In a way, moderate-intensity physical activity is that "magic pill" a lot of people are looking for, because the health benefits go beyond keeping your waistline trim: Not only can it reduce your risk of cancer, stroke, diabetes and heart attacks, but studies have shown that physical activity can significantly improve the moods of patients with major depressive disorders.
Sleep takes all that hard work you’re doing in the kitchen and the gym, and fast tracks those results. A good night’s sleep helps your body recover from activity and also regulates hormones responsible for hunger cues. “Sleep is essential [for fat loss and overall health]. It’s recommended that adults get 7-8 hours per night. There are a lot of studies on [sleep and fat loss], showing that good sleep can help us eat better and help us to lose weight,” says White. The two specific hormones sleep has an influence over are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin works to keep your energy steady and appetite low. Alternatively, ghrelin increases feelings of hunger. When you fail to get adequate sleep, ghrelin is increased and leptin is decreased, which messes with your hunger signals and can cause you to eat more. By getting your 7-8 hours a night you’ll avoid any wacky cravings and emotional eating, which will make your fat-loss goals that much easier to achieve.
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.
Add resistance training. A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests that combining cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise with resistance training is more effective than cardiovascular training alone in getting rid of abdominal fat. You can do resistance training with free weights, exercise machines or resistance bands and it may also be useful to train from unstable positions due to increased muscle activity.
Whether freshly made or bought in stores, apple cider vinegar juice offers many health benefits. As it has antibiotic and antibacterial properties, this drink can help with stomach upset, bacteria-causing diarrhea, and intestinal spasms. Mix one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water. If you prefer, you can combine this with lemon juice and a few slices of fresh apple.
You're fed up with your belly fat, and you want it gone -- now. Your abdomen didn't expand in one week, so you can't expect it to slim down in that short time either. Use a week to introduce measures to help you lose belly fat over time and reduce bloating. You might feel a little lighter after seven days, but true loss of fat will take several weeks or months.
Pace around your office while talking on the phone or run into the bank to cash your check instead of using the drive-thru. When researchers at the Mayo Clinic fed a group of volunteers an extra 1,000 calories a day over the course of eight weeks, they found sedentary individuals gained eight times more weight than those who fidgeted a lot during the day.
Carbohydrates are a touchy subject: while some blame them for all fat gain, it’s the type of carbs you eat that’s key. A 2011 study out of the University of Alabama found that a diet that slightly cut back on carbs, and which comprised mostly low-GI carbohydrates, lost more deep abdominal fat than those who ate a lower-fat diet. GI stands for glycemic index, a measure of how fast carbohydrates supply your body with energy: high-GI foods make you spike then crash, while low-GI foods provide a slow burn.
Core exercises will strengthen your abs, but they won’t eliminate the fat that lies beneath them. To do that, you have to ramp up your overall calorie burn with cardio (running, walking, biking). A Duke University study found that people who did moderate cardio for 178 minutes per week (roughly 30 minutes of walking six days per week) gained hardly any visceral fat over the course of eight months. Participants who worked out at a higher intensity (jogging) for a similar amount of time saw even better results — reducing their belly fat by almost 7 percent. To maximize your workout, try interval training, which alternates between high- and low-intensity cardio.
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.
But you’ll likely experience some benefit before then. Fiber helps slow down your digestion and requires more chewing, which helps signal to your body that it’s full, keeping your hunger in check throughout the day. One small study published in Food & Nutrition Research actually found that men who ate meals rich in high-fiber foods, like beans and peas, felt more satisfied than those who focused only on protein-rich foods, like pork and veal. Adult women should aim to eat 25 to 28 grams of fiber per day.
Research also shows that workouts involving high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can help reduce excess fat around your middle. Besides working your core, try incorporating a day or two of more vigorous exercise into your weekly schedule. (You can start with these three beginner routines.) Keep in mind that you can lower your total body fat percentage even by moving around more at work, according to another study.
Craving something sweet? This fruit — along with colorful radishes, tomatoes, and carrots — contains arabinogalactans, a plant-based fiber and prebiotic that feeds the friendly bacteria that help your metabolism function optimally. The fiber also kills E. coli and klebsiella — two types of bad bacteria associated with carrying excess weight, Kellman says. Chop kiwi into grilled chicken salads or purée into smoothies for a colorful and sweet kick.
There’s one thing to like about visceral fat: It yields fairly easily to aerobic exercise. Vaporizing calories via running, biking, swimming—anything that gets your heart rate up—is an effective way to whittle your middle. In fact, one 2011 study from Duke University Medical Center, published in the American Journal of Physiology, found the sweet spot: Jogging the equivalent of 12 miles a week was even more effective in reducing visceral fat than resistance training three times per week. However, both types of exercise were beneficial when it came to belly fat, the researchers say. (Don’t have time to hit the gym? Try these fun at-home cardio workouts if you’re in a pinch.)
In addition to helping maintain heart health and keep inflammation levels under control, monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, may stop belly fat before it starts. Research in the journal Diabetes Care found that people who got roughly 25 percent of their total daily calories from MUFAs gained no visceral fat over the course of the study, while those who ate less MUFAs and more carbs added fat to their midsections. My favorite MUFA-rich food is olive oil because you can use it in so many meals (check out the belly-blasting breakfast I recommend), but avocados and nuts are other excellent sources. Pine nuts are particularly great because they also contain high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These acids increase levels of two hormones that signal your brain when you’re full. Try snacking on one ounce of pine nuts (about the amount you can fit in a shot glass) 20 minutes before mealtime to avoid overeating.
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.
Keeping a toothbrush handy can do more than polish up that smile (and counter the effects of all that belly-slimming garlic); brushing your teeth throughout the day can also help you ditch that belly fat fast. A study conducted a sample of over 14,000 participants found that brushing after every meal was linked to lower weight. That minty toothpaste flavor not only clashes with virtually every food, brushing may also trigger a Pavlovian response that tells your brain the kitchen’s closed.
Here’s a shocker: When a group of U.K. researchers told 30 women to avoid chocolate, then packed them into a room filled with the stuff; the women were much more likely to sneak a bite than individuals who hadn’t been given the order. Blame the allure of the forbidden: The more you tell yourself you can’t eat something you love, the more you’re going to want it.
Everybody loves their quinoa, but it's time to elevate this less-popular grain to superfood status. "While processed grains and sugar are the main culprits for promoting abdominal fat, whole grains are in another category altogether," says St.John. "Intact grains [i.e., ones that haven't been stripped of their nutrients, as is frequently the case with 'white' options] contain fiber which slows digestion and absorption of the grains, which in turn reduces the amount of insulin released by the body." What does this mean for you? The less insulin your body releases equals less abdominal fat tacking itself onto your tummy.
Thanks to the hormone estrogen, the female body likes to hold on to fat, too. A study in Obesity Reviews shows that women store fat more efficiently than men in an effort to prepare the body for pregnancy. But while it seems like women may have drawn the short-end of the stick, the stereotypical pear-shape is actually considered healthier than boasting a beer gut, because belly fat is a red flag when it comes to your health. “Visceral fat is associated with increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome,” says Harris-Pincus.
When you exercise on the rowing machine, try this interval workout: Row for 60 seconds, note the distance on the machine, then rest 60 seconds. Repeat, only this time, row for 55 seconds and try to match or better your distance from the first time. Rest 55 seconds, then repeat, reducing the time to 50 seconds. Continue until you can’t beat your original distance.
Sientz, C. A., Aiken, L. B., Hournard, J. A., Bales, C. W., Johnson, J. L., Tanner, C. J., … Kraus, W. E. (2005, October 1). Inactivity, exercise, and visceral fat, STRRIDE: A randomized, controlled study of exercise intensity and amount [Abstract]. Journal of Applied Physiology, 99(4), 1613–1618. Retrieved from http://jap.physiology.org/content/99/4/1613.short
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.