When Tufts University researchers studied the waistlines and diets of 459 people, they found that even in men of similar age and activity level, those who ate white bread frequently weighed more than those who didn’t. “The calories from white bread and refined grains just seem to settle at the waistline more than calories from other foods,” says Katherine Tucker, Ph.D., the study author.
Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S, founder of TS Fitness, also says that metabolic resistance training and high-intensity interval training is a solid way to reduce fat all over, including belly fat. “These [types of exercise] help to burn calories during the workout, and they also give you that after-burn effect,” he says. “Plus, they help to change your body composition by increasing your muscle mass.”
You know that choosing the right types of fats is key, and here's why: Unhealthy fats, found in processed foods, meats, and cheeses, feed the type of bacteria that spark inflammation and cue your body to store fat, says Lipman. But healthy fats high in omega 3s and 6s — like those in avocado, nuts, olive oil, and salmon — do the opposite. They provide long-burning energy by regulating how quickly glucose enters your cells, keeping hunger at bay. Top a sandwich with mashed avocado, or make a summery side salad with chopped avocado, cherry tomatoes, basil, and lemon juice.
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.
“Most people who have been lean their whole lives have a much better understanding of proper portion size than people who are overweight,” says Deborah Riebe, Ph.D., a professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island. “If they go out to eat, they’re much more likely to ask for a doggie bag right away or to leave food on their plate rather than cleaning it up.”
The most important thing you need to do is to program yourself mentally. Don't use a scale to measure your progress. If you work out with weights, you may gain a few pounds while losing inches around the waist. Instead, use that pair of jeans that you want to fit into again, or a pair that fits you now. You'll see a slight change every few weeks, and that should give you confidence.
"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.
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.
The body doesn't react to all fats in the same way. Research correlates high intake of saturated fat (the kind in meat and dairy) to increased visceral fat, says Patton. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats (the kind in olive oil and avocados) and specific types of polyunsaturated fats (mainly omega-3s, found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, and fatty fish like salmon) have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, and if eaten in proper portions may do your body good. But Patton warns that eating too much fat of any kind increases your calorie intake and could lead to weight gain, so enjoy healthy fats in moderation.
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.
They may not be totally mainstream yet, but there's good reason to incorporate marine gems like nori, hijiki, wakame, arame, and kombu into your regular diet. "With omega-3 fatty acids not found in other plant foods, sea vegetables (or seaweed) are inflammation fighting powerhouses," says St.John. "Omega-3 fatty acids are potent inflammation-fighters, so sea vegetables can enhance your body's ability to suppress inflammation and may lead to a flatter belly." Note: Store-bought seaweed snacks can pack a lot of sodium (which can contribute to bloat), so be sure to scan nutrition labels before purchasing.
People with chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to carry excess visceral fat. Foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI), which uses a ranking system of 0 to 100, cause more rapid spikes in your blood sugar, in turn triggering the release of cortisol when glucose levels crash. The constant up and down of your blood sugar levels can also lead to insulin resistance — the first step on the road to type 2 diabetes. To help keep cortisol levels stable, choose low-GI foods (with a rating of 55 or less) like beans, lentils, and chickpeas, instead of high-GI options like white rice and potatoes. To find the GI rating of your foods, use the University of Sydney’s database at glycemicindex.com.
Don’t buy your tickets to Bonnaroo just yet; the kind of acid that will help you slim down is the stuff right inside your cabinet. A 12-week study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry reveals that obese study subjects who made vinegar part of their diet dropped more belly fat than a control group, and other research suggests that acidic foods, like vinegar, can increase the human carbohydrate metabolism by as much as 40 percent.
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.
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.”