"Refined grains like white bread, crackers, and chips, as well as refined sugars in sweetened drinks and desserts increase inflammation in our bodies," says Patton. "Belly fat is associated with inflammation, so eating too many processed foods will hinder your ability to lose belly fat." Natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are full of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may therefore actually prevent belly fat, Patton says.
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.
When your body is low on calcium, it produces a hormone that signals the body to store visceral fat. Meeting your recommended daily calcium needs (that’s 1,000 milligrams for adults) can help reduce levels of this hormone. And a recent study published in Obesity Research found that calcium from dairy has a stronger effect than calcium from other sources. I recommend eating low-fat Greek yogurt as a daily snack (just six ounces contain about 20 percent of your recommended dietary allowance for calcium), though any low-fat dairy will do.
The study authors believe that sleep deprivation can cause your body to produce extra hunger hormones (like ghrelin) and fewer satiety hormones (like leptin). This means you’ll feel hungrier and have a harder time controlling your cravings once they hit. Most adults should aim for at least 7 to 9 hours of shuteye per night, per the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations.
Manage the stress at home or at work as best as you can. When confronted with a stressful “fight or flight” situation, our brain releases a stress hormone called cortisol that jolts your insulin Reduce stress through stress management techniques such as yoga and meditation to avoid these drops in blood sugar that can bring on the cravings for sugary or fatty foods.
Walking puts all of the abdominal muscles to work. Make sure you swing your arms and contract your midsection while you walk, and maintain a brisk pace. Once you get your body accustomed to a daily walk, you'll hate to go a day without it. Walk for at least thirty minutes each time to achieve the aerobic effect, and be sure to drink plenty of water.
Portable and gut-friendly, keeping Greek yogurt on hand is going to help rid you of those unwanted love handles. From a quick snack—pair it with fresh fruit or nuts—to a smoothie enhancer or sour cream substitute, Greek yogurt is very versatile when it comes to daily usage, making it an easy addition to your diet if it’s not a staple already. “It’s high in protein, and a good source of vitamin D and calcium to help rebuild the bones. Especially if you get the plain variety, it’s very low in sugar—it’s a great snack for fat loss,” says White. The key here is to avoid pre-flavored varieties. Fruit-on-the-bottom versions pack in an unsightly amount of sugar that may actually inhibit weight loss and potentially contribute to your fat deposits. A 7-oz serving contains a whopping 18g of protein on average, and also provides healthy gut bacteria to keep your belly feeling good and digestion regular.
If you’ve got weight to lose and you want it gone fast, try swapping out your usual proteins in favor of fish. Not only is fish lower in calories than an equivalent amount of beef or chicken, a study published in Obesity reveals study subjects who added omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish, to their diets shed more weight and had an easier time keeping it off than those who skipped them.
Eating foods that seem to target belly fat is just a starter strategy for getting rid of that gut. You'll see better, faster results if you exercise, too. In fact, just being more active in general helps. In one study of office workers, just standing up more often helped melt 1½ inches from people's waists. It doesn't take much—just a few extra hours a week of exercise may produce results. Learn how 3 extra hours of exercise per week affected belly size in a recent study.
We all have an Achilles heel: the one food or meal that we can't seem to help digging into. But Mark Mincolla, Ph.D., nutrition expert and author of The Whole Health Diet, recommends taking the time to visualize that food multiple times throughout the day, as research shows doing so makes you actually want it less. When that theory was put to the test, scientists found that those who repeatedly imagined their guilty-pleasure foods reduced their calorie consumption of that food by as much as 50 percent. And it wasn't because they found it to be less desirable — if you love pizza, you love pizza — but rather because they just didn't feel like eating it when given the option because they had already thought about it so much. Reverse psychology, much?
Remember that it takes a 3500-calorie deficit to lose one pound of fat. That is, you have to either burn off 3500 calories through exercise or eat 3500 calories less than you burn in a week. Break this up into daily limits. To burn 3500 calories a week, you should aim to have a 500 calorie deficit every day. For example, you can exercise to burn 250 calories and cut 250 calories from your diet.
To banish stubborn belly fat, you have to ramp up your workouts. In a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, people who completed a high-intensity workout regimen lost more belly fat than those who followed a low-intensity plan. (In fact, the low-intensity exercises experienced no significant changes at all.) "You need to exercise at full intensity because the end goal is to burn more calories, and high intensity exercise does just that," says Natalie Jill, a San Diego, Calif.-based certified personal trainer. High intensity workouts mean you're going all out for as long as you can. If this sounds intimidating, think of it this way: you'll burn more calories in less time.
“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.”