When your cortisol levels are through the roof, it triggers the release of insulin, and this is where things go awry. Initially, the ‘fight-or-flight’ response shuts down your digestive system so you can deal with the “threat”, like a very hungry lion or, more realistically, heavy traffic on your way to work. Once the danger has passed, your body seeks to replenish the hundreds of calories you burned fighting to the death/swearing at rush hour traffic and makes you ravenously hungry.
On the face of it, skipping meals seems like a path to losing weight — if you don’t eat as much, you’ll drop fat. But in practise, it doesn’t work out like that. A 2015 study from Ohio State University found that skipping meals messes up your metabolism and your hormones (specifically insulin), which results in an increased likelihood of abdominal weight gain. Researchers recommended eating several small meals throughout the day as opposed to one or two big ones.
Everybody loves their quinoa, but it's time to elevate this less-popular grain to superfood status. "While processed grains and sugar are the main culprits for promoting abdominal fat, whole grains are in another category altogether," says St.John. "Intact grains [i.e., ones that haven't been stripped of their nutrients, as is frequently the case with 'white' options] contain fiber which slows digestion and absorption of the grains, which in turn reduces the amount of insulin released by the body." What does this mean for you? The less insulin your body releases equals less abdominal fat tacking itself onto your tummy.
With potatoes, leave the skin on (with baked or mashed potatoes) or if you peel them, make snacks of them. For example, drizzle olive oil, rosemary, salt, and garlic on the peels and bake at 400 F (205 C) for fifteen minutes for baked Parmesan garlic peels. Keeping the skin on potatoes when cooking them helps keep more vitamins/minerals in the flesh (just don't eat any parts of skin that are green).
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.
While probiotics encourage the growth of good bacteria, prebiotics feed the ones you already have. When you eat prebiotic foods like onions and leeks, they produce butyrate, a metabolic wonder drug that improves insulin sensitivity and increases the amount of fat you burn, says Rafael Kellman, M.D., author of The Microbiome Diet. Now that it's summer, pop either on the grill to bring out their sweetness. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook until golden.
Say cheese! Adding some extra calcium to your diet could be the key to getting that flat stomach you’ve been dreaming about. Over just 12 months, researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville found that obese female study subjects who upped their calcium intake shed 11 pounds of body fat without other major dietary modifications. To keep your calcium choices healthy, try mixing it up between dairy sources, calcium-rich leafy greens, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds.
Instead of satisfying your sweet tooth with some refined sugar, turn to berries and enjoy a slimmer waistline in no time. Berries are loaded with antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation throughout the body, and research from the University of Michigan reveals that rats given a berry-rich diet shaved off a significant proportion of their belly fat when compared to a control group. Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are also loaded with resveratrol, an antioxidant pigment that has been linked to reductions in belly fat and a reduced risk of dementia, to boot.
While the Duke study found no added benefit to resistance training (aka weight or strength training) when it comes to belly fat, a 2014 study from a Harvard University team found otherwise. Twenty minutes of weights a day was linked to less of an increase in belly fat (particularly for older men). “Engaging in resistance training or, ideally, combining it with aerobic exercise could help older adults lessen abdominal fat while increasing or preserving muscle mass," said the paper’s lead author Rania Mekary.
"Only doing abdominal-focused workouts, like crunches, won’t help you banish the bulge. Belly fat is simply where your body stores energy, so you need to take a whole-body approach to tackle it. HIIT training (high intensity interval training) is a great way to burn fat and get your heart rate up. Squats, burpees and treadmill sprints are all examples to try."
Consider them “good carbs”. Their bulk takes up space in your stomach, helping you feel full and eat less. The top fiber food: beans, which contain 8g per 1/2 cup. Research shows that guys who added 12g of fiber a day to their diet lost a quarter of an inch from their love handles, without otherwise modifying their diet. Here are some of the best sources.
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.
Consider this specially-bred strain of seaweed the protein-packed answer to your prayers. Eating just a little of it each day (seriously, you only need three grams — or one heaping teaspoon — to get your fill, says nutritionist Tali Pines, R.D.) will give you a hefty dose of important antioxidants like beta-carotene and echinenone, both of which help curb cravings and fight illness. Bonus: the levels of beta-carotene found in Hawaiian spirulina suppress cholesterol levels (great news for your heart), and the high levels of iron improve weakness and fatigue so you have enough mojo for your next workout. Get your fix by popping a daily supplement, adding it to your morning smoothie, or simply stirring a spoonful of the powdered version (which is the most easily digestible, according to Pines) into a glass of water.