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.
This could be because the body increases insulin secretion in anticipation that sugar will appear in the blood. When this doesn’t happen, blood sugar drops and hunger increases. Whether this chain of events regularly takes place is somewhat unclear. Something odd happened when I tested Pepsi Max though, and there are well-designed studies showing increased insulin when using artificial sweeteners.
It takes more than just crunches! We start to gain weight in our midsection when our cortisol levels spike. Stress is one of the primary culprits for high levels of cortisol secretion. When this happens cortisol breaks downs lean muscle (the type of tissue that burns calories most efficiently) and also holds on to fat storage in the abdominal region. That stress can even get WORSE with bad dieting; studies show that the stress caused by dieting can increase cortisol levels, making no change in belly fat even with calorie restriction. So how do you shape up? Incorporate these 6 things below and you will be on your way to a flatter belly in no time flat!
Women’s challenge with weight loss also comes down to nature. Nature wants to preserve a woman’s ability to bear children. When you’re in a calorie deficit, it can interfere with your fertility, so your body fights weight loss to prevent jeopardizing your reproductive capacity. So don’t cut more than 1,000 calories a day or eat fewer than 1,200 calories daily.
Still try to consume as many veggies and fruits as possible. Even if you don't enjoy carrots or salads, do what it takes to get yourself to eat them (e.g. plug your nose and chase bites of veggies with water like you did when you took medicine as a kid). You really have to try everything. Also, stick with the lean meats like fish or poultry. If you don't eat a healthy diet, you'll have to exercise more.
Researchers think belly fat is distinct from other types of fat — like the stuff under your skin or around your arms or thighs, which doesn't necessarily have negative effects on health — because belly fat could be a sign that you have more visceral fat. That's a type of fat that accumulates around internal organs, impairing their functions and raising stress levels.
Do postnatal exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor. Lay on the floor or a firm mattress, either on your side or your back. Bend your knees, so that your thighs are perpendicular to your torso. Take a deep breath in, then as you breathe out tighten your pelvic floor muscles. Then, gently pull your belly button in and up. Hold this pose for 10 seconds, then slowly relax. Wait for 5 seconds, then repeat the exercise. Make sure you continue to breathe throughout.[16]
You're not supposed to text and drive or Netflix and drive—you shouldn't try to do those things and eat, either. Distracted eating is a huge culprit for that "I'm still hungry" feeling. Physical satiety is closely linked with psychological satisfaction, according to therapist Deborah Beck Busis, Ph.D., the diet program coordinator at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy and a coauthor of The Diet Trap Solution.
Fancy coffee drinks from trendy coffee joints often pack several hundred calories, thanks to whole milk, whipped cream, sugar, and sugary syrups. A cup of regular coffee with skim milk has just a small fraction of those calories. And when brewed with good beans, it tastes just as great. You can also try nonfat powdered milk in coffee. You’ll get the nutritional benefits of skim milk, which is high in calcium and low in calories. And, because the water has been removed, powdered milk doesn’t dilute the coffee the way skim milk does. Here are 11 metabolism myths you have to stop believing.
8. Practice patience. Establishing healthy habits now can help you keep the weight off for decades to come. But it takes more than a few weeks to make a new habit stick. According to a 2009 study the European Journal of Social Psychology, it can take as long as 66 days to establish a habit, so the authors suggest giving yourself about 10 weeks before expecting a new one to take hold.
Ultimately, weight loss for the long-term requires some short-term behavior change and healthier habit formation. That's why we created our Good Housekeeping Nutritionist Approved Emblem, which exists to help turn smart food choices into healthier eating habits. All GHNA foods and drinks make it easier to find — and eat — good-for-you foods without additional time, effort, and cost. We target the lifestyle-related factors that make healthier eating hard, and find simple but creative solutions that actually work! Look for the emblem on labels wherever you shop for food!

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.[35] Instead, try a workout routine that strengthens your whole core, like yoga, or try abdominal presses and planking.[36]
Research also shows that workouts involving high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can help reduce excess fat around your middle. Besides working your core, try incorporating a day or two of more vigorous exercise into your weekly schedule. (You can start with these three beginner routines.) Keep in mind that you can lower your total body fat percentage even by moving around more at work, according to another study.
Men and women squirrel away fat differently, according to Harris-Pincus. On average, women have six to 11 percent more body fat than men. That extra fat typically gathers lower on the body (especially before they hit menopause) around the hips and thighs, creating a pear-shape. Men, on the other hand, tend to accumulate fat around the belly (hence, the beer gut).

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If you're eating fewer than 1,200 calories per day, your workouts will suffer and the constant stress on your body can lead to muscle loss and slow your metabolism, as we reported in 10 Things You Don't Know About Calories. If you're trying to eat super healthy, you might be surprised at how few calories you're actually eating—try tracking your daily intake with a food tracking app and make sure you're fueling your body, not depriving it of nutrients.
Eating dessert every day can be good for you, as long as you don’t overdo it. Make a spoonful of ice cream the jewel and a bowl of fruit the crown. Cut down on the chips by pairing each bite with lots of chunky, filling fresh salsa, suggests Jeff Novick, director of nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Florida. Balance a little cheese with a lot of fruit or salad.
A 2012 study also showed that people on a low-carb diet burned 300 more calories a day – while resting! According to one of the Harvard professors behind the study this advantage “would equal the number of calories typically burned in an hour of moderate-intensity physical activity”. Imagine that: an entire bonus hour of exercise every day, without actually exercising. A later, even larger and more carefully conducted study confirmed the effect, with different groups of people on low-carb diets burning an average of between 200 and almost 500 extra calories per day.
2. Eat five times a day. Yes, you heard that right. Dr. Ziltzer recommends eating three meals and two snacks a day, with the snacks limited to fewer than 200 calories each. Choose high-protein bites that will leave you satisfied for two to three hours, such as yogurt, beef jerky, boiled eggs, protein shakes, deli meats, and snack bars low in sugar. And don't forget to eat breakfast, which has been shown to help boost weight loss .

Sure, ketchup is tasty, but it’s also a serious saboteur when it comes your weight loss efforts. Ketchup is loaded with sugar — up to four grams per tablespoon — and bears little nutritional resemblance to the fruit from which it’s derived. Luckily, swapping out your ketchup for salsa can help you shave off that belly fat fast. Fresh tomatoes, like those used in salsa, are loaded with lycopene, which a study conducted at China Medical University in Taiwan links to reductions in both overall fat and waist circumference. If you like your salsa spicy, all the better; the capsaicin in hot peppers, like jalapeños and chipotles, can boost your metabolism, too.
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