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.
Once you’ve established a regular cardio routine, add two or three weight training sessions on nonconsecutive days to your weekly workouts; everyone naturally gains some fat as they age, but building muscle tone can significantly slow the production of belly fat. In a study conducted at the University of Minnesota, overweight women who did twice-weekly strength training routines that included eight to 10 exercises of major muscle groups, from biceps curls to leg presses, gained 67 percent less visceral fat over two years than women who didn’t do strength training regularly.
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.)
Fat may have once been villainized as making us pack on the pounds, but the Mediterranean Diet, nutritionist guidelines, and a wide body of research (like this study!) are working to banish fat's former rep. Such is the case bolstered by coconut oil: "Research shows that coconut oil doesn't negatively impact blood lipid levels like once believed and that it may even help to promote a reduction in stomach fat. The belly fat-fighting properties of coconut oil stem from the amount of medium chain triglycerides contained which are metabolized quickly and therefore stand less of a chance to be stored as adipose," says St. John. Simply put: The kind of fats coconut oil contains won't turn into fatty deposits stored in your body.
And how often to work out to get rid of belly fat? Well, as you know, too much cortisol can counteract your belly fat loss efforts. Belalij suggests doing 30-minute sessions, three times per week. “As you start to lose belly fat your body will want to cling on more and more to what is left, so you must increase the intensity or duration of your workouts, the more fat you lose,” Belalij says. And Hughes agrees: