Let's get the bad news out of the way first: unfortunately, there's no way to shrink specific parts of the body, which means you can't simply target belly fat. But that doesn't mean you can't work toward a trimmer waist. You just can't rely on crunches, planks, or sit-ups. Instead, it's all about putting yourself in a healthy calorie deficit, forming good habits, and doing full-body workouts that help you burn maximum calories. Here are some reliable tips to help you reach your goals.
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.
It's tempting to hang out in front of the TV after a long day of work, but the longer you sit, the more you hurt your waistline. In a recent study, researchers found that for every hour and a half you spend sitting watching a show — or doing anything sedentary, for that matter — your belly fat can increase by 3 cubic cm. "Individuals in our study who watched a lot of television had a greater amount of fat in their abdomen, including the fat in and around their organs, as compared to those who reported watching little or no television," said lead author Kara Whitaker, Ph.D. So being sedentary might feel good in the moment, but it's not doing anything positive for your body in the long run.
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.
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.
The zero-calorie tag is particularly tempting when you’re desperate to drop fat, but honestly you’ll see better results if you avoid any artificial sweeteners in your diet. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, when your brain registers something as sweet but fails to get those calories associated with it, it causes your body to seek them elsewhere, leading to excess calorie intake. In addition, popular sweeteners like Splenda are 300-600 times sweeter than real sugar on average, and consuming them may send your sweet cravings through the roof, potentially leading to poor food choices. Steer clear of the fake stuff and reach for the real stuff in moderation if you absolutely need something sweet. However, if you’re really serious about getting rid of your excess fat it would serve you best to avoid added sugar at all costs.
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In a 2012 study in the journal Obesity, subjects who increased their soluble fiber intake by 10 grams a day—the equivalent of two small apples, one cup of green peas, and one half-cup of pinto beans—reduced visceral fat by 3.7 percent after five years. Even more, participants who also engaged in moderate physical activity (exercising vigorously two to four times a week) experienced a 7.4 decrease in visceral fat over the same period of time.