Still not convinced to make sleep a priority? A lack of sleep doesn't only affect how much and which food you eat, but also how it metabolizes that food. Insufficient sleep messes with your metabolism by making your body more insulin resistant—a condition that usually leads to diabetes and weight gain—according to a 2012 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. (And, get this, it even changes your fat cells.)
The upshot of all these chemicals floating around is big trouble for big-bellied guys. In a study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers took 137 men of all ages and sizes and used seven different measurements to determine their risks of cardiovascular disease. The single best sign of multiple heart-disease risks? No, it wasn't the guys' family histories or their cholesterol profiles. It was the amount of abdominal fat they carried.
If you're among the 30% of Americans who sleep less than six hours a night, here's one simple way to whittle your waistline: catch more Zs. A 16-year study of almost 70,000 women found that those who slept five hours or less a night were 30% more likely to gain 30 or more pounds than those who slept 7 hours. The National Institutes of Health suggest adults sleep seven to eight hours a night.
Support your weight loss and exercise program by getting between 1.2 and 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram (or 0.55 and 0.73 grams per pound) of your body weight, recommends research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013. For a 200-pound woman, this would suggest you aim for 110 to 146 grams of protein daily, split up among three to five meals.
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.
Carbohydrates are a touchy subject: while some blame them for all fat gain, it’s the type of carbs you eat that’s key. A 2011 study out of the University of Alabama found that a diet that slightly cut back on carbs, and which comprised mostly low-GI carbohydrates, lost more deep abdominal fat than those who ate a lower-fat diet. GI stands for glycemic index, a measure of how fast carbohydrates supply your body with energy: high-GI foods make you spike then crash, while low-GI foods provide a slow burn.
Are you finding it difficult to fit into your little black number? Is belly fat giving you sleepless nights? If your answer is yes, you need to make some lifestyle changes to get the figure of your dreams. No doubt, belly fat looks aesthetically displeasing. It can assume serious proportions and affect long term health, if not curbed at the right time.
‘Do it for a couple of minutes in bed and you’ll actually be able to wind down and fall asleep more easily. But it’s a skill, so it requires a commitment to practice it, as with anything. Think of it a bit like dating – the first time you do it it’s terrible, it’s uncomfortable, nobody knows what they’re doing, but the more dates you go on the better it gets.
The 2003 research indicated that exercise is a top weapon against visceral fat, backed up by a 2011 study which found that aerobic exercise is basically a magic bullet. Aerobic exercise is known to most people as cardio — activities such as running and cycling, as opposed to resistance training (where you lift heavy stuff around). While participants in the study worked fairly hard (jogging 20km per week at a high intensity), the researchers said lower-intensity but longer workouts should have similar benefits.
Sometimes, to whip your body into shape, you have to get a little nutty. While nuts are high in fat, it’s that very fat that makes them such powerful weapons in the war against a ballooning belly. In fact, research from Reina Sofia University Hospital reveals that study participants who consumed a diet rich in monounsaturated fats, like those in nuts, over a 28-day period gained less belly fat than their saturated fat-consuming counterparts while improving their insulin sensitivity.