This just in: Saturated fat packs on more visceral fat than polyunsaturated ones, according to a recent Swedish study. When subjects ate 750 more calories daily for seven weeks—either in the form of palm oil (saturated) or sunflower oil (polyunsaturated)—the former gained more visceral fat while the latter gained more muscle mass and less body fat. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in nuts, seeds, and fish.
Dairy products contain varying amounts of lactose (milk sugar), which slows down weight loss. What’s more, part of the protein in milk generates a significant insulin response, which can have the same effect. Consequently, cutting back on dairy products may accelerate weight loss. This applies especially to dairy products typically lacking in fat, such as regular milk and various yogurts, but be careful with full-fat dairy such as cream and cheese all the same. And don’t forget whey protein powder, which is pure milk protein.
One of the top belly fat-building offenders is stress — and not just because that bad day at work can make you feel like demolishing a pint of Cherry Garcia. When your body senses you're overwhelmed, it automatically starts producing cortisol — a hormone has been proven to eff with your body chemistry and stimulate extra fat storage in your gut. Yeah, sucks. When you're feeling worked up, close your eyes and take long, deep breaths for about five minutes. You'll immediately start to feel more relaxed, which should calm those hormones down and nix that belly sabotage.
Sure, high-intensity cardio can help you torch calories, but ideally, you’ll also need to pump some iron to build metabolism-boosting muscle. That’s because strength training is one of the few activities you can do to spike the amount of calories you burn, even after you’re done with your workout. Case in point: one 2012 review of research found that while completing a 20-minute resistance training circuit may help you burn 200 calories, your body’s resting metabolic rate stays elevated for the next hour, helping you burn an additional 50 calories. Plus, when you lose weight, you lose some muscle with it, so building and maintaining that lean mass will help you achieve a more toned look.
We get that the last thing you want to do when you're feeling puffy is chug water, but experts say it's critical to regulating your metabolic rate (and consequently, your body's fat-burning mechanisms). Drinking your recommended eight glasses of H2O daily will help your body run more efficiently, making your workouts and healthy eating efforts way more effective. Plus, the more water you drink, the more excess you'll flush out, so you wind up actually de-bloating as a result. Win-win.
"Your specific [weight loss] program may differ from someone else’s based on climate, geography, heredity, the quality of the food you’re buying, the volume in which you’re eating that food, and so much more. A lot people take advice that doesn’t honor themselves. What works for me is not going to work for you. It’s just not. So really, it’s [about] having an honest look at who you are, what your tendencies and triggers are, and how you can build a program that revolves around that.”
Science backs these ideas up when it comes shedding belly fat: In one study published in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers had overweight men and women follow a high-protein diet (30 percent protein, 40 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat) or a high-carb diet (15 percent protein, 55 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat). After one year of weight loss and maintenance, they found that the high-protein group experienced a 21 percent greater weight loss and 27 percent greater body fat loss on average than the high-carb group.
The final possible culprit behind stubborn weight issues may be the stress hormone, cortisol. Too much cortisol will increase hunger levels, bringing along subsequent weight gain. The most common cause of elevated cortisol is chronic stress and lack of sleep (see tip #10), or cortisone medication (tip #9). It’s a good idea to try your best to do something about this.
Thanks to the hormone estrogen, the female body likes to hold on to fat, too. A study in Obesity Reviews shows that women store fat more efficiently than men in an effort to prepare the body for pregnancy. But while it seems like women may have drawn the short-end of the stick, the stereotypical pear-shape is actually considered healthier than boasting a beer gut, because belly fat is a red flag when it comes to your health. “Visceral fat is associated with increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome,” says Harris-Pincus.
At the same time, wearing clothes you can actually move in (read: not stilettos and a tiny pencil skirt) to work might help keep you active during the day instead of parked at your desk. A study by the American Council on Exercise found that people took an average of eight percent more steps on days that they wore jeans instead of conventional business clothes. You officially have a health excuse to ask for casual Friday every day.
Belly fat is is different from fat elsewhere in your body. The extra weight some people carry around their waists, arms, and love handles isn’t the same — that’s subcutaneous fat, which sits beneath the skin and is relatively harmless, according to Harvard Medical School. The stuff in your belly, visceral fat, lodges deeper down, around your abdominal organs. It's metabolically active tissue that actually functions like a separate organ, releasing substances into the rest of your body that, in excess, can increase your risk of disease.
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.
To banish stubborn belly fat, you have to ramp up your workouts. In a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, people who completed a high-intensity workout regimen lost more belly fat than those who followed a low-intensity plan. (In fact, the low-intensity exercises experienced no significant changes at all.) "You need to exercise at full intensity because the end goal is to burn more calories, and high intensity exercise does just that," says Natalie Jill, a San Diego, Calif.-based certified personal trainer. High intensity workouts mean you're going all out for as long as you can. If this sounds intimidating, think of it this way: you'll burn more calories in less time.
Measure your waist to learn if you have too much belly fat. Wrap the tape measure around your stomach, just above your hipbone. Pull the tape tight, but not so tight that it pinches you. It should fit snugly and be even all the way around. When you've got the tape measure in place, exhale and relax. Pinch your thumb and forefinger together at the measuring tape, in order to see what your measurement is.