Repeat after us: It’s time to start eating clean. She recommends a combination of veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, low-fat dairy and lean protein like poultry, eggs and fish for a dose of omega-3 fatty acids. And drop the added sugar while you’re at it. “Studies show that when you have a diet rich in whole grains — and calorie-controlled — that you can reduce the belly fat,” she says. But remember to watch your portions, too. “A lot of people eat very healthy and don’t eat junk, but their portions are too large.”
Or skip your favorite early-morning show—whatever it takes to grab a few more minutes of sleep each day. When researchers at the University of Chicago studied men who were sleep-deprived, they found that after just a few days, their bodies had a much harder time processing glucose in the blood—a problem common in overweight diabetics. When the individuals returned to a more normal seven to eight hours of sleep a night, however, their metabolisms returned to normal.
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.
Eating foods that seem to target belly fat is just a starter strategy for getting rid of that gut. You'll see better, faster results if you exercise, too. In fact, just being more active in general helps. In one study of office workers, just standing up more often helped melt 1½ inches from people's waists. It doesn't take much—just a few extra hours a week of exercise may produce results. Learn how 3 extra hours of exercise per week affected belly size in a recent study.
Pace around your office while talking on the phone or run into the bank to cash your check instead of using the drive-thru. When researchers at the Mayo Clinic fed a group of volunteers an extra 1,000 calories a day over the course of eight weeks, they found sedentary individuals gained eight times more weight than those who fidgeted a lot during the day.
No belly-busting diet is complete without a super-charged arsenal of healthy, satiating snacks. By planning ahead for those times you get stuck—think traffic jams and long days at the office—you’ll be equipped to fight against any unhealthy temptations or poor food choices. “I would definitely have snacks planned throughout the day. It’s very important to eat throughout the day to make sure you’re not famished at some of the bigger meals. I would definitely have snack jars with things like granola bars, protein bars, almonds, dehydrated fruits, turkey jerky, and a lot of high-protein snacks stashed at work, in the car, or at home,” says White.
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.
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.
Stress wreaks havoc on every part of your body, and can lead to breakouts, joint pain, headaches, and yes, even excess belly fat. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body pumps out extra cortisol, that not-so-great hormone you keep hearing about. Studies show that cortisol not only spikes your appetite, but may also redistribute body fat to your belly area, according to a review published in the journal Obesity.
Here’s a shocker: When a group of U.K. researchers told 30 women to avoid chocolate, then packed them into a room filled with the stuff; the women were much more likely to sneak a bite than individuals who hadn’t been given the order. Blame the allure of the forbidden: The more you tell yourself you can’t eat something you love, the more you’re going to want it.
Another win for your morning cup of joe: Caffeinated coffee keeps things moving through the digestive tract. Since staying regular is key to a tighter-looking tummy, drinking about 8 to 16 ounces of java at the same time every day can help you stay on schedule. Remember: Sugary drinks can lead to weight gain, so skip fancy flavorings and synthetic sweeteners containing sugar alcohols, which can cause bloating.