Midlife. Midsection. You’re getting older and it’s getting … bigger, softer, flubbier. Why? You think you’re eating right, and you’re just as active as you've been for years. It’s almost seems like there are outside forces conspiring to make your trim waistline a thing of the past. The good news is, nothing’s out to get you. The bad news is, there are multiple internal forces at work that make busting belly fat far more difficult than you’d ever imagined.

A daily run or Spin class is great for your heart, but cardio workouts alone won't do much for your waist. "You need to do a combination of weights and cardiovascular training," says Sangeeta Kashyap, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. Strength training increases muscle mass, which sets your body up to burn more fat. "Muscle burns more calories than fat, and therefore you naturally burn more calories throughout the day by having more muscle," says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. Patton recommends 250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 125 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week.
Sure, ketchup is tasty, but it’s also a serious saboteur when it comes your weight loss efforts. Ketchup is loaded with sugar — up to four grams per tablespoon — and bears little nutritional resemblance to the fruit from which it’s derived. Luckily, swapping out your ketchup for salsa can help you shave off that belly fat fast. Fresh tomatoes, like those used in salsa, are loaded with lycopene, which a study conducted at China Medical University in Taiwan links to reductions in both overall fat and waist circumference. If you like your salsa spicy, all the better; the capsaicin in hot peppers, like jalapeños and chipotles, can boost your metabolism, too.
You don’t have to take a three-month sabbatical in Bali or enrol on a ‘breathing class’ in a Scandi Yogi retreat to find inner calm. You don’t even have to meditate (though it’ll almost certainly help). If a few minutes of deep-belly breathing in a quiet spot doesn’t chill you out, try a bodyweight workout or taking a walk around the block. Exercise boosts your circulation, transporting cortisol to your kidneys, which flush it out.
Here’s another drink filled with antioxidants that will help flush the toxins and bad fat from your body. Combine cucumber, a cup of cilantro (or fresh parsley), lemon, and half a glass of water in a blender. Sprinkle the drink with grated ginger and a tablespoon of Aloe Vera juice. Let this combination sit for a few minutes before drinking it all the way down.
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.
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.
Losing belly fat shouldn’t mean strict dieting or deprivation. “People often think that you have to eat certain foods or avoid certain foods [to lose weight] and in reality, it comes down to eating more of a balanced diet that is portion- and calorie-controlled,” says Zeratsky. “This allows your body to have enough energy to do what it wants to do while managing weight.”
Most of the bacteria that dwell in your gut are pretty useful. They produce hormones, regulate your immune system, digest food, extract nutrients, control your mood, manage your appetite, and much more besides. That obese people tend to have higher numbers of Firmicutes bacteria is no coincidence – according to research published in the online journal Nature, these bacteria increase the number of calories your body absorbs from food.
Use the meal as a reward for a week’s worth of hard work, or the completion of a project you’ve been dreading. “It’s OK for people to blow one meal a week without feeling guilty,” says James W. Anderson, M.D., director of the Metabolic Research Group at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. “If you follow a healthy diet 95% of the time, you can relax and enjoy yourself the other 5% of the time without gaining weight.”
“It can take 12 minutes or longer for the signal that you’ve started to eat to make its way to your brain,” says Mark S. Gold, M.D., of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida. Quick tips: Sip some water between every bite of food you eat, or at least eat more meals with friends or family members. You’ll be more likely to talk and therefore to eat more slowly.
Which means, sadly, the more glasses of rose and chocolate-coated pretzels you eat, the longer it will take to reach your flatter belly goals. “When you digest large amounts of calories, your body allocates some of these to functional systems which work to keep you alive (think the brain, muscles and organs),” says Belalij. “It also uses it to fill up energy stores. Any excess is then stored in fat cells around the body – typically being those of the belly.”
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