Belly fat may be dangerous, but it's also responsive to traditional weight-loss strategies of diet and exercise. One pound of fat equals 3,500 calories; thus, to lose a pound, you must consume 3,500 calories fewer than you burn. In a week, you can't afford much more than a 3,500- or 7,000-calorie deficit without severely depriving yourself of nutrients and solid food. This deficit means you'll lose 1 or 2 pounds per week.
What’s more, your body digests protein more slowly than carbs, so it keeps you feeling fuller longer and zaps your need to needlessly snack. “During weight loss, you want more protein—to prevent hunger, enhance satiety, and minimize muscle loss, as long as there’s some degree of physical activity,” Tom Rifai, MD, regional medical director of metabolic health and weight management for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit told Prevention.
"Feeling stressed can wreak havoc on our bodies. It can cause our body to produce the steroid hormone cortisol, which can make you crave sugary foods that provide instant energy and pleasure. Short-term bursts of cortisol are necessary to help us cope with immediate danger, but our body will also release this hormone if we’re feeling stressed or anxious. When our cortisol levels are high for a long amount of time, it can increase the amount of fat you hold in your belly."
Try a diet in which you consume 2200 calories (men) or 2000 calories (women) per day. This should cause a deficit sufficient for you to lose one or two pounds per week, depending on your activity level. Some women may require lower daily calorie intake, such as 1800 or 1500 a day. Start by limiting yourself to a 2000 calorie limit per day, and lower the limit if you do not see progress.
“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.”
Try this interval-training trick on the elliptical trainer: Ride for 30 seconds as fast as you can, then immediately reverse your direction and ride for 30 additional seconds just as fast in the opposite direction. Rest 60 seconds, and repeat. The force of stopping your momentum, as well as going from a dead stop to full speed twice in the same interval, will give your fat-burning efforts a massive boost, says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S.
Another win for your morning cup of joe: Caffeinated coffee keeps things moving through the digestive tract. Since staying regular is key to a tighter-looking tummy, drinking about 8 to 16 ounces of java at the same time every day can help you stay on schedule. Remember: Sugary drinks can lead to weight gain, so skip fancy flavorings and synthetic sweeteners containing sugar alcohols, which can cause bloating.
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.
While many people turn to artificial sweeteners in a misguided attempt to whittle their waistlines, those fake sugars are likely to have the opposite effect. According to researchers at Yale, artificial sweeteners are actually linked with an increased risk of abdominal obesity and weight gain, possibly because they can trigger cravings for the real stuff and spike insulin levels in a similar fashion to real sugar.
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.”