Stress wreaks havoc on every part of your body, and can lead to breakouts, joint pain, headaches, and yes, even excess belly fat. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body pumps out extra cortisol, that not-so-great hormone you keep hearing about. Studies show that cortisol not only spikes your appetite, but may also redistribute body fat to your belly area, according to a review published in the journal Obesity.
Subcutaneous fat is that pinchable, soft-belly layer of body fat in your stomach area. The subcutaneous tissue layer lies directly under the skin and is vital to protecting the muscles and bones whenever we fall or our bodies hit something. The subcutaneous layer is also a passageway for blood vessels and nerves to travel from the skin’s dermis level to the muscles.
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.
"Fructose has (rightly so) gotten a bad rap lately for its role in promoting central obesity or belly fat," says St.John. "However, fructose found in whole foods like fruit does not act so sinisterly in the body. Fresh or frozen raspberries contain a great deal of fiber, which helps to regulate the body's insulin response and also reduce belly fat." If a fresh pint comes with a steep price tag at your local grocer, consider buying 'em frozen: they're cost-effective, last practically forever, and are picked at the peak of freshness.
It's never been a better time to jump on the kimchi and kombucha bandwagon. Gut bacteria has been a hot topic lately, and in a recent study, researchers found it plays a major role in your body mass index (BMI). Luckily, it's easy adding the good bacteria — AKA probiotics — into your diet to help get rid of belly fat: Fermented foods (think: tempeh, miso, and kefir) are more popular than ever, and you can pick them up at any grocery store.
Your diet should contain an absurd number of veggies if you’re looking to melt fat away—broccoli being one of them. “When it comes to vegetables, which are very important, I would definitely throw broccoli as No.1,” says White. Broccoli is low in calories and high in fiber, which means it’s going to fill you up, keep you full, and stop any unnecessary craving-driven eating later. One cup of the green stuff contains close to 3g of fiber for a measly 30 calories. It’s also an excellent source of iron, calcium, and vitamin C, which will encourage greater blood flow to the muscles, support healthy bones, and increase immunity.
Unfortunately, some women are just more prone to carrying weight in their middle instead of their hips and thighs. Sometimes, it’s genetics—maybe your mother was more apple-shaped. Belly fat can also increase around menopause, or for women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Even certain lifestyle habits, from lack of sleep to stress, can make your belly grow. To lose belly fat, talking with a doctor about what other factors may be affecting your weight gain can be a good place to start. From there, you can craft a belly fat busting routine.