"Feeling stressed can wreak havoc on our bodies. It can cause our body to produce the steroid hormone cortisol, which can make you crave sugary foods that provide instant energy and pleasure. Short-term bursts of cortisol are necessary to help us cope with immediate danger, but our body will also release this hormone if we’re feeling stressed or anxious. When our cortisol levels are high for a long amount of time, it can increase the amount of fat you hold in your belly."
Bring on the heat! "Spicy chili peppers contain capsaicin, a compound known to increase satiety and decrease caloric consumption," says Hever. "It also helps encourage fat burning. Enjoy capsaicin by sprinkling ground cayenne or chili pepper over food or in beverages such as tea or lemon water, or cook hot peppers into stews, chilis, and soups." Or, you know, pop raw ones straight. If you're really brave!
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.
The challenge with belly fat is that it’s not only limited to the extra layer of padding located below your skin’s surface. Belly flat also includes another layer of fat located deep within your abdomen that surrounds your internal organs. It may also be a surprise to you that having “belly fat” is considered “healthy” and that some people who have no outer belly fat, can actually be “unhealthy.”
When you want to turn your diet around, don’t focus on the idea of restriction, Zeratsky says. Instead, think about the foods you can eat and how you can manage your hunger. “Eat foods that are more filling and have more water, like fruits and veggies, which will help your stomach respond to the weight to food,” she says. Plus, they’re low-cal and you still need that calorie deficit to drop belly fat.
While it’s often assumed that bread is off-limits when you’re trying to lose belly fat, the right bread may actually expedite the process. Switching to sprouted bread can help out carb-lovers eager to get their fix without going up a belt size, thanks to the inulin content of sprouted grains. The results of a study published in Nutrition & Metabolism reveal that found that pre-diabetic study subjects whose diets were supplemented with inulin shaved off more belly fat and total weight than those whose meal plans didn’t pack this healthy prebiotic fiber.
“Belly fat or abdominal fat is the subcutaneous (which means under the skin) fat that sits around the waist and provides a store of energy, and also protection and heat, for the organs,” says Tarik Belalij, personal trainer and nutritionist at Everyone Active Becontree Leisure Centre. “Small amounts of fat below the skin is normal and healthy, it is the visceral fat, which surrounds the organs that can be the most dangerous type of fat – leading to heart attacks and diabetes.”