Quite possibly the king of good carbs, quinoa is one of those foods that is incredibly versatile and boasts an impressive nutritional profile. “Quinoa is almost a complete meal—it has your protein, being one of the highest-protein ancient grains—and it has your healthy carbohydrates. It’s very nutrient dense and very versatile—you can add more protein to it or healthy sources of fat like pumpkin seeds and oils. We need carbohydrates in our body (like quinoa), and a lot of people are afraid to eat them. Quinoa is a slow-digesting carbohydrate, and it’s not high glycemic, so it won’t cause an insulin response like eating straight sugar would,” says White. Carbohydrates give your body energy and help carry you through tough workouts. Quinoa in particular contains all the essential amino acids needed to support muscle development and encourage fat loss. By swapping nutrition-lacking carbs like white rice or pasta for quinoa, you’ll boost your fat burn.
"Protein is great for fat loss. It helps build and preserve lean muscle tissue and can increase the amount of calories you burn. It’s also a great source of energy that helps you feel fuller for longer, so you’re less tempted to snack. Good sources include chicken breast, tuna, eggs, milk and chickpeas. And if you’re finding it difficult to avoid snacks that are high in carbohydrates, try substituting them for protein shakes or bars. Remember also to opt for the lean sources of protein because some sources can be high in saturated fat."
Sure, high-intensity cardio can help you torch calories, but ideally, you’ll also need to pump some iron to build metabolism-boosting muscle. That’s because strength training is one of the few activities you can do to spike the amount of calories you burn, even after you’re done with your workout. Case in point: one 2012 review of research found that while completing a 20-minute resistance training circuit may help you burn 200 calories, your body’s resting metabolic rate stays elevated for the next hour, helping you burn an additional 50 calories. Plus, when you lose weight, you lose some muscle with it, so building and maintaining that lean mass will help you achieve a more toned look.
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.
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.
Limit foods high in refined carbohydrates and refined sugar (white bread, white pasta, white rice), and replace them with high fibre ‘complex carbs’ – think: whole grains, brown rice, sweet potato, oats, beans and pulses. Fill your boots with as many vegetables as possible – they’re low calorie, high in micronutrients, and the fibre in them will keep you full.
"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.
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.
Once you’ve established a regular cardio routine, add two or three weight training sessions on nonconsecutive days to your weekly workouts; everyone naturally gains some fat as they age, but building muscle tone can significantly slow the production of belly fat. In a study conducted at the University of Minnesota, overweight women who did twice-weekly strength training routines that included eight to 10 exercises of major muscle groups, from biceps curls to leg presses, gained 67 percent less visceral fat over two years than women who didn’t do strength training regularly.
And how often to work out to get rid of belly fat? Well, as you know, too much cortisol can counteract your belly fat loss efforts. Belalij suggests doing 30-minute sessions, three times per week. “As you start to lose belly fat your body will want to cling on more and more to what is left, so you must increase the intensity or duration of your workouts, the more fat you lose,” Belalij says. And Hughes agrees: