A trim midsection is good for many things, like fitting into your favorite jeans or walking the beach in a swimsuit with confidence. But there are even better reasons to work off extra baggage around your stomach. That baggage, known as visceral fat, isn’t just the most annoying kind — it’s also the most dangerous. As it forms between your organs, deep within your abdominal cavity, it secretes proteins that can trigger chronic inflammation, putting you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
An easy way to determine if you have too much belly fat is to measure yourself at home. Take a measuring tape and wrap it around your bare stomach, directly above your hip bone. The tape should be snug but not too tight. For women, a measurement of 35 inches or more indicates an unhealthy amount of belly fat. For men, a measurement of 40 inches or more indicates an unhealthy measure.
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.
Grains get a bad rap when it comes to weight loss, but that's because refined grains (read: processed foods!) are linked to wider waists. 100% whole grains are bloat-busting superstars, however, as they're packed with minerals and de-puff by counter-balancing salt. Stick to brown rice, quinoa, wheat, barley, millet, farro, sorghum, and amaranth for the biggest benefits.
Resist the urge to use a diet that promises quick results. Often they don't work, or they're so restrictive you can't handle them for more than a couple of days -- let alone a week. If you do stick to the plan, you may very well see a drop in pounds -- but it's not from a substantial amount of fat; it's mostly from water. A quick-fix diet teaches you nothing about sensible eating that will help you manage your belly fat and health forever. You'll likely gain all the weight back as soon as you resume your normal eating habits.
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.
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.
The researchers explain that people who cook their own meals may simply have other good-for-you habits, like exercising more. However, they concluded that home cooks simply ate more fruits and vegetables (along with a wider variety of foods), have healthier methods of prepping their food, and splurge less on foods high in calories and sugar. No clue where to start? Try these 25 high-protein chicken recipes for weight loss.
The most important thing you need to do is to program yourself mentally. Don't use a scale to measure your progress. If you work out with weights, you may gain a few pounds while losing inches around the waist. Instead, use that pair of jeans that you want to fit into again, or a pair that fits you now. You'll see a slight change every few weeks, and that should give you confidence.
Simply take a good hard look at your diet, make a few modifications you can stick with and get your body moving. Not sure where you stand on diet? Write down everything you eat this week, then compare it to the list above and see where you could have made better choices. Don’t beat yourself up though, learning how to lose stomach fat fast is a process. Simply find areas to improve and work on them next week.
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.