Go ahead. Pop up a bowl. Sans the butter and salt, popcorn is a real gut whittler. Why? Because popcorn is a whole grain—and a study revealed that people who ate lots of whole grains had smaller middles compared with folks who ate mostly refined grains. So while you're waiting for yours to pop, clear all the white rice, pasta, and bread out of your cupboards. (Related: Give your popcorn some low-guilt flavor with these tips.)
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.
High in good bacteria, the benefits of yoghurt on gastrointestinal health have been said to provide health benefits for certain gastrointestinal conditions, including lactose intolerance, constipation, IBS, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, Helicobacter pylori infection, and allergies. Look for the nutrition label and make sure no added sugar is used. Opt for Greek yoghurt varieties and use your own frozen berries and cinnamon to sweeten.
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.
A close contender for top place as one of the best fat-busting foods is asparagus, according to White. “Asparagus is a natural diuretic, and is also loaded with vitamins. Per one cup cooked it’s only 25 calories, but thanks to the fiber it will fill you up. You can grill it or steam it (steaming will probably be the cleanest way to prepare it), you can boil it or even microwave it. I’ve even seen people eat it raw. You can throw olive oil on it and saute it. There are a lot of different options here. You just want to stay away from the butter,” says White. Due to the diuretic properties of asparagus, you may see more immediate reductions in stomach bloating, reducing your pounch’s appearance while you work over time to really tighten it up.
Women who wake up and go to bed at the same time each day have lower levels of body fat, according to a study of more than 300 women from Brigham Young University in Utah. Chaotic sleep habits cause your internal clock to go haywire, which in turn causes your body to secrete fat-storing hormones like cortisol. The sweet spot? Try not to stray an hour from your usual sleep pattern, the study authors say. More than a 90-minute difference in sleep and wake times were linked to more body fat. (Tossing and turning? Check out these 100 tips to sleep better every night.)
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.
By now you know to swap out regular yogurt for the Greek stuff and white bread for whole-wheat. But if you don't look closely, a product labeled "Greek" or "whole-wheat" may not be what it seems. A typical one-cup serving of plain Greek yogurt (like Fage 0%) provides 23 grams of protein and 9 grams of sugar, making it a smart choice. But another version of what looks like the same product can have over 18 grams of sugar. Not good, as the American Heart Association suggests women only eat 30 grams in an entire day. The same trickery goes for whole-wheat bread packages — some companies are loading it with high-fructose corn syrup, an unnatural additive that's 20 times sweeter than sugar and not recognized by the brain. Studies show that eating the stuff confuses your body's hormones so you don't realize when you're full, essentially forcing you to overeat when you thought you were making a healthy choice.
If you're among the 30% of Americans who sleep less than six hours a night, here's one simple way to whittle your waistline: catch more Zs. A 16-year study of almost 70,000 women found that those who slept five hours or less a night were 30% more likely to gain 30 or more pounds than those who slept 7 hours. The National Institutes of Health suggest adults sleep seven to eight hours a night.
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.”