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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.”
Carbohydrates are a touchy subject: while some blame them for all fat gain, it’s the type of carbs you eat that’s key. A 2011 study out of the University of Alabama found that a diet that slightly cut back on carbs, and which comprised mostly low-GI carbohydrates, lost more deep abdominal fat than those who ate a lower-fat diet. GI stands for glycemic index, a measure of how fast carbohydrates supply your body with energy: high-GI foods make you spike then crash, while low-GI foods provide a slow burn.
"America has been trying to follow a low-calorie, low-fat diet for 40 years, and where has that gotten us? To being one of the heaviest countries in the world," says David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., obesity expert and author of Always Hungry. Think about it: "The problem is when you cut back on calories like that, your body tries to fight back with increased hunger and a slower metabolism because it thinks it's going into starvation mode," he says. Meanwhile, you eventually eat again to satiate the hunger pangs, and likely eat more because, well, you're insanely hungry. But your metabolism is still operating on that low level, so calories don't get burned fast enough and they get stored as fat. Ludwig says this cycle continues until you feed your body regularly (he suggests at least three meals and two snacks in between) with real food made from real ingredients. That matters more than the calories it's made up of, so repeat after us: I will always choose an all-natural version of something over food that's labeled low-calorie or fat-free.
Forget apples (okay, not really) — avocados reign supreme when it comes to weight loss. They're rich in monounsaturated heart-healthy fat, and studies show eating just half of one with lunch can curb your appetite. "Slice one in half, sprinkle a little sea salt, and eat the inside with a spoon," says Alexandra Samit, a Be Well Health Coach at Dr. Frank Lipman's Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC. Or top off your salad with a few pieces, as research found that doing so allows you to absorb three to five times more carotenoids, a disease-fighting compound associated with improved weight and fat loss.
Luckily, exercise can help spur things along when it comes to that pesky stomach fat. “Visceral fat responds well when… [you] start exercising and watching your calories and what you eat,” Harris-Pincus says. And while endless crunches aren’t your ticket to a flat stomach, it is still important to train your ab muscles. “Everything radiates from the center of your body – your balance, your posture, your functional movement,” says Joe Ardito, founder of Fit Crush NYC. “You can perform better when you have a strong core.”
The challenge with belly fat is that it’s not only limited to the extra layer of padding located below your skin’s surface. Belly flat also includes another layer of fat located deep within your abdomen that surrounds your internal organs. It may also be a surprise to you that having “belly fat” is considered “healthy” and that some people who have no outer belly fat, can actually be “unhealthy.”
Go ahead. Pop up a bowl. Sans the butter and salt, popcorn is a real gut whittler. Why? Because popcorn is a whole grain—and a study revealed that people who ate lots of whole grains had smaller middles compared with folks who ate mostly refined grains. So while you're waiting for yours to pop, clear all the white rice, pasta, and bread out of your cupboards. (Related: Give your popcorn some low-guilt flavor with these tips.)
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.
In a 2012 study in the journal Obesity, subjects who increased their soluble fiber intake by 10 grams a day—the equivalent of two small apples, one cup of green peas, and one half-cup of pinto beans—reduced visceral fat by 3.7 percent after five years. Even more, participants who also engaged in moderate physical activity (exercising vigorously two to four times a week) experienced a 7.4 decrease in visceral fat over the same period of time.