You hate 'em anyway, so…you're welcome. Experts say that isolated abdominal exercises, like crunches, are a waste of time (kind of like these moves). "It's better to try ones that strengthen your core while burning more total calories," says Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and author of Diastasis Recti: The Whole Body Solution to Abdominal Weakness and Separation. Because if you're only strengthening the muscles on the top layer of your stomach — which is all a crunch targets — your stomach may end up looking thicker. Instead, try hanging from a tree branch the next time you take the kids to the park, and keep your stomach tight while you dangle. Or play with the kids, daring them to roll like a log without using their arms or legs, and see who gets across the living room fastest. Not only will you get in a mini workout, but you'll also have fun bonding time with them, too.
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.
Stress wreaks havoc on every part of your body, and can lead to breakouts, joint pain, headaches, and yes, even excess belly fat. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body pumps out extra cortisol, that not-so-great hormone you keep hearing about. Studies show that cortisol not only spikes your appetite, but may also redistribute body fat to your belly area, according to a review published in the journal Obesity.
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.
While many people turn to artificial sweeteners in a misguided attempt to whittle their waistlines, those fake sugars are likely to have the opposite effect. According to researchers at Yale, artificial sweeteners are actually linked with an increased risk of abdominal obesity and weight gain, possibly because they can trigger cravings for the real stuff and spike insulin levels in a similar fashion to real sugar.
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.
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.)
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.
When Tufts University researchers studied the waistlines and diets of 459 people, they found that even in men of similar age and activity level, those who ate white bread frequently weighed more than those who didn’t. “The calories from white bread and refined grains just seem to settle at the waistline more than calories from other foods,” says Katherine Tucker, Ph.D., the study author.
"If your diet consists of lots of sports drinks, sugar-sweetened drinks like fizzy pop and flavoured waters, or sugary foods like chocolate and cakes, it will make losing weight harder. While whole fruits and vegetables are undoubtedly good for you, they can also sometimes cause weight gain if you eat too much, as they have high levels of natural sugars in them. Low-fat food options might have high amounts of added sugar in there too, so make sure to check the food label.
What’s more, your body digests protein more slowly than carbs, so it keeps you feeling fuller longer and zaps your need to needlessly snack. “During weight loss, you want more protein—to prevent hunger, enhance satiety, and minimize muscle loss, as long as there’s some degree of physical activity,” Tom Rifai, MD, regional medical director of metabolic health and weight management for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit told Prevention.
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.
While it’s often assumed that bread is off-limits when you’re trying to lose belly fat, the right bread may actually expedite the process. Switching to sprouted bread can help out carb-lovers eager to get their fix without going up a belt size, thanks to the inulin content of sprouted grains. The results of a study published in Nutrition & Metabolism reveal that found that pre-diabetic study subjects whose diets were supplemented with inulin shaved off more belly fat and total weight than those whose meal plans didn’t pack this healthy prebiotic fiber.
An easy way to determine if you have too much belly fat is to measure yourself at home. Take a measuring tape and wrap it around your bare stomach, directly above your hip bone. The tape should be snug but not too tight. For women, a measurement of 35 inches or more indicates an unhealthy amount of belly fat. For men, a measurement of 40 inches or more indicates an unhealthy measure.
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.”
Consider this specially-bred strain of seaweed the protein-packed answer to your prayers. Eating just a little of it each day (seriously, you only need three grams — or one heaping teaspoon — to get your fill, says nutritionist Tali Pines, R.D.) will give you a hefty dose of important antioxidants like beta-carotene and echinenone, both of which help curb cravings and fight illness. Bonus: the levels of beta-carotene found in Hawaiian spirulina suppress cholesterol levels (great news for your heart), and the high levels of iron improve weakness and fatigue so you have enough mojo for your next workout. Get your fix by popping a daily supplement, adding it to your morning smoothie, or simply stirring a spoonful of the powdered version (which is the most easily digestible, according to Pines) into a glass of water.