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.
"As we head into colder months with less sun exposure, vitamin D intake from food becomes extremely important. Research shows that low levels of vitamin D may be correlated with abdominal obesity," says Kayleen St.John, R.D., executive director of Nutrition and Strategic Development of Euphebe. "Mushrooms grown under UV light should be incorporated into belly fat-fighting meals." Try this Italian Mushroom and Bean Soup.
It's easy to down a handful of nuts, but pump your brakes: "A common diet tip you hear all the time is to snack on nuts when you're hungry," says Adam Rosante, personal trainer and author of The 30-Second Body. "They're filling and packed with protein and fiber, and because they're so tiny it's easy to gobble down handful after handful. But you should enjoy them in moderation because the majority of their macronutrient profile is fat, and eating them mindlessly is an easy way to go overboard on your calories." To get your fix and avoid the belly fat, Rosante recommends going for a thumb-sized portion twice a day.
Consider this specially-bred strain of seaweed the protein-packed answer to your prayers. Eating just a little of it each day (seriously, you only need three grams — or one heaping teaspoon — to get your fill, says nutritionist Tali Pines, R.D.) will give you a hefty dose of important antioxidants like beta-carotene and echinenone, both of which help curb cravings and fight illness. Bonus: the levels of beta-carotene found in Hawaiian spirulina suppress cholesterol levels (great news for your heart), and the high levels of iron improve weakness and fatigue so you have enough mojo for your next workout. Get your fix by popping a daily supplement, adding it to your morning smoothie, or simply stirring a spoonful of the powdered version (which is the most easily digestible, according to Pines) into a glass of water.
Whether you fill up using the K-cup version or make a batch in your slow cooker, Kellyann Petrucci, M.S., weight loss expert and author of Dr. Kellyann's Bone Broth Diet, says it's important to drink up if you want to lose weight. "Doctors now know that inflammation is one of the biggest culprits of weight gain, so anything with as much gelatin (or collagen) as bone broth will help soothe your gut and get it rebalanced," she says. How? After a bone has melted into a broth, it's loaded with powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients, she says. Not to mention it's in soup form, which studies show helps you cut down on portion sizes, and it's filling, so you're less likely to crave not-so-healthy snacks later.
Focus on compound moves like deadlifts, squats, kettlebell swings, lunges, chest presses, shoulder presses — exercises that work your entire body rather than isolating muscles. Simply put, you cannot 'spot-reduce' fat, meaning that endless crunches will do little for getting rid of your belly. For best results split your sessions over different days.
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.
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.