Forget apples (okay, not really) — avocados reign supreme when it comes to weight loss. They're rich in monounsaturated heart-healthy fat, and studies show eating just half of one with lunch can curb your appetite. "Slice one in half, sprinkle a little sea salt, and eat the inside with a spoon," says Alexandra Samit, a Be Well Health Coach at Dr. Frank Lipman's Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC. Or top off your salad with a few pieces, as research found that doing so allows you to absorb three to five times more carotenoids, a disease-fighting compound associated with improved weight and fat loss.
One of the very first cardio exercises to reduce belly fat is walking. Surprised? Do you think it’s too simple to be effective? Well, then you should know that walking is a great and effective way to burn away that ugly belly fat. In fact, it is an excellent fat burner for your entire body. If you follow a healthy diet along with walking at a steady pace for 30-45 minutes for at least four to five days every week, you will witness a gradual decrease in your weight.
You know that friend who casually chats about the healthy meals she whips up for her fam like it's NBD? She's planning ahead, and you should be, too. "When you plan an entire week of dinner in advance, you're way less likely to go off course and indulge in foods that aren't good for you," says Salzman. (Her weekly dinner planner is a favorite for Elizabeth Berkley when she needs food-spo.) Science backs her up, as those who spend more time prepping food at home eat at least eight servings of fruit and 13 servings of veggies each week, while those who don't tend to eat only six servings of fruit and just under 11 servings of vegetables. So get into a routine and, after weekly grocery shopping, kick the kids out for playtime with Dad so you can knock out as much work ahead of time as possible — cleaning and slicing veggies, portioning out chicken breasts for each meal, etc. Come dinnertime, there'll be barely any work before food is on the table.
The challenge with belly fat is that it’s not only limited to the extra layer of padding located below your skin’s surface. Belly flat also includes another layer of fat located deep within your abdomen that surrounds your internal organs. It may also be a surprise to you that having “belly fat” is considered “healthy” and that some people who have no outer belly fat, can actually be “unhealthy.”
Science backs these ideas up when it comes shedding belly fat: In one study published in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers had overweight men and women follow a high-protein diet (30 percent protein, 40 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat) or a high-carb diet (15 percent protein, 55 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat). After one year of weight loss and maintenance, they found that the high-protein group experienced a 21 percent greater weight loss and 27 percent greater body fat loss on average than the high-carb group.
The number one reason it’s so hard to lose belly fat: hormones. With menopause comes a drop in estrogen; this decrease alters where the body stores fat, making women more prone to gaining visceral belly fat. Other hormonal imbalances during this time can leave the body feeling hungry, even after eating. Sleep disturbances, common in perimenopause and menopause, are associated with decreased levels of leptin (an appetite suppressant) and increased levels of ghrelin (an appetite stimulant).
Quite possibly the king of good carbs, quinoa is one of those foods that is incredibly versatile and boasts an impressive nutritional profile. “Quinoa is almost a complete meal—it has your protein, being one of the highest-protein ancient grains—and it has your healthy carbohydrates. It’s very nutrient dense and very versatile—you can add more protein to it or healthy sources of fat like pumpkin seeds and oils. We need carbohydrates in our body (like quinoa), and a lot of people are afraid to eat them. Quinoa is a slow-digesting carbohydrate, and it’s not high glycemic, so it won’t cause an insulin response like eating straight sugar would,” says White. Carbohydrates give your body energy and help carry you through tough workouts. Quinoa in particular contains all the essential amino acids needed to support muscle development and encourage fat loss. By swapping nutrition-lacking carbs like white rice or pasta for quinoa, you’ll boost your fat burn.
Belly fat is a major concern for many. Not only does it make your figure unattractive, but also increases the risk of developing hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Recently, Public Health England stated for the first time that belly fat is the clearest sign of type 2 diabetes. Another significant study, published in the Journal Heart, states that having a big belly significantly increases the risk for sudden cardiac death. The most common causes include genetics, hormonal imbalance, physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet.
Saturated fats in food will pack on more visceral fat than polyunsaturated ones, according to a 2014 Swedish study. When subjects ate 750 more calories daily for seven weeks, either in the form of palm oil (saturated) or sunflower oil (polyunsaturated), the former gained more visceral fat while the latter gained more muscle mass and less body fat. The study authors believe different fat types can impact both the way your body forms fat and stores it. What’s more, including healthy fats in your meals can make them more satiating and keeps hunger at bay.
“Include lots of nutrient-rich vegetables, a source of protein and some healthy, unprocessed carbs,” says Belalij. “Start with leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens, then add carrots, broccoli and peas. Lean meats, including turkey and chicken, are ideal as they are lower in fat and therefore calories, or, if you are vegetarian/vegan, add in tofu or a handful of nuts such as pine, cashew or almonds and a sprinkling of seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin). When it comes to carbohydrates, rice, quinoa and potatoes are perfect.”