Thinking about your clothes might seem more like a post-weight loss celebration than a weight loss strategy, but research and experts actually suggest otherwise. "Ample room and elastic waistbands are not your friends, because they let you get away with ignoring your body, along with the warning signs that you may be eating too much," says weight loss and fitness expert Jenna Wolfe in her book Thinner In 30. "Instead, stick with non-stretch jeans and clothes with enough room to spare but snug enough to remind you of your goals."
"Feeling stressed can wreak havoc on our bodies. It can cause our body to produce the steroid hormone cortisol, which can make you crave sugary foods that provide instant energy and pleasure. Short-term bursts of cortisol are necessary to help us cope with immediate danger, but our body will also release this hormone if we’re feeling stressed or anxious. When our cortisol levels are high for a long amount of time, it can increase the amount of fat you hold in your belly."
The scale is not necessarily your friend. You may want to lose fat – but the scale measures muscles, bone and internal organs as well. Gaining muscle is a good thing. Thus weight or BMI are imperfect ways to measure your progress. This is especially true if you’re just coming off a long period of semi-starvation (calorie counting), as your body may want to restore lost muscles etc. Starting weight training and gaining muscle can also hide your fat loss.
"Anytime you’re stressed, you probably go for food," Dr. Seltzer says. (Have we met?!) That’s because cortisol, the stress hormone, stokes your appetite for sugary, fatty foods. No wonder it’s associated with higher body weight, according to a 2007 Obesity study that quantified chronic stress exposure by looking at cortisol concentrations in more than 2,000 adults’ hair.
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.)
3. Up your nutrition game in the kitchen. Take a healthy-cooking class or look for free seminars about healthy eating run by health professionals, suggests Sopov. “Everyone could benefit from talking to a registered dietitian who will take the time to pinpoint what behaviors and changes in diet will work best for your lifestyle,” she says. Check out the offerings at your local grocery store — many now have nutritionists on staff to help you reach your healthy eating goals.
If you’ve been eating fast food for years, get real about your approach: You’re probably not going to stick to an organic, gluten-free, paleo overhaul for very long. "You want to change as little as possible to create calorie deficit," says Dr. Seltzer, who insists the best way to support sustainable weight loss is to incorporate small changes into existing habits. So instead of giving up your daily BLT bagels in favor of an egg-white wrap, try ordering your sandwich on a lighter English muffin. Or say you eat a snack bar every afternoon: Swap your 300-calorie bar for a 150-calorie alternative. "Your brain will feel the same way about it, so you won’t feel deprived," he says.
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.
Try this interval-training trick on the elliptical trainer: Ride for 30 seconds as fast as you can, then immediately reverse your direction and ride for 30 additional seconds just as fast in the opposite direction. Rest 60 seconds, and repeat. The force of stopping your momentum, as well as going from a dead stop to full speed twice in the same interval, will give your fat-burning efforts a massive boost, says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S.
Routinely squeaking by on five hours or less per night increases visceral fat levels, according to a 2010 Wake Forest University study. What’s more, after analyzing 28 different studies, UK researchers found that people who slept 5.5 hours or less per night ate an extra 385 calories the day after compared to those who snoozed for at least 7 to 12 hours. On top of that, they preferred to munch on fatty foods full of empty calories, like chips.
“It seems so simple, but 45 to 60 minutes of brisk walking every day can do wonders for your metabolism,” Sahmura Gonzalez, a master trainer at Crunch Fitness in New York City, recently told Prevention. “Plus, it ensures that you don’t over-train, which can lead to an over-production of cortisol—a stress hormone that’s been shown to contribute to belly fat.”
A trim midsection is good for many things, like fitting into your favorite jeans or walking the beach in a swimsuit with confidence. But there are even better reasons to work off extra baggage around your stomach. That baggage, known as visceral fat, isn’t just the most annoying kind — it’s also the most dangerous. As it forms between your organs, deep within your abdominal cavity, it secretes proteins that can trigger chronic inflammation, putting you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
"Your body needs a healthy balance of exercise and rest. Doing too much prevents the body from shifting excess fat. Exercising without rest can impact our levels of the steroid hormone cortisol and cause an increase of stubborn fat stored in the belly. Not allowing your body to recover can increase the risk of injury too, so make sure you factor in rest days to your plan."
It's a one-time investment you'll never regret. Here's why: Strength training builds lean muscle tissue, which burns more calories — at work or at rest — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The more lean muscle you have, the faster you'll slim down. How do you start strength training? Try some push-ups or a few squats or lunges. Use your free weights to perform simple bicep curls or tricep pulls right in your home or office. Do these exercises three to four times per week, and you'll soon see a rapid improvement in your physique.
Every time you complete 10 reps on the rowing machine, lift the handles straight up over your head—without bending your elbows—for two consecutive repetitions before returning to normal rowing form. This works your shoulders and back harder, as well as your legs, since they have to produce more power to give you the momentum to perform the move, says McGarr.
If you want to know how to lose belly fat then listen up: cutting out carbs and forcing your body through endless HIIT workouts aren't the answer for shifting lbs from your midriff. In fact, there's no one formula to spot reduce a wobbly waist because several factors affect how to lose belly fat: mental well being, cortisol levels, hormones, nutrition, the intensity of your workouts all play a part.
It should come as no surprise that the more strength training you do, the more muscle mass you'll acquire — a good thing, considering all the metabolism-boosting benefits of muscle mass. Here's the catch: While muscles take up less room than fat, they weigh more than fat by volume. In other words, when you amp up your workouts, you might notice your pants fitting better without any change in your weight. It's why you'll feel much better if you step away from the scale and toward the mirror, where you'll really see your efforts paying off. 💪