There's a reason poop is being talked about so much these days — when there's problems with it, it's an easy tip-off that something's not quite right with your insides. But most people don't realize that constipation leads to weight gain, so they never consider it to be the culprit behind those tighter-fitting jeans. "If you're constantly constipated, then it likely means you're on a poor diet that can also make you overweight, or you lack important nutrients that help keep things moving," explains Vincent Pedre, M.D., author of Happy Gut. Besides drinking plenty of water throughout the day (don't guzzle it down in one meal, as that can slow down digestion), Pedre says to eat plenty of fiber-rich legumes like yellow beans and lentils to keep your stool moving. And don't worry about bloat or gas — soaking beans overnight nixes that problem.
A study from Canada’s McMaster University (partly funded by Dairy Farmers of Canada) put women on several different diets (lower protein, low dairy; lower protein, medium dairy; higher protein, high dairy) and found they all lost the same amount of weight — but that the higher-protein, high-dairy group lost the most belly fat while also gaining and holding onto the most muscle mass. “It seems… increasing calcium and protein in the diet may help to further promote loss of fat from the worst storage area in the body,” said Andrea Josse, lead author of the study.
"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.
Your diet should contain an absurd number of veggies if you’re looking to melt fat away—broccoli being one of them. “When it comes to vegetables, which are very important, I would definitely throw broccoli as No.1,” says White. Broccoli is low in calories and high in fiber, which means it’s going to fill you up, keep you full, and stop any unnecessary craving-driven eating later. One cup of the green stuff contains close to 3g of fiber for a measly 30 calories. It’s also an excellent source of iron, calcium, and vitamin C, which will encourage greater blood flow to the muscles, support healthy bones, and increase immunity.
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.
When it comes to melting fat it’s not all fiber and protein. A balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense foods like berries is extremely important if you want your body to function at its optimal level. “As far as fruit, I would recommend blueberries because they’re one of the highest foods in antioxidants. They’re great to throw into your protein shake for a healthy added sugar after your workouts to help speed up recovery. Per cup we’re looking at around 60 calories, so it’s very low-calorie and very versatile,” says White. Antioxidants not only fight free radicals, but, according to a study from the University of Michigan, rats who were fed blueberry powder with their meals wound up with less belly fat at the end of the 3-month study vs. rats who consumed no berries in their diet, suggesting that the antioxidant compounds help fight and diminish stubborn fat cells.
Here's something else most people probably don't know: Fidgeting is good for you. It's considered a nonexercise physical activity, and it's an important way to burn energy. You get more health benefits if, in addition to exercising, you are a more fidgety, more active person the rest of the day. This means gesturing while you're talking, tapping your foot, just moving around.
But again, there are very few solid studies that deem apple cider vinegar as a magical weight loss elixir. The drink can, however, be a decent addition to your routine if you’re already eating healthy and exercising frequently. Some research shows that people who sip on ACV may experience smaller blood sugar spikes after they eat, which can help you manage cravings. If you can stand the taste and want to try it, just be sure to dilute a tablespoon or two in 8 ounces of water, since ACV has a high acidity that can burn your throat and damage your teeth.
Packaged foods, partially hydrogenated oils and enriched flours are not your friends. Above all, remember this one word: transfats. Avoid it at all costs. Researchers have found that the transfats found in margarine, packaged cookies, crackers and pasta increase fat in your midsection, and can actually redistribute fat from other parts of the body to the belly. For more flat-belly foods, click here.
Which means, sadly, the more glasses of rose and chocolate-coated pretzels you eat, the longer it will take to reach your flatter belly goals. “When you digest large amounts of calories, your body allocates some of these to functional systems which work to keep you alive (think the brain, muscles and organs),” says Belalij. “It also uses it to fill up energy stores. Any excess is then stored in fat cells around the body – typically being those of the belly.”