Researchers from the University of Cambridge looked at 72 studies and found that people consistently consume more food and drink when they are offered larger-sized portions, packages, or tableware than when offered smaller-sized versions. The data suggested that if larger portions and tableware were eliminated throughout the diet, Americans could save about 527 calories per day—that adds up to more than 3,500 calories a week or one pound. Translation: this could be undermining your weight loss or actually causing you to gain weight.
The reason we’re suggesting 45 minutes instead of the typical 30 as one of the ways to lose weight is that a Duke University study found that while 30 minutes of daily walking is enough to prevent weight gain in most relatively sedentary people, exercise beyond 30 minutes results in weight and fat loss. Burning an additional 300 calories a day with three miles of brisk walking (45 minutes should do it) could help you lose 30 pounds in a year without even changing how much you’re eating. Here are 20 hidden reasons your diet isn’t working.
You know not to crush half a pizza before jumping in bed, but even munching on something healthy-ish at night can throw off your calorie-burning momentum. Ideally, while you're sleeping, you want your body to burn its current fat storages (read: that pesky middle-jiggle) for fuel as opposed to whatever you ate as a midnight snack. Make sure to fill up at dinner every night, and then banish yourself from the kitchen at least two hours before bed.
Use the meal as a reward for a week’s worth of hard work, or the completion of a project you’ve been dreading. “It’s OK for people to blow one meal a week without feeling guilty,” says James W. Anderson, M.D., director of the Metabolic Research Group at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. “If you follow a healthy diet 95% of the time, you can relax and enjoy yourself the other 5% of the time without gaining weight.”
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.
A study from Canada’s McMaster University (partly funded by Dairy Farmers of Canada) put women on several different diets (lower protein, low dairy; lower protein, medium dairy; higher protein, high dairy) and found they all lost the same amount of weight — but that the higher-protein, high-dairy group lost the most belly fat while also gaining and holding onto the most muscle mass. “It seems… increasing calcium and protein in the diet may help to further promote loss of fat from the worst storage area in the body,” said Andrea Josse, lead author of the study.
Beyond the occasional fidget, you can do simple things like taking the stairs and walking more to increase your overall daily calorie burn—no gym required. "Move as much as possible," says Cederquist. "Wearing a Fitbit or another type of activity tracker is helpful for people to realize just how little many of us move." Cederquist recommends hitting 10,000 steps a day every day for general health and well-being—no excuses.
Swap giant dinner plates, bowls, and silverware for smaller versions, and pick up portion-sized packages of snacks instead of nomming straight from a full-size box or bag, says Cerderquist. You'll be eating less without even thinking about it. Another pro tip: stay away from protein bars. "It is amazing to see that an entire well-balanced meal can have the same amount of calories as many protein bars," she says. "But you are much more satisfied when having the variety of textures and flavors from a real meal."
A 2015 study from Brown University found that you’re likely to have less belly fat if you have a high degree of “dispositional mindfulness” — where you’re naturally inclined to pay attention to your present thoughts and feelings. The researchers speculated that this kind of “everyday mindfulness” helps overcome the instinct to stock up on calories, which are not in short supply to use modern humans.
Stress can not only stimulate appetite, it can also kick abdominal fat storage into overdrive, she says. The easy antidote: a deep breathing technique proven to lower your stress level in 60 seconds. Simply breathe in while you silently count to seven. Hold the breath for another seven counts, then slowly release it for seven counts. Repeat eight to 10 times.
A little garlic in your meals could mean a lot less weight around your middle. The results of a Korean study found that mice given a high-fat diet supplemented with garlic lost significantly more weight and abdominal fat than those who just ate fatty foods. Even better, they also improved their liver health, making it easier to stay healthy and burn off that excess fat in the long term. For more flavorful ways to make your food more enjoyable, turn to the 20 Spicy Recipes That Fire Up Your Metabolism and watch those pounds melt away.