Losing weight is hard—it takes a lot of sweat and starvation, right? Well, actually, it doesn't have to. While hitting the gym and eating healthy is the surefire way to be your healthiest, fittest self, sometimes you need to start small or build up some extra credit to get over that plateau. That's where these 10 little tricks (backed by science!) will come in handy to help you drop pounds without even trying.
There's one thing to like about visceral fat: It yields fairly easily to aerobic exercise. Running, biking, or swimming—basically anything that gets your heart rate up—wins over resistance training when it comes to getting rid of the stuff. A recent study from Duke University found that jogging the equivalent of 12 miles a week is enough to melt belly fat.
Nuts. It’s very easy to eat until the nuts are gone, regardless of how full you are. A tip: According to science, salted nuts are harder to stop eating than unsalted nuts. Salted nuts tempt you to more overeating. Good to know. Another tip: Avoid bringing the entire bag to the couch, preferably choose a small bowl instead. I often eat all the nuts in front of me, whether I’m hungry or not.
"Protein is great for fat loss. It helps build and preserve lean muscle tissue and can increase the amount of calories you burn. It’s also a great source of energy that helps you feel fuller for longer, so you’re less tempted to snack. Good sources include chicken breast, tuna, eggs, milk and chickpeas. And if you’re finding it difficult to avoid snacks that are high in carbohydrates, try substituting them for protein shakes or bars. Remember also to opt for the lean sources of protein because some sources can be high in saturated fat."
Think sweets are the enemy of weight loss success? Not so fast: dark chocolate might just be your best friend for weight loss (and that doesn't even include these other 5 Health Benefits of Eating Chocolate). Researchers at the University of Copenhagen fed healthy young men 100g of either milk or dark chocolate first thing in the morning, then had them rate their hunger level and fed them a meal of pizza two hours later. They found that the men who had dark chocolate were felt more satisfied after eating the chocolate, were less hungry, and ate less (17 percent fewer calories than the milk chocolate eaters) when offered pizza at their next meal.
If you want to lose weight you should start by avoiding sugar and starch (like bread, pasta and potatoes). This is an old idea: For 150 years or more there have been a huge number of weight-loss diets based on eating fewer carbs. What’s new is that dozens of modern scientific studies have proven that, yes, low carb is the most effective way to lose weight.
Here's something else most people probably don't know: Fidgeting is good for you. It's considered a nonexercise physical activity, and it's an important way to burn energy. You get more health benefits if, in addition to exercising, you are a more fidgety, more active person the rest of the day. This means gesturing while you're talking, tapping your foot, just moving around.
Cut back on calories. The most important part of losing weight is not working out until you collapse — it's your diet. If you burn 500 to 750 more calories than what you eat every day, you will lose 1–2 pounds every week (any more than that is considered unsafe weight loss). There are tons of little changes you can make to cut calories from your diet, from replacing high-calorie dressings with vinaigrette and asking for all dressings/sauces served on the side, eating at the table instead of in front of the tv, skipping cheese and other fatty additions to your salads and meals, using smaller plates, leave off the whipped cream on your coffee drink, and on and on.
4. Beware of 100-calorie snack packs. “These tend to be high in sugar and low in protein, so they don’t fill you up,” Ziltzer says. “Instead, they spike insulin, a hormone that builds fat.” For example, a 100-calorie pack of mini chocolate chip cookies has 1 g of protein and 8.5 g of sugar. A cup of edamame, on the other hand, packs 17 g of protein and 3 g of sugar for 189 calories. Another reason to cut down on sugar: It can help control symptoms of PMS, the NIH notes.
Postmenopausal women who tried yoga for 16 weeks reported significant reductions in visceral fat in one 2012 study. If you're just not that into downward dog, any sort of relaxation exercise (even simple deep breathing) can help. The key is to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to belly fat. (Try these two-minute stress solutions to calm down fast.)
The most common mistake you're probably making when doing abs work is jumping in without limbering up, causing you to do most of the work with your hips and back. See, your core muscles are harder to activate when the areas surrounding it are still tense. Try this: Before doing a single crunch, put a foam roller in the center of your back at the edge of your shoulder blades and stretch back over the roller, arms up. Repeat until the middle part of your back, which tends to get pulled the most during improper abs work, feels loose.
1. Bicycle Crunches are a great ab exercise and work the abs from every angle. It’s a combination of the regular crunch, a side-to-side motion that hits the oblique muscles and a reverse crunch that targets the lower abs. You can change the difficulty level by increasing or decreasing the range of motion used and the speed of movement as well as the intensity of the crunch by holding and squeezing.
8. Find friends with similar goals. Obesity can be “contagious,” meaning you could gain weight if you hang out with people who are obese, suggests a 2007 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. That’s not to say you should give someone the cold shoulder because of their weight. But keep in mind that your peers have an influence on the choices you make, Bowden says. Surround yourself with friends who enjoy getting active (like the ones who think a 10-mile hike on the weekend is a good time).
People with chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to carry excess visceral fat. Foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI), which uses a ranking system of 0 to 100, cause more rapid spikes in your blood sugar, in turn triggering the release of cortisol when glucose levels crash. The constant up and down of your blood sugar levels can also lead to insulin resistance — the first step on the road to type 2 diabetes. To help keep cortisol levels stable, choose low-GI foods (with a rating of 55 or less) like beans, lentils, and chickpeas, instead of high-GI options like white rice and potatoes. To find the GI rating of your foods, use the University of Sydney’s database at glycemicindex.com.
The researchers hypothesize that participants who abstained from animal products dropped significantly more pounds since plant-based foods include loads of filling fiber and slow-to-digest complex carbs. Though more research is needed to confirm these results, the study authors write, "Vegetarian diets appeared to have significant benefits on weight reduction compared to non-vegetarian diets."
And maybe a new mattress, because it’s not just the amount of time you spend sleeping that keeps you lean, it’s also the quality of your sleep. Fat cells in your body produce a hormone called leptin that helps the body keep track of how much potential energy (i.e. fat) it has stored. But leptin is only produced during certain stages of sleep. Miss out on those stages because you’re not resting soundly enough, and you’ll disturb levels of the hormone, leaving your body with no real idea of its energy reserves. Consequently, you’ll end up storing calories rather than burning them.
Do you even lift, bro? If you’re serious about getting rid of that belly fat fast, resistance training might just be the key. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that adding weight training to adult male test subjects’ workouts significantly reduced their risk of abdominal obesity over a multi-year study period, although doing the same amount of cardio had no such effect. Research from the University of Maryland even found that just 16 weeks of weight training boosted study participants’ metabolic rates by a whopping 7.7 percent, making it easier to ditch those extra inches around your middle.