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!

You don’t have to stop eating all the things you like just to lose weight. Make small swaps to save calories here and there, and they'll add up—big time. Instead of a granola bar with 140+ calories and tons of added sugar, grab an apple for about 80 calories. Pick steamed rice and grilled chicken over fried rice and chicken. "You can also add vegetables to classic starch dishes to increase the water and fiber and lower the calories," says Cederquist. (Like swapping regular pasta for veggie noodles.) Cut out liquid calories by having primarily water, coffee, or tea instead of high-calorie coffee drinks. Baking? Reduce the amount of butter or sugar, or make healthy baking swaps like using apple sauce or Greek yogurt instead. 
Dieting and exercise go hand in hand. If you thought that only dieting will burn your belly fat, you are wrong. If you really want to lose weight, you need to include an hour of exercise in your daily routine for targeting and reducing belly fat. Here, we have compiled a list of 16 exercises that can help you reduce belly fat faster than you thought it would take:
Eat more protein. Protein is required by the body to repair damaged cells and plays a vital role in growth and development.[4] But it can also play a role in weight loss. Diets high in protein tend to make people feel fuller, and when paired with a reduction in carbohydrate intake these diets can help with weight loss.[5] However, it's important to remember that not all sources of protein are good for you: red meat and full-fat dairy products, though high in protein, can also increase the risk of heart disease.[6] Good sources of protein include:[7]
"Just as you can not influence where your body stores dreaded excess fat when it packs it on, you can't control where your metabolism opts to pull from when it taps into fat stores, which incidentally tends not to be from the region we gain it in the first place," Corey Phelps, founder and CEO of Cultivate by Corey and creator of the Cultivate365 program, told POPSUGAR.
We know that this type of fat—called visceral fat—churns out stress hormones like cortisol and inflammatory substances called cytokines that affect the body's production of insulin. The result: Besides obesity, you're also looking at increased risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. No thanks. Check out these nine tips to finally rid your body of that excess stomach.
Your body needs a certain amount of essential vitamins and minerals to function properly. What happens when you don’t get enough of them? What happens when you eat too little food, or when the food you eat isn’t sufficiently nutritious? Perhaps our bodies catch on and reply by increasing hunger levels. After all – if we eat more, we increase the chances of consuming enough of whatever nutrient we are lacking.
Women who wake up and go to bed at the same time each day have lower levels of body fat, according to a study of more than 300 women from Brigham Young University in Utah. Chaotic sleep habits cause your internal clock to go haywire, which in turn causes your body to secrete fat-storing hormones like cortisol. The sweet spot? Try not to stray an hour from your usual sleep pattern, the study authors say. More than a 90-minute difference in sleep and wake times were linked to more body fat. (Tossing and turning? Check out these 100 tips to sleep better every night.)
Core exercises will strengthen your abs, but they won’t eliminate the fat that lies beneath them. To do that, you have to ramp up your overall calorie burn with cardio (running, walking, biking). A Duke University study found that people who did moderate cardio for 178 minutes per week (roughly 30 minutes of walking six days per week) gained hardly any visceral fat over the course of eight months. Participants who worked out at a higher intensity (jogging) for a similar amount of time saw even better results — reducing their belly fat by almost 7 percent. To maximize your workout, try interval training, which alternates between high- and low-intensity cardio.
You don’t have to stop eating all the things you like just to lose weight. Make small swaps to save calories here and there, and they'll add up—big time. Instead of a granola bar with 140+ calories and tons of added sugar, grab an apple for about 80 calories. Pick steamed rice and grilled chicken over fried rice and chicken. "You can also add vegetables to classic starch dishes to increase the water and fiber and lower the calories," says Cederquist. (Like swapping regular pasta for veggie noodles.) Cut out liquid calories by having primarily water, coffee, or tea instead of high-calorie coffee drinks. Baking? Reduce the amount of butter or sugar, or make healthy baking swaps like using apple sauce or Greek yogurt instead. 
"Refined grains like white bread, crackers, and chips, as well as refined sugars in sweetened drinks and desserts increase inflammation in our bodies," says Patton. "Belly fat is associated with inflammation, so eating too many processed foods will hinder your ability to lose belly fat." Natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are full of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may therefore actually prevent belly fat, Patton says.
It's not real hunger–not like the painful hunger of starving people in impoverished countries. It's more of a mild ache, or an itch that you mustn't scratch. To be popular, a diet must somehow cope with this hunger. Weight Watchers does it with peer support. The food pyramid does it by encouraging you to eat unlimited celery. Some high-fat diets satisfy all your old cravings -- and figure you'll eventually cut back the butter you put on your bacon.
Don’t buy your tickets to Bonnaroo just yet; the kind of acid that will help you slim down is the stuff right inside your cabinet. A 12-week study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry reveals that obese study subjects who made vinegar part of their diet dropped more belly fat than a control group, and other research suggests that acidic foods, like vinegar, can increase the human carbohydrate metabolism by as much as 40 percent.
When you drink liquid carbs, like the sugar in soda, your body doesn't register them the same way as, say, a piece of bread, according to a review of studies published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care. That means, even though you're taking in calories, your fullness cues aren't likely to signal that you're satisfied once you finish off a can. And that can lead to consuming more overall.
You know that protein's essential for a slimmer you. But here's why protein really needs to play a prime roll on your plate: "Your body starts to produce more insulin as you age, since your muscle and fat cells aren't responding to it properly," explains Louis Aronne, M.D., director of the obesity clinic at Cornell University. Insulin promotes fat storage—especially around your belly—and a diet high in protein may protect you against insulin resistance, says Aronne. In one study, obese women who followed a diet for eight weeks that was roughly 30 perecent protein, 40 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat lost significantly more fat—including visceral pudge—than women who stuck to a plan that was 16 percent protein, 55 percent carbs, and 26 percent fat.
Having a larger waist circumference is a better indicator of health problems than commonly used measurements like body-mass index (BMI), according to a growing body of research. Specifically, having a waist size higher than 40 inches around for men or 34.5 inches for women is correlated with a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart attack. There's even evidence that having more belly fat is correlated with lower cognitive performance.
"When we’re lacking in sleep, our body’s hormones get thrown off balance which can impact our hunger levels the next day. We all have two hormones that affect our appetite: ghrelin and leptin. When we don’t get enough sleep, our ghrelin levels (the hormone that makes us feel hungry) rise, and our leptin levels (the hormone that makes us feel full) drop. This means that when we’re awake, we tend to eat more but feel less satisfied. Try going to bed a little earlier than usual to avoid this imbalance and remember to remove any distractions that might prevent you from nodding off."
Belly fat is, in fact, the colloquial term for abdominal fat. According to medical experts, belly fat can be potentially dangerous. Excess of it can lead to a number of health problems including heart diseases, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, a decrease in the level of HDL or good cholesterol, and can even lead to strokes or sleep apnea. You need to combat this problem before it gets too late.
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.
Stay hydrated. Drinking water throughout the day may help you from feeling hungry, which will help with weight control. A glass of water before meals has been shown to help people eat less. The exact amount of water you should consume depends on your own personal chemistry. The color of your urine will show you if you're dehydrated: if it's dark, you should be drinking more water.[5]

Basically, the effect of exercise on our weight is vastly overrated. That’s why it’s only number 15 on this list. There are other things you need to take care of first. It’s not a good idea to eat bad food, drink sugar water (so-called “sports drinks”) or be on medications which force you to exercise for hours daily just to compensate. Metaphorically that’s like digging a hole, into which you put your ladder, on which you stand and paint the basement-level windows of your house.
Eat more protein. Protein is required by the body to repair damaged cells and plays a vital role in growth and development.[4] But it can also play a role in weight loss. Diets high in protein tend to make people feel fuller, and when paired with a reduction in carbohydrate intake these diets can help with weight loss.[5] However, it's important to remember that not all sources of protein are good for you: red meat and full-fat dairy products, though high in protein, can also increase the risk of heart disease.[6] Good sources of protein include:[7]
At breakfast, go ahead and drink orange juice. But throughout the rest of the day, focus on water instead of juice or soda. The average American consumes an extra 245 calories a day from soft drinks. That’s nearly 90,000 calories a year—or 25 pounds! And research shows that despite the calories, sugary drinks don’t trigger a sense of fullness the way that food does.

"Refined grains like white bread, crackers, and chips, as well as refined sugars in sweetened drinks and desserts increase inflammation in our bodies," says Patton. "Belly fat is associated with inflammation, so eating too many processed foods will hinder your ability to lose belly fat." Natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are full of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may therefore actually prevent belly fat, Patton says.


Stop treating your kitchen like an all-night diner and you’ll stop seeing those unwanted pounds piling onto your frame, too. The results of a study published in Cell Metabolism found that mice who only had access to food during an eight-hour period stayed slim over the course of the study, while those who ate the same number of calories over a 16-hour period gained significantly more weight, particularly around their middle. When you’re finished with dinner at night, shut the fridge and don’t look back until morning — your belly will thank you. When you do head back to the kitchen in the A.M., make sure the 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen are there waiting for you.
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