You've heard it before, but it needs to be said again, as at least 70 percent of Americans aren't listening: "Staying up late may make you happy in the moment, but all that sleep you're skipping catches up to you in the form of extra fat around your middle," says Ilyse Schapiro, R.D., a certified nutritionist and co-author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel? Yes, "me time" is important for your sanity, but "when you're lacking sleep, your body overproduces the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin, and under-produces leptin, which tells you when you're full." Getting proper shut-eye — the National Sleep Foundation says seven to nine hours is best, though it varies per person — truly stops unnecessary snacking when you wake up the next day.
If you're trying to get rid of stubborn belly fat, you might wonder whether running is the solution. Unfortunately, while running is a great way to burn calories and lose overall weight, it's not a guaranteed way to lose your spare tire, belly, pooch, or whatever else you want to not-so-affectionately call it. It's also true that you won't lose fat from your abdominal area just by targeting your abs with crunches or other abdominal exercises.
High-intensity interval training is high on every trainer’s list, and for good reason. “My No.1 pick for fat loss would be high-intensity interval training, just because you’re burning a lot of calories in a short amount of time. You’re getting more bang for your buck. I know a lot of guys that don’t have all day to work out in a gym, so when it comes to belly fat you have to focus on calorie burn and intense workouts,” says Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach. Think bootcamps, tabata, and series of burpees, box jumps, and sprints—those all do the trick. The best thing about HIIT is that it keeps your body working long after you leave the gym, burning calories and fat on your off hours via a phenomenon called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, aka EPOC.
If you’ve got weight to lose and you want it gone fast, try swapping out your usual proteins in favor of fish. Not only is fish lower in calories than an equivalent amount of beef or chicken, a study published in Obesity reveals study subjects who added omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish, to their diets shed more weight and had an easier time keeping it off than those who skipped them.
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.”
Canned tuna could be your solution to a flatter belly — and it'll only cost you around 80 cents a pop. "Canned tuna — as well as other fish — is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids," Taub-Dix days. "Besides promoting heart health, omega-3s help you ditch pounds by keeping you feeling satisfied while repairing and replenishing muscles." Win-win, much? Instead of making tuna salad with fatty mayo, try Greek yogurt instead. The mix makes the perfect filling for a healthy lettuce wrap or stuffed into an avocado half.
"A study published in the International Journal of Obesity compared weight loss after an egg breakfast compared to a bagel breakfast containing similar calories," explains Toby Amidor, R.D., author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen. "Results founds that participants who consumed two eggs in their breakfast while following a lower-calorie diet lost 65 percent more weight and reduced their waist circumference by 34 percent compared with those who were on a similar calorie bagel breakfast." Eggs are also a great source of protein, which works to keep hunger at bay and curb overeating.
There seems to be a link between abdominal obesity and depression. There have been reports showing that cortisol, a stress hormone, is related to both depression and abdominal obesity. Some researchers suspect that people who are depressed may have higher levels of abdominal obesity because of elevated cortisol. More studies are needed to determine the underlying causes for weight gain among those who reported being depressed.
"One of the hardest parts of losing weight is maintaining the lifestyle changes you’ve made. It’s difficult to stay motivated all the time, especially if you’ve slipped up along the way. But don’t let this affect your end goal. If you’re feeling particularly unmotivated, ask a friend to join you for your workout and then afterwards cook something healthy for dinner together."
"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.
Sleep takes all that hard work you’re doing in the kitchen and the gym, and fast tracks those results. A good night’s sleep helps your body recover from activity and also regulates hormones responsible for hunger cues. “Sleep is essential [for fat loss and overall health]. It’s recommended that adults get 7-8 hours per night. There are a lot of studies on [sleep and fat loss], showing that good sleep can help us eat better and help us to lose weight,” says White. The two specific hormones sleep has an influence over are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin works to keep your energy steady and appetite low. Alternatively, ghrelin increases feelings of hunger. When you fail to get adequate sleep, ghrelin is increased and leptin is decreased, which messes with your hunger signals and can cause you to eat more. By getting your 7-8 hours a night you’ll avoid any wacky cravings and emotional eating, which will make your fat-loss goals that much easier to achieve.
"Feeling stressed can wreak havoc on our bodies. It can cause our body to produce the steroid hormone cortisol, which can make you crave sugary foods that provide instant energy and pleasure. Short-term bursts of cortisol are necessary to help us cope with immediate danger, but our body will also release this hormone if we’re feeling stressed or anxious. When our cortisol levels are high for a long amount of time, it can increase the amount of fat you hold in your belly."
Earlier, belly fat was considered healthy; it was perceived as a reservoir of adipose tissues that could be utilized when a person needed extra energy. With time, the views have changed. Researchers state that excess belly fat triggers chronic cardiovascular diseases. So, it is important to measure belly fat and check how much you need to reduce. Here are some parameters to measure your waistline.
Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S, founder of TS Fitness, also says that metabolic resistance training and high-intensity interval training is a solid way to reduce fat all over, including belly fat. “These [types of exercise] help to burn calories during the workout, and they also give you that after-burn effect,” he says. “Plus, they help to change your body composition by increasing your muscle mass.”