If you're one of the 32 percent of Americans who want to lose belly fat for good, but have no idea what actually works anymore, you're not alone. A recent survey found that 76 percent of people didn't follow a diet or workout plan last year because, well, there seems to be a fad diet popping up every day and nobody knows what's what. So let's cut through the clutter — these are the 23 out-of-the-box strategies that are guaranteed to give you results. Pick the ones that work best for your lifestyle and say hello to your skinny jeans once more.
Routinely squeaking by on five hours or less per night increases visceral fat levels, according to a 2010 Wake Forest University study. What’s more, after analyzing 28 different studies, UK researchers found that people who slept 5.5 hours or less per night ate an extra 385 calories the day after compared to those who snoozed for at least 7 to 12 hours. On top of that, they preferred to munch on fatty foods full of empty calories, like chips.
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.
Do you even lift, bro? If you’re serious about getting rid of that belly fat fast, resistance training might just be the key. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that adding weight training to adult male test subjects’ workouts significantly reduced their risk of abdominal obesity over a multi-year study period, although doing the same amount of cardio had no such effect. Research from the University of Maryland even found that just 16 weeks of weight training boosted study participants’ metabolic rates by a whopping 7.7 percent, making it easier to ditch those extra inches around your middle.
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.
You might have heard the term ‘middle-age spread’. This means, as women progress towards their middle years, the ratio of body fat increases compared to the body weight. During menopause, when the levels of estrogen go down, and the amount of androgens or male hormones increase, then there is an increased risk of fat accumulation in the waist. Hormones actually regulate the fat concentration in the body, and your figure depends entirely on it!
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.
Intermittent fasting has blown up in the past year, but scientists are just starting to figure out how it can help you lose weight. In one study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers compared obese people in a traditional weight loss group and fasting group. For the experiment, the calorie-restricted group simply reduced the amount of calories they ate by 25 percent each day. The fasting group, however, alternated days: they ate 25 percent of the calories they needed one day between 12 and 2 p.m., and then had feast days the next, where they ate 125 percent of their required calories.
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.
It seems counterintuitive to feed the microbiome foods with antimicrobial properties, but studies show that garlic only goes after bad, inflammation-causing bacteria while leaving good bacteria intact. It's also rich in inulin, the fiber that helps the body digest food more efficiently and steadies blood sugar. Add fresh chopped garlic to tomato-mozzarella salads and stir-fries, or sprinkle garlic powder onto meats and fish before grilling.
Walking puts all of the abdominal muscles to work. Make sure you swing your arms and contract your midsection while you walk, and maintain a brisk pace. Once you get your body accustomed to a daily walk, you'll hate to go a day without it. Walk for at least thirty minutes each time to achieve the aerobic effect, and be sure to drink plenty of water.
Manage the stress at home or at work as best as you can. When confronted with a stressful “fight or flight” situation, our brain releases a stress hormone called cortisol that jolts your insulin Reduce stress through stress management techniques such as yoga and meditation to avoid these drops in blood sugar that can bring on the cravings for sugary or fatty foods.
Sometimes, to whip your body into shape, you have to get a little nutty. While nuts are high in fat, it’s that very fat that makes them such powerful weapons in the war against a ballooning belly. In fact, research from Reina Sofia University Hospital reveals that study participants who consumed a diet rich in monounsaturated fats, like those in nuts, over a 28-day period gained less belly fat than their saturated fat-consuming counterparts while improving their insulin sensitivity.
We know: the idea of sitting with your eyes closed for anything more than, oh, three minutes isn't always realistic. But researchers say the practice helps create mindfulness, which is key to breaking destructive habits like overeating. When overweight women meditated for six weeks, they decreased their frequency of binge-eating episodes (like, meaning to eat just a handful of tortilla chips but devouring whole bag) by over 50 percent. Tiffany Cruikshank, author of Meditate Your Weight, agrees, saying that "meditation can help rewire how your brain responds to stress." And you don't have to sit in a dark room and chant. Just schedule a meditation appointment in your calendar; then find a comfortable position to sit in (not your bed — you're way more likely to fall asleep). Set a timer on your phone, close your eyes, and focus on nothing but your breath. Do it for as long as you can — starting with three to five minutes is totally fine, and it's completely normal for your mind to wander — and gradually add more time. As you advance, download the Mindfulness App or Meditation Studio for guided sessions.