Work your core. When many people think of core strengthening, they think of stomach crunches. Crunches are helpful for building abdominal muscles, but contrary to popular belief, crunches won't do much to lose the layer of fat stored in your belly, and can actually cause significant damage to the spine. Instead, try a workout routine that strengthens your whole core, like yoga, or try abdominal presses and planking.
Don't get me wrong — exercising at any time is good for you. But evening activity may be particularly beneficial because many people's metabolism slows down toward the end of the day. Thirty minutes of aerobic activity before dinner increases your metabolic rate and may keep it elevated for another two or three hours, even after you've stopped moving. What that means for you: You're less likely to go back for seconds or thirds. Plus, it'll help you relax post meal so you won't be tempted by stress-induced grazing that can rack up calories, quickly.
If just the thought of heading to the gym makes you nervous sweat, don't worry; you can find other ways to move that may result in big weight loss. If you regularly fidget while at your desk or lounging at home (getting up frequently, tapping your feet, wiggling your leg), you might be burning a substantial amount of calories just from these little movements—enough to be considered a way to lose weight or prevent weight gain, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The only bad news; your genes may play a role in whether you're a "born fidgeter," so if it's not in your nature to keep your body moving, you'll have to remind yourself to do it with an alarm or fitness tracker.
Avoid sugary foods and beverages. A thick midsection is commonly referred to as a "beer belly" for good reason! Overconsumption of sugar in the form of alcohol is a primary culprit in developing belly fat. Sugars found in processed foods, sugary sodas, energy drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages, are a common source of belly fat. To lose your belly fat, stay away from these culprits.
There’s one thing to like about visceral fat: It yields fairly easily to aerobic exercise. Vaporizing calories via running, biking, swimming—anything that gets your heart rate up—is an effective way to whittle your middle. In fact, one 2011 study from Duke University Medical Center, published in the American Journal of Physiology, found the sweet spot: Jogging the equivalent of 12 miles a week was even more effective in reducing visceral fat than resistance training three times per week. However, both types of exercise were beneficial when it came to belly fat, the researchers say. (Don’t have time to hit the gym? Try these fun at-home cardio workouts if you’re in a pinch.)
If you want to work late at night, think again. When your biorhythms are off, you end up eating more. When you're tired you produce more ghrelin, which triggers cravings for sugar and other fat-building foods. Losing sleep can also alter your hormone production, affecting your cortisol levels that cause insulin sensitivity, prime reasons for belly fat! Getting about 7 hours of sleep a night is one of the best things you can do for your body shaping goals.
6. Party smarter. One of the biggest challenges for women in their twenties is balancing a social life with a healthy lifestyle, Sopov says. “Whether it be dating, nights out with friends, or work happy hours, there is always alcohol involved,” she says. To keep your liquid calorie intake in check, drink a glass of water before and after a cocktail, choose a light beer or a moderate amount of alcohol, and skip drinks mixed with soft drinks, suggests the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Obese people who consumed a tablespoon or two of vinegar daily for eight weeks showed significant decreases in body fat—particularly visceral fat—according to a 2009 Japanese study. "One theory is that the acetic acid in the vinegar produces proteins that burn up fat," explains Pamela Peeke, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, author of Fight Fat After 40.
The body doesn't react to all fats in the same way. Research correlates high intake of saturated fat (the kind in meat and dairy) to increased visceral fat, says Patton. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats (the kind in olive oil and avocados) and specific types of polyunsaturated fats (mainly omega-3s, found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, and fatty fish like salmon) have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, and if eaten in proper portions may do your body good. But Patton warns that eating too much fat of any kind increases your calorie intake and could lead to weight gain, so enjoy healthy fats in moderation.
Don’t let extra hours lounging in bed stand between you and a flatter belly. While getting enough sleep can help boost your metabolic rate, sleeping in may undo any benefit you’d enjoy from catching a few extra winks. One study reveals that late sleepers who snoozed past 10:45 in the morning ate nearly 250 more calories over the course of the day, despite eating half as many fruits and vegetables as their early bird counterparts. Even worse, they chowed down on more salty, sugary, and trans fat-laden fast food than those who woke up earlier. If you happen to head out of the house early, you’re in for an additional metabolic boost; researchers at Northwestern University have found that people exposed to just a short period of early morning sunlight had lower BMIs than their late-waking counterparts.