Tight deadlines, bills, your kids—whatever your source of stress, having too much of it may make it harder for you to drop unwanted pounds, especially from your middle. And it's not just because you tend to reach for high-fat, high-calorie fare when you're stressed, though that's part of it. It's also due to the stress hormone cortisol, which may increase the amount of fat your body clings to and enlarge your fat cells. Higher levels of cortisol have been linked to more visceral fat.
Belly fat is excess abdominal fat surrounding the organs in your stomach. There are three types of fat: triglycerides (the fat that circulates in your blood), subcutaneous fat (the layer directly below the skin’s surface) and visceral fat (dangerous belly fat). Visceral fat is located beneath the muscles in your stomach and poses many dangers to your health when there is too much of it.
Sleep takes all that hard work you’re doing in the kitchen and the gym, and fast tracks those results. A good night’s sleep helps your body recover from activity and also regulates hormones responsible for hunger cues. “Sleep is essential [for fat loss and overall health]. It’s recommended that adults get 7-8 hours per night. There are a lot of studies on [sleep and fat loss], showing that good sleep can help us eat better and help us to lose weight,” says White. The two specific hormones sleep has an influence over are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin works to keep your energy steady and appetite low. Alternatively, ghrelin increases feelings of hunger. When you fail to get adequate sleep, ghrelin is increased and leptin is decreased, which messes with your hunger signals and can cause you to eat more. By getting your 7-8 hours a night you’ll avoid any wacky cravings and emotional eating, which will make your fat-loss goals that much easier to achieve.
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.
A study from Canada’s McMaster University (partly funded by Dairy Farmers of Canada) put women on several different diets (lower protein, low dairy; lower protein, medium dairy; higher protein, high dairy) and found they all lost the same amount of weight — but that the higher-protein, high-dairy group lost the most belly fat while also gaining and holding onto the most muscle mass. “It seems… increasing calcium and protein in the diet may help to further promote loss of fat from the worst storage area in the body,” said Andrea Josse, lead author of the study.
We also love yoga, hula-hooping (yep, great for the abs) and the good standby “Abs of Steel” videos, and trust me the outfits in the 1990’s video will increase the cardio aspect just from laughter alone! There are also a slew of videos online, find one you love and can stick to every few days and you’ll be toning as you shed the unwanted belly fat.
When your cortisol levels are through the roof, it triggers the release of insulin, and this is where things go awry. Initially, the ‘fight-or-flight’ response shuts down your digestive system so you can deal with the “threat”, like a very hungry lion or, more realistically, heavy traffic on your way to work. Once the danger has passed, your body seeks to replenish the hundreds of calories you burned fighting to the death/swearing at rush hour traffic and makes you ravenously hungry.
“It can take 12 minutes or longer for the signal that you’ve started to eat to make its way to your brain,” says Mark S. Gold, M.D., of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida. Quick tips: Sip some water between every bite of food you eat, or at least eat more meals with friends or family members. You’ll be more likely to talk and therefore to eat more slowly.
A daily run or Spin class is great for your heart, but cardio workouts alone won't do much for your waist. "You need to do a combination of weights and cardiovascular training," says Sangeeta Kashyap, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. Strength training increases muscle mass, which sets your body up to burn more fat. "Muscle burns more calories than fat, and therefore you naturally burn more calories throughout the day by having more muscle," says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. Patton recommends 250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 125 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week.
Stress wreaks havoc on every part of your body, and can lead to breakouts, joint pain, headaches, and yes, even excess belly fat. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body pumps out extra cortisol, that not-so-great hormone you keep hearing about. Studies show that cortisol not only spikes your appetite, but may also redistribute body fat to your belly area, according to a review published in the journal Obesity.
Stop treating your kitchen like an all-night diner and you’ll stop seeing those unwanted pounds piling onto your frame, too. The results of a study published in Cell Metabolism found that mice who only had access to food during an eight-hour period stayed slim over the course of the study, while those who ate the same number of calories over a 16-hour period gained significantly more weight, particularly around their middle. When you’re finished with dinner at night, shut the fridge and don’t look back until morning — your belly will thank you. When you do head back to the kitchen in the A.M., make sure the 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen are there waiting for you.
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.
Let's get the bad news out of the way first: unfortunately, there's no way to shrink specific parts of the body, which means you can't simply target belly fat. But that doesn't mean you can't work toward a trimmer waist. You just can't rely on crunches, planks, or sit-ups. Instead, it's all about putting yourself in a healthy calorie deficit, forming good habits, and doing full-body workouts that help you burn maximum calories. Here are some reliable tips to help you reach your goals.
Quite possibly the king of good carbs, quinoa is one of those foods that is incredibly versatile and boasts an impressive nutritional profile. “Quinoa is almost a complete meal—it has your protein, being one of the highest-protein ancient grains—and it has your healthy carbohydrates. It’s very nutrient dense and very versatile—you can add more protein to it or healthy sources of fat like pumpkin seeds and oils. We need carbohydrates in our body (like quinoa), and a lot of people are afraid to eat them. Quinoa is a slow-digesting carbohydrate, and it’s not high glycemic, so it won’t cause an insulin response like eating straight sugar would,” says White. Carbohydrates give your body energy and help carry you through tough workouts. Quinoa in particular contains all the essential amino acids needed to support muscle development and encourage fat loss. By swapping nutrition-lacking carbs like white rice or pasta for quinoa, you’ll boost your fat burn.
If you're on a paleo diet, be careful: There's a chance you might getting too much protein, according to Melina Jampolis, M.D., author of The Doctor On Demand Diet. The average woman only needs around 46 grams per day, and a diet high in meat and meat products could cause excess protein to be stored as belly fat. Plus, too much meat can cause problems with inflammation and digestion due to all the hormones and antibiotics it contains.
It’s pretty common for men to pack some extra poundage around their midsection. In fact, the average man is about 24lbs heavier today than men in 1960, according to stats from The State of Obesity—and the figures are rising. We’ve seen slimmer days, but don’t think this is a grim sentence, dooming you to eternal chubbiness. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways for you to burn belly fat—fast.
Manage the stress at home or at work as best as you can. When confronted with a stressful “fight or flight” situation, our brain releases a stress hormone called cortisol that jolts your insulin Reduce stress through stress management techniques such as yoga and meditation to avoid these drops in blood sugar that can bring on the cravings for sugary or fatty foods.
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“If there’s one thing that comes up over and over with the thousands of patients enrolled in the National Weight Control Registry, it’s weighing yourself every day on a scale,” says Rena Wing, Ph.D., founder of the registry, which tracks more than 4,500 men and women who have lost an average of 20lbs or more and kept it off for at least six years. “Don’t obsess over the number,” she says, “but at least keep track of the general range of what you weigh so you can catch small changes as they occur and take corrective measures immediately.”
You don’t need to dole out big bucks for specialized workout classes or equipment when your two greatest fat burners are with you at all times—yes, your legs. “Running is one of those workouts that you can do anywhere. All you need to do is go outside—you don’t need equipment. At an average pace you can burn up to 600 calories per hour. Of course the more intense and the faster you run the more calories you’ll burn. Depending upon pace you can burn up to 1,000 calories per hour. You can incorporate intervals of walking, jogging, and running [to not only ease into your run, but also to bump up the calorie burn]. You can also choose to go up hills or do sprints. Going out in the heat you also burn more calories. “I would definitely incorporate running as a great workout to burn belly fat,” says White.
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.
Dieting and exercise go hand in hand. If you thought that only dieting will burn your belly fat, you are wrong. If you really want to lose weight, you need to include an hour of exercise in your daily routine for targeting and reducing belly fat. Here, we have compiled a list of 16 exercises that can help you reduce belly fat faster than you thought it would take:
"As we head into colder months with less sun exposure, vitamin D intake from food becomes extremely important. Research shows that low levels of vitamin D may be correlated with abdominal obesity," says Kayleen St.John, R.D., executive director of Nutrition and Strategic Development of Euphebe. "Mushrooms grown under UV light should be incorporated into belly fat-fighting meals." Try this Italian Mushroom and Bean Soup.
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.