Although a bit of fat is necessary to keep us in good health, too much of the stuff can have the opposite effect on life expectancy and wellbeing—especially when it collects around the midsection. And not only does belly fat (visceral fat) make it difficult to zip up your jeans, it also increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes—even if you're not particularly overweight. To help rid yourself of the dangerous fat around your middle—and just feel better about your body, too!—the team at Eat This, Not That! dove into scientific journals and chatted with industry experts to discover some of the fastest, easiest ways to lose fat — pronto.
Have trouble cutting yourself off after you've eaten your fill? Light a candle when you sit down to the dinner table and blow it out after you've finished your meal. This simple action sends a message to your brain—and your mouth—that it's time to stop noshing. Not only will this strategy help you feel full, eating fewer calories adds up to major weight loss.
BUST OUT YOUR TOOTHBRUSH
Have you ever eaten something right after brushing your teeth? It didn't take too appetizing, did it? For this reason, brushing your teeth right after meals is a great way to keep yourself out of the kitchen, and subsequently, hundreds of waist-expanding calories out of your mouth. But, don't brush too soon if you ate something acidic: Colgate recommends waiting a half hour before doing so to avoid damaging your enamel. Sounds like a great reason to keep a toothbrush in your purse or briefcase, if you ask us.
Cut Way, Way Back On Salt
"The fastest and easiest way to shrink your tummy is to cut back on salty foods and drink more water," says celebrity trainer and creator of Methodology X, Dan Roberts. "Even if you do have a few pounds to lose, you're likely retaining fluids, due to mild dehydration. Flushing out the salt and drinking more water is a really effective way to counteract the bloat. The results can be almost immediate," adds Roberts.
Swap Carbs for Proteins
"Although there is no magic cure for getting rid of belly fat, eating adequate protein and cutting down on refined high glycemic carbs can help," says Martha McKittrick, a New York City-based registered dietitian. "Protein helps keep you feeling full longer and the body burns more calories breaking them down compared to carbs and fat. Lastly, protein doesn't cause insulin spikes like refined ('white' or sugary) carbs do. High levels of insulin have been linked to more belly fat—and this is especially true as we get older," warns McKittrick. Swap white toast for greens or fruit salad at brunch, pick Greek yogurt over a bagel for breakfast and when you're dining out and opt for grilled chicken or fish instead of a pasta dish.
PRE-PORTION YOUR SNACKS
Can't imagine giving up your favorite chips and cookies in the name of weight loss? You don't have to. Just pre-portion your snacks into small baggies to ensure you stick to just one serving size. It's the easiest way to eat your [insert favorite snack here] and have it, too!
SKIP THE BREAD AND ORDER AN APP
When you go out to eat, avoid fattening freebies like bread and chips at all costs. If you're ravenous when you arrive, ask your server for a side salad, soup, or a vegetable-based appetizer or side dish. Grilled asparagus, sautéed spinach, marinated mushrooms, and hummus with crudites are all examples of smart picks.
LIMIT YOUR SUGAR
One of the fastest ways to burn belly fat is to cut back on the added sugar in your diet, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages. Numerous studies suggest that excess fructose—found abundantly in soda and packaged snacks—increases the accumulations of belly fat—especially in men. If you want to indulge in a soda, grab an occasionaldiet soda or, better yet, reach for one of these weight loss teas. And for the best weight loss results, limit yourself to 25 grams of added sugar a day.
WALK MORE—AND FASTER
You've likely heard that moving more is beneficial for general wellness, but did you know that adding a structured walking program to your fitness routine can help you scorch serious belly fat? It's true! In an International Journal of Obesity study of subjects at high risk for type 2 diabetes, researchers found that three weekly hour-long walks significantly lowered participants cholesterol levels and slashed belly fat by 18 percent, compared to the control group. Lace up your sneakers can hit the streets with Fido or go to the gym and break a sweat while you're catching up on Shark Tank. Super easy yet extremely effective.
"Stress has been shown to directly influence weight gain," says Lashaun Dale of 24 Hour Fitness. "For some stress triggers poor eating habits, while other people's bodies start to store fat in response to the influx of stress hormones. And then there are those who get hit with both. To rid unwanted belly fat, you have to first strip away stress. Carve out time to take naps, get a good night's rest and meditate. Even just taking a 10-minute movement break with conscious breathing can shift your physiology for the better and help diminish your stress."
Skipping meals is never a good idea. Not only does doing so increase the chance you'll binge eat later in the day, but it also puts your body into a catabolic state, meaning it starts to break down lean muscle for energy and hoards fat—which is exactly what you don't want when you're trying to whittle your middle.
SNACK ON VEGGIES
Non-starchy vegetable consumption has been linked to decreased belly and liver fat and improved insulin resistance in overweight youths. In fact, one Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study found that consuming more non-starchy veggies resulted in a whopping 17 percent decrease in visceral fat in overweight kids. And although you may be all grown up, it's safe to assume adding more veggies can help adults trim their belly fat, too! Broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, spinach, mushrooms, peppers,and tomatoes are all considered non-starchy vegetables, and make delicious additions to any snack-time treat! For a double belly-shrinking whammy, look for veggies rich in vitamin C, like bell peppers. The nutrient has been shown to counteract stress hormones which trigger fat storage around the midsection.
NEVER EAT JUST TO EAT
"There is no way to spot reduce belly fat, but if a client comes to me looking to lose fat around their middle, I would tell them two things – ditch the boredom snacking and move," says Ajia Cherry, personal trainer, and Founder at Functional Innovative Training. "We often find ourselves in situations where we are mindlessly eating because we're bored. If you find yourself bored and grabbing a bag of chips, go for a quick walk around the block."
BUMP UP THE BURN
"One of the best ways to build endurance, strength and burn off fat is through high intensity, treadmill power training," says Jimmy Minardi of Minardi Training. "You can do it anywhere you go, any time of the year. Proper form (and a good coach to guide you) can make all the difference in your performance; keep your shoulders back and down and remember not to hunch as you run. You should wear a heart-rate monitor so you can accurately track when you've reached your maximum heart rate," explains Minardi. "Start the treadmill speed at a slow jog, as you work up to a warm sweat and gradually increase the incline to 15, keeping the speed the same. In 45 seconds, you should be at your maximum heart rate; at that point, start lowering the treadmill, continuing to run until it's completely flat. Do five intervals with a 3-5 minute rest in between or until your heart rate has completely recovered."
"I absolutely love the low plank exercise because it creates a lot of stability around the entire core," says Brian Flynn, owner of Body Unique in Brooklyn, New York. "This helps you run a lower risk of back pain. It's also a fantastic exercise to help slim down your waistline."
How to do it: Set your forearms on the floor with elbows directly under your shoulders and legs fully extended behind you, with your knees locked out. The trick to this exercise is to be as parallel to the ground as possible, so try not let your hips drop or your head push toward the ground. The more aligned you are, the more effective it is. Draw your navel in, squeeze your butt and try to pull your elbows toward your feet (this will engage your lats). If you are doing this exercise properly, you will probably only be able to hold it for 20 seconds. That's OK—put your knees back down on the ground with your forearms in place, rest for a few seconds and start again for another round!
LIFT FIRST, THAN CARDIO
By running, biking or rowing after you've hit the weights—when your body is already tired—the same speed or intensity will have a greater effect on your fat and calorie burn than had you done it beforehand.
Pop Some Fish Oil
One specific type of fish oil (hi-DHA, NuMega), when taken in tandem with exercise, has been shown to decrease body fat and research suggests fish oil can also help boost weight loss and decrease blood sugar. It may sound a little unappetizing, but fish oil is one of the best nutrients for the human body. According to a study in the journal Hospital Pharmacy, fish oil (which can be consumed by eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines or by taking supplements – whichever fits best into your lifestyle) lowers triglycerides in those with diabetes and heart problems by as much as 20 to 50 percent.
Live By the Half-Plate Rule
Fill at least half of your lunch and dinner plate with vegetables. Vegetables are nutrient-dense, high in satiating fiber, and low in calories, making then ideal weight loss tools, says registered dietitian Danielle Omar. "By eating the veggie half of your plate before anything else, you will take the edge off your hunger, eat less overall calories, and still feel full and satisfied. Keep eating this way and the pounds will painlessly melt away."
Spread Out Your Protein
Diet experts say we need about one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight to aid muscle growth and weight loss, so if that's what you're eating each day, you're bound to get the body of your dreams, right? Unfortunately, there's more to it than that. According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, when you consume your protein can make or break how much lean muscle mass you're able to pack on. If you're like most Americans, you likely consume little to no protein for breakfast, a bit of protein at lunch and the bulk of your daily intake during dinner—which the researchers discovered isn't ideal for muscle synthesis. Luckily, the fix is a simple one: Just distribute your protein intake evenly throughout the day. The scientists found that those who followed this simple trick had 25 percent higher protein synthesis than those who ate the majority of the nutrient after the sun went down. Check out our ultimate guide to protein for your one-stop shop.
Ditch the Drinking
If that's way too much to ask, then order (or pour) only one drink near the end of your meal or when you're done. That way, the sweetness can go with dinner, but also act as a low-cal dessert.
EAT A DINOSAUR
Kale is the Jennifer Lawrence of superfoods, acclaimed and enjoyed by millions. Trouble is, it risks becoming the Jennifer Lawrence of superfoods, at risk of numbing overexposure. If you find the prospect of another kale salad as exciting as a plain chicken breast, opt for dinosaur kale, a.k.a. black or lacinato kale. Its dark, curly leaves are sweeter-tasting and more tender than the regular variety, but it has the same nutritional properties, like satiety-boosting fiber and other nutrients that can turn off your belly-fat genes and lead to quick weight loss.
SIP WHITE TEA
Think of white tea as Spanx in a cup. It actually works with your body in four different ways to promote fat-burning, as reported in The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse: It blocks the formation of new fat cells while simultaneously boosting lipolysis, the body's process of breaking down stored fat, according to a study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism. Another group of researchers found that the tea is also a rich source of catechins, a type of antioxidant that triggers the release of fat from the cells and—bonus!—helps speed the liver's ability to turn fat into energy. Brew this and burn fat.
SPRINKLE ON PEPITAS
It's the Spanish term for pumpkin seed, and if you consider them just jack o'lantern innards, you're in for a treat. One ounce of seeds has eight grams of protein — more than an egg or almonds — and is rich in flat-belly nutrients like fiber, zinc and potassium, which are key to muscle building and recovery. Sprinkle them in salads or over oats.
USE A DASH OF CINNAMON
Cinnamon contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that are proven to alter body composition and improve insulin sensitivity. But that's not all: The powerful spice was also shown to ward off weight gain and visceral fat in animals fed a sugar-enhanced diet. That doesn't give you free rein to eat all the sweets you want without consequence (the study was only on critters, after all), but it couldn't hurt to add some cinnamon to your coffee or oatmeal if you've been having a tough time staying away from sugary indulgences.
Cayenne, commonly used to Mexican dishes their signature kick, has been connected to abdominal fat loss when eaten daily. Though there are various mechanisms at play, one group of researchers say that the spice may diminish appetite. In their study, they discovered that men who ate spicy appetizers consumed 200 fewer calories at later meals than those who did not. You can find capsaicin in hot sauce, but just a couple of shakes of some popular varieties can provide nearly 20 percent of your daily sodium limit. For a less aggressive, salt-free kick, try seasoning grilled fish, meats, and eggs with just a pinch of cayenne.
CRACK AN EGG
Want your metabolism stoked all day long? Of course, you do—and making it happen is as easy as sitting down to a protein-rich breakfast. In a study in Nutrition Research, half of the participants were fed a breakfast of bagels while half ate eggs. The egg group was observed to have a lower response to ghrelin (the "hunger hormone") were less hungry three hours later and consumed fewer calories for the next 24 hours! Bonus: Egg yolks contain choline, a nutrient with powerful fat-burning properties
Oysters are one of the best food sources of zinc, a mineral that works with the hormone leptin to regulate appetite. Research shows that overweight people tend to have higher levels of leptin and lower levels of zinc than slimmer folk. A study published in the Journal of Physiological Sciencesfound that taking zinc supplements could increase leptin production. A half-dozen oysters only have 43 calories but provide 21 percent of your RDA of iron—deficiencies of which have been linked to a significant increase in fat gene expression.
EAT A HANDFUL OF WALNUTS AS YOUR GO-TO SNACK
Omega-3 fatty acids, the nutrients that make fatty fish such nutritional-champs, play a key role in reducing belly fat storage, all while keeping us full and satisfied. But thankfully you don't have to down an entire fillet or even turn on the stove to reap their stomach-flattening benefits. Just 1/4 cup of walnuts packs more than two day's worth of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a type of omega 3. And bonus: Walnuts have also been shown to reduce blood pressure and decrease inflammation in the blood vessels during times of stress. Add them to overnight oats to get the flat-belly benefits every time it's breakfast time!
WASH SOME RASPBERRIES
Raspberries may be small, but they're awful mighty—think of them as nature's magical weight loss pill. Not only do they pack more fiber and liquid than most other fruits, which boosts satiety, they're a rich source of ketones, antioxidants that may aid trim down efforts by incinerating stored fat cells. What's more, like other berries, raspberries are packed with polyphenols, powerful natural chemicals that have been shown to decrease the formation of fat cells and zap abdominal fat.
AND BLUEBERRIES, TOO
It's finally time to give the humble blueberry proper praise—and add some your daily diet. What makes them so great? Blueberries may help blast away stubborn belly fat by turning on your get-lean genes, according to University of Michigan researchers. After a 90-day trial, the rats fed a blueberry-enriched diet showed significantly reduced belly fat than the control group. But that's not all! The sweet fruit also contains compounds that ward off and reverse age-related loss of memory and motor coordination.
Eat Some Oat Bran
If you like to start your day with oatmeal, it's time to give yourself an upgrade. While oatmeal is a terrific breakfast, with 12 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per cup, oat bran is a whole other level. It packs a whopping 20 grams of muscle-building protein and 18 grams of fiber, for the same number of calories. And all that fiber is good news for your belly. Intake of the nutrient was found to be negatively associated with belly fat, according to a Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Just don't screw it up by dumping brown sugar or syrup on it. Low-fat milk and cinnamon are the best accompaniments.
It's not carbs, per se, that lead to belly fat; but the type, researchers say. In fact, whole grains are a dietary staple of people with the littlest middles. A Tufts University study found that participants who ate three or more servings of whole grains per day (oats, quinoa, brown rice, wheat) had 10% less belly fat than people who ate the same amount of calories from refined carbs (white stuff: bread, rice, pasta). Further research is required to figure out exactly why this is the case, but the hypothesis is it has to do with the high fiber and slow-burn properties of whole grains. When it comes to diet, being unrefined is a good thing!
COOK MORE WITH COCONUT
What smells like an exotic vacation and can shrink your waist faster than your favorite Zumba class? You got it: coconut oil. A study of 30 men in the journal Pharmacology found that just 2 tablespoons per day reduced waist circumference by an average of 1.1 inches over the course of a month. What makes coconut oil superior to other fats is its medium chain triglycerides. Unlike the long-chain fatty acids found in animal sources of saturated fat, coconut oil doesn't seem to raise your cholesterol and is more likely to be burned as energy than stored as blubber. At roughly 117 calories per tablespoon, it's a near identical caloric swap for olive oil. Plus, its high smoke point makes coconut oil great for just about every dish, from eggs to stir-frys.
SNACK ON SEEDS
Sunflower seeds make a healthy and filling addition to any diet. A quarter-cup serving packs just over 200 calories and provides 3 grams of fiber. The seeds also serve up a fair share of magnesium, a mineral that helps boost lipolysis, a process by which the body releases fat from its stores, which is just one of the reasons weight loss experts love the stuff. "Sunflower seeds and Sunbutter are two great belly-busters, says registered dietitian Lauren Slayton of Foodtrainers. The type of fat in the seeds have been shown to reduce abdominal fat in women with no other change in diet," explains Slayton.