If antioxidants are the good guys of gut health, trans fats are the supervillains. These sneaky fats actively contribute to your wobbly waist – not just by adding new fat, but by moving fat from other areas of your body to your belly. During a six-year study at Wake Forest University, monkeys that were fed an 8 per cent trans fat diet had 33 per cent more belly fat than monkeys that were fed an 8 per cent monounsaturated fat diet.
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The conclusion? Intermittent fasting was just as effective for weight loss as daily calorie restriction. So if you struggle with daily food restriction, fasting might be an easier way to dial back the amount you’re eating without feeling completely deprived. Read more in-depth about how intermittent fasting works (and if you’ll be able to stick to it) here.
Include physical activity in your daily routine. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, for at least 75 minutes a week. If you use a step counter, remember that it takes an average of 10,000 steps per day to prevent weight gain. Some studies indicate it might take 15,000 steps per day to prevent the regain of weight after significant weight loss.
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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.
A close contender for top place as one of the best fat-busting foods is asparagus, according to White. “Asparagus is a natural diuretic, and is also loaded with vitamins. Per one cup cooked it’s only 25 calories, but thanks to the fiber it will fill you up. You can grill it or steam it (steaming will probably be the cleanest way to prepare it), you can boil it or even microwave it. I’ve even seen people eat it raw. You can throw olive oil on it and saute it. There are a lot of different options here. You just want to stay away from the butter,” says White. Due to the diuretic properties of asparagus, you may see more immediate reductions in stomach bloating, reducing your pounch’s appearance while you work over time to really tighten it up.
In addition to helping maintain heart health and keep inflammation levels under control, monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, may stop belly fat before it starts. Research in the journal Diabetes Care found that people who got roughly 25 percent of their total daily calories from MUFAs gained no visceral fat over the course of the study, while those who ate less MUFAs and more carbs added fat to their midsections. My favorite MUFA-rich food is olive oil because you can use it in so many meals (check out the belly-blasting breakfast I recommend), but avocados and nuts are other excellent sources. Pine nuts are particularly great because they also contain high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These acids increase levels of two hormones that signal your brain when you’re full. Try snacking on one ounce of pine nuts (about the amount you can fit in a shot glass) 20 minutes before mealtime to avoid overeating.
For most, the thought of sitting down for 10 minutes without any kind of stimulation is embarrassingly scary. However, if you’re able to muster up the willpower to do so, meditating for a small period of time each day will boost your fat-burn efforts by reducing stress. By reducing stress, you reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to higher amounts of fat in the body. “Definitely find some time to meditate. When we’re stressed it can cause an increase in cortisol which can negatively affect body fat. There are a lot of great apps out there like Headspace which take you through a short meditation to try to decrease stress,” says White. Or, look in to Transcendental Meditiation. Four of our cover guys practice this research-backed type of meditation. Don’t knock it until you try it.
You know that choosing the right types of fats is key, and here's why: Unhealthy fats, found in processed foods, meats, and cheeses, feed the type of bacteria that spark inflammation and cue your body to store fat, says Lipman. But healthy fats high in omega 3s and 6s — like those in avocado, nuts, olive oil, and salmon — do the opposite. They provide long-burning energy by regulating how quickly glucose enters your cells, keeping hunger at bay. Top a sandwich with mashed avocado, or make a summery side salad with chopped avocado, cherry tomatoes, basil, and lemon juice.
People with chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to carry excess visceral fat. Foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI), which uses a ranking system of 0 to 100, cause more rapid spikes in your blood sugar, in turn triggering the release of cortisol when glucose levels crash. The constant up and down of your blood sugar levels can also lead to insulin resistance — the first step on the road to type 2 diabetes. To help keep cortisol levels stable, choose low-GI foods (with a rating of 55 or less) like beans, lentils, and chickpeas, instead of high-GI options like white rice and potatoes. To find the GI rating of your foods, use the University of Sydney’s database at glycemicindex.com.
Having a hearty bowl of oatmeal for breakfast isn't just delicious, it's great for your waistline. "The whole grains not only absorb water to make you feel more full, but they're also high in soluble fiber to keep you feeling satisfied for long periods of time," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It. To really prevent any trips to the vending machine between meals, Taub-Dix recommends adding a spoonful of nut butter to your oats.
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.
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