chill potatoes overnight, they form something called resistant starch crystals—a constituent of fiber that triggers the production of two hunger-halting hormones, according to research. And resistant starch helps the body incinerate more fat for fuel while making less fat available to stash away in fat cells. (Related: Find out how vinegar potato salads help your blood sugar, too.)

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.
Sure, ketchup is tasty, but it’s also a serious saboteur when it comes your weight loss efforts. Ketchup is loaded with sugar — up to four grams per tablespoon — and bears little nutritional resemblance to the fruit from which it’s derived. Luckily, swapping out your ketchup for salsa can help you shave off that belly fat fast. Fresh tomatoes, like those used in salsa, are loaded with lycopene, which a study conducted at China Medical University in Taiwan links to reductions in both overall fat and waist circumference. If you like your salsa spicy, all the better; the capsaicin in hot peppers, like jalapeños and chipotles, can boost your metabolism, too.
Subcutaneous fat is that pinchable, soft-belly layer of body fat in your stomach area. The subcutaneous tissue layer lies directly under the skin and is vital to protecting the muscles and bones whenever we fall or our bodies hit something. The subcutaneous layer is also a passageway for blood vessels and nerves to travel from the skin’s dermis level to the muscles.
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.
To banish stubborn belly fat, you have to ramp up your workouts. In a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, people who completed a high-intensity workout regimen lost more belly fat than those who followed a low-intensity plan. (In fact, the low-intensity exercises experienced no significant changes at all.) "You need to exercise at full intensity because the end goal is to burn more calories, and high intensity exercise does just that," says Natalie Jill, a San Diego, Calif.-based certified personal trainer. High intensity workouts mean you're going all out for as long as you can. If this sounds intimidating, think of it this way: you'll burn more calories in less time.

In a way, moderate-intensity physical activity is that "magic pill" a lot of people are looking for, because the health benefits go beyond keeping your waistline trim: Not only can it reduce your risk of cancer, stroke, diabetes and heart attacks, but studies have shown that physical activity can significantly improve the moods of patients with major depressive disorders.
The options for spin today are growing to be more intense and more entertaining at that, with options like SoulCycle, Flywheel, CYC fitness, and your local gym’s trusty spin class. Locking into a bike will not only skyrocket your fat burn, but the pack mentality may cause you to work harder in an effort to keep up with and surpass your fellow riders. “I definitely would put spinning up there as one of the best fat-burning workouts. First of all, you have that great social scene and music coming together [to boost drive and motivation]. Weight training can sometimes be boring alone, but adding spinning makes things more interesting,” says White. Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Department of Preventive Medicine found that when you work out with others, you’re more likely to enjoy your sweat session. When you enjoy something, you’re more likely to stick to it long-term. It’s a simple concept, but when it comes to losing belly fat it’s particularly important because fat loss is a marathon, not a sprint.
Canned tuna could be your solution to a flatter belly — and it'll only cost you around 80 cents a pop. "Canned tuna — as well as other fish — is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids," Taub-Dix days. "Besides promoting heart health, omega-3s help you ditch pounds by keeping you feeling satisfied while repairing and replenishing muscles." Win-win, much? Instead of making tuna salad with fatty mayo, try Greek yogurt instead. The mix makes the perfect filling for a healthy lettuce wrap or stuffed into an avocado half.
If you’ve got weight to lose and you want it gone fast, try swapping out your usual proteins in favor of fish. Not only is fish lower in calories than an equivalent amount of beef or chicken, a study published in Obesity reveals study subjects who added omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish, to their diets shed more weight and had an easier time keeping it off than those who skipped them.
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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.
Or skip your favorite early-morning show—whatever it takes to grab a few more minutes of sleep each day. When researchers at the University of Chicago studied men who were sleep-deprived, they found that after just a few days, their bodies had a much harder time processing glucose in the blood—a problem common in overweight diabetics. When the individuals returned to a more normal seven to eight hours of sleep a night, however, their metabolisms returned to normal.
Use the meal as a reward for a week’s worth of hard work, or the completion of a project you’ve been dreading. “It’s OK for people to blow one meal a week without feeling guilty,” says James W. Anderson, M.D., director of the Metabolic Research Group at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. “If you follow a healthy diet 95% of the time, you can relax and enjoy yourself the other 5% of the time without gaining weight.”
When you want to turn your diet around, don’t focus on the idea of restriction, Zeratsky says. Instead, think about the foods you can eat and how you can manage your hunger. “Eat foods that are more filling and have more water, like fruits and veggies, which will help your stomach respond to the weight to food,” she says. Plus, they’re low-cal and you still need that calorie deficit to drop belly fat.
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