Want to lose that belly fat? In your dreams! Seriously, though: a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to get rid of that extra fat around your waist for good. Among the 60,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study, those who snoozed for fewer than five hours a night were at the greatest risk of becoming obese and gaining 30 or more pounds over the course of the 16-year study period when compared to those who slept for seven or more hours.
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.
To banish stubborn belly fat, you have to ramp up your workouts. In a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, people who completed a high-intensity workout regimen lost more belly fat than those who followed a low-intensity plan. (In fact, the low-intensity exercises experienced no significant changes at all.) "You need to exercise at full intensity because the end goal is to burn more calories, and high intensity exercise does just that," says Natalie Jill, a San Diego, Calif.-based certified personal trainer. High intensity workouts mean you're going all out for as long as you can. If this sounds intimidating, think of it this way: you'll burn more calories in less time.
We know: the idea of sitting with your eyes closed for anything more than, oh, three minutes isn't always realistic. But researchers say the practice helps create mindfulness, which is key to breaking destructive habits like overeating. When overweight women meditated for six weeks, they decreased their frequency of binge-eating episodes (like, meaning to eat just a handful of tortilla chips but devouring whole bag) by over 50 percent. Tiffany Cruikshank, author of Meditate Your Weight, agrees, saying that "meditation can help rewire how your brain responds to stress." And you don't have to sit in a dark room and chant. Just schedule a meditation appointment in your calendar; then find a comfortable position to sit in (not your bed — you're way more likely to fall asleep). Set a timer on your phone, close your eyes, and focus on nothing but your breath. Do it for as long as you can — starting with three to five minutes is totally fine, and it's completely normal for your mind to wander — and gradually add more time. As you advance, download the Mindfulness App or Meditation Studio for guided sessions.
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The body doesn't react to all fats in the same way. Research correlates high intake of saturated fat (the kind in meat and dairy) to increased visceral fat, says Patton. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats (the kind in olive oil and avocados) and specific types of polyunsaturated fats (mainly omega-3s, found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, and fatty fish like salmon) have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, and if eaten in proper portions may do your body good. But Patton warns that eating too much fat of any kind increases your calorie intake and could lead to weight gain, so enjoy healthy fats in moderation.
If you have a big-time sweet tooth, grabbing a grapefruit could help cut back on calories from late-night treats. "The interesting thing about grapefruit, and citrus fruits in general, is that they provide an intense, satisfying flavor that rarely gets chanced by sweets," Taub-Dix says. "A grapefruit or citrus fruit after dinner could keep you from reaching for a sweet dessert." Yeah, that's right: a 52-calorie grapefruit can satisfy just as much as a 400-calorie piece of chocolate cake. Sorry, brain, but you just got played.
Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios — at GH, we're nuts about nuts! People who snack on nuts may have lower abdominal fat than those who munch on carb-based treats, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, a heart-healthy (and more satisfying) pick than their grain-based counterparts.
On the face of it, skipping meals seems like a path to losing weight — if you don’t eat as much, you’ll drop fat. But in practise, it doesn’t work out like that. A 2015 study from Ohio State University found that skipping meals messes up your metabolism and your hormones (specifically insulin), which results in an increased likelihood of abdominal weight gain. Researchers recommended eating several small meals throughout the day as opposed to one or two big ones.
Visceral fat—a type of fat that lies deep inside your abdomen and surrounds your internal organs—is linked to a whole slew of terrifying health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Even scarier: According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), your risk of those health issues increases even more if your waist size is greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.