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.
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.
Thanks to the hormone estrogen, the female body likes to hold on to fat, too. A study in Obesity Reviews shows that women store fat more efficiently than men in an effort to prepare the body for pregnancy. But while it seems like women may have drawn the short-end of the stick, the stereotypical pear-shape is actually considered healthier than boasting a beer gut, because belly fat is a red flag when it comes to your health. “Visceral fat is associated with increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome,” says Harris-Pincus.
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.
"When we’re lacking in sleep, our body’s hormones get thrown off balance which can impact our hunger levels the next day. We all have two hormones that affect our appetite: ghrelin and leptin. When we don’t get enough sleep, our ghrelin levels (the hormone that makes us feel hungry) rise, and our leptin levels (the hormone that makes us feel full) drop. This means that when we’re awake, we tend to eat more but feel less satisfied. Try going to bed a little earlier than usual to avoid this imbalance and remember to remove any distractions that might prevent you from nodding off."
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.
If you haven’t picked up on the importance of preparation, then we haven’t done our job. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in your busy schedule and forget to put a priority on health and what actions contribute to it. “People don’t plan for the week as far as writing their workout times in the calendar. If you write them down you’re 30% more likely to stay adherent to your workout. Write them down as you would any doctor’s appointment and try to shoot for sticking with it,” says White. The more workouts you check off, the faster you’re going to see results. Do yourself a favor and book that bike ahead of time—you’ll eliminate the opportunity for lame excuses by making a real commitment to your sweat sessions.
There’s one thing to like about visceral fat: It yields fairly easily to aerobic exercise. Vaporizing calories via running, biking, swimming—anything that gets your heart rate up—is an effective way to whittle your middle. In fact, one 2011 study from Duke University Medical Center, published in the American Journal of Physiology, found the sweet spot: Jogging the equivalent of 12 miles a week was even more effective in reducing visceral fat than resistance training three times per week. However, both types of exercise were beneficial when it came to belly fat, the researchers say. (Don’t have time to hit the gym? Try these fun at-home cardio workouts if you’re in a pinch.)
"With all the different tips out there, it can be tricky to understand exactly which exercises work the best. HIIT is great for fat burning and will get your heart rate up, but I’d also recommend including strength (resistance) exercises too. Try lifting weights, using resistance bands or using the weight machines at the gym as these will increase your metabolism to help with weight loss, and increase your muscle strength. It’s important to mix-up your whole-body workouts so you don’t get bored."
When researchers in Brazil studied 13,000 people over a three-year period, they found that men with the highest levels of inflammatory agents in their body were also the most likely to gain weight. And periodontal disease, which is caused by poor oral health care, is one of the most common sources of inflammation. Brushing twice a day, flossing, and making regular trips to the dentist are the best ways to prevent the disease. Hate flossing? Studies show that a dose of Listerine may be just as effective at reducing levels of inflammatory bacteria within the mouth.
Juice a lemon or lime and add a few slices of the peels into the cup. Then cut up strawberries and include herbs such as mint and tarragon into the mixture. Pour hot water over it and let this mixture settle together. Remove the lemon or lime peels and transfer the mixture to a jar. Pour cold water and ice and then add honey, depending on your preference. Drink away!
Belly fat also responds to a lower-calorie diet that's full of healthy, unprocessed foods. Go for lean protein, fresh produce and whole grains at meals. When you have just a week to lose as much as possible, ban all sweetened drinks -- including soda and juice -- bakery treats and ice cream. Also avoid refined grains, such as pizza and white bread, as well as alcohol. Keep your portion sizes to just 2 to 4 ounces for meats and other proteins and about 1/2 cup for grains. Over the long term, these dietary revisions help you drop belly fat.
It’s time to get real about the dangers of belly fat, because it’s affecting more of us than ever before. According to the latest government stats, 26 per cent of British adults are classified as obese. That’s just over one in four people, meaning that Britain is on-track to become the fattest country in Europe by 2025. If current trends continue, forecasters have warned that half of us will be obese by 2045.
The good news is that studies show that moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise such as running can help reduce visceral fat, even without changing your diet. Combining aerobic exercise with a healthy, low-calorie diet is even better for both overall weight loss and visceral fat loss, though exercise seems to be more effective than diet when it comes to targeting visceral fat.
Don’t buy your tickets to Bonnaroo just yet; the kind of acid that will help you slim down is the stuff right inside your cabinet. A 12-week study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry reveals that obese study subjects who made vinegar part of their diet dropped more belly fat than a control group, and other research suggests that acidic foods, like vinegar, can increase the human carbohydrate metabolism by as much as 40 percent.
Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S, founder of TS Fitness, also says that metabolic resistance training and high-intensity interval training is a solid way to reduce fat all over, including belly fat. “These [types of exercise] help to burn calories during the workout, and they also give you that after-burn effect,” he says. “Plus, they help to change your body composition by increasing your muscle mass.”