7. Break a sweat any way you can. Whether you choose to walk, run, bike, swim, dance, or play a sport, getting your heart pumping is crucial when it comes to losing or maintaining your weight. If you’re looking to simply maintain your weight, aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of more intense exercise each week, suggests the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your goal is to drop pounds, you might need to sweat it out more often.
If you eat your dinner restaurant style on your plate rather than family style, helping yourself from bowls and platters on the table, you’ll lose weight. Most of us tend to eat an average of 150 percent more calories in the evening than in the morning. You’ll avoid that now because when your plate is empty, you’re finished; there’s no reaching for seconds.
But don’t lose hope just yet. You can still incorporate strategies that help you lose total body fat, which will benefit your belly. At the end of the day, nothing sheds belly fat like diet, exercise, and everyday changes to your lifestyle. The slimmer stomach of your dreams is always within reach, but it takes time and dedication. Commit to these habits, and you’ll start dropping pounds before you know it.
It's been proven by research too: eating attentively was shown to have a direct influence on the amount of food consumed, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. People who ate a meal while distracted ate a moderate amount more than non-distracted eaters—plus, the distracted eaters ate more food than the non-distracted eaters later in the day. Removing visual information about the amount of food eaten during the meal also led to an increase in the amount of food consumed. The takeaway: The less you focus on your food and the more you focus on the TV/computer/smartphone in front of you, the less satisfied you'll be and the more you'll be inclined to eat now and later. (This isn't the only part your brain plays in your appetite; here's how to trick your brain into healthy eating.)
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.
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.
If you're eating fewer than 1,200 calories per day, your workouts will suffer and the constant stress on your body can lead to muscle loss and slow your metabolism, as we reported in 10 Things You Don't Know About Calories. If you're trying to eat super healthy, you might be surprised at how few calories you're actually eating—try tracking your daily intake with a food tracking app and make sure you're fueling your body, not depriving it of nutrients.
For example, in one study, they found that serving yourself from the stove or counter will prompt you to eat 19 percent less food than if the food platters are right in front of you, say, at the dinner table. Another study found that a person who has breakfast cereal on their counter weighs on average 21 pounds more than those who don't, while other research shows that a generally chaotic or cluttered kitchen is linked to over-eating and indulging. This goes beyond the kitchen too; at restaurants, diners furthest from the front door are 73 percent more likely to order dessert and people who have snacks in or on their desks report weighing about 15 lbs more than those who don't according to Wansink.
A daily run or Spin class is great for your heart, but cardio workouts alone won't do much for your waist. "You need to do a combination of weights and cardiovascular training," says Sangeeta Kashyap, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. Strength training increases muscle mass, which sets your body up to burn more fat. "Muscle burns more calories than fat, and therefore you naturally burn more calories throughout the day by having more muscle," says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. Patton recommends 250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 125 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week.
Real talk: It could take weeks or months to see the metabolic effects of exercise on the scale, and even then, building muscle, which is denser than body fat, could lead to weight gain. "Do what you like because it’s good for you," Dr. Seltzer says, noting the way exercise is awesome for your heart, mental health, and more—and that not all measure of progress can be seen on the scale.
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.
A study from Canada’s McMaster University (partly funded by Dairy Farmers of Canada) put women on several different diets (lower protein, low dairy; lower protein, medium dairy; higher protein, high dairy) and found they all lost the same amount of weight — but that the higher-protein, high-dairy group lost the most belly fat while also gaining and holding onto the most muscle mass. “It seems… increasing calcium and protein in the diet may help to further promote loss of fat from the worst storage area in the body,” said Andrea Josse, lead author of the study.
Awesome news: Turns out marathoning for an hour on the treadmill isn't only boring as hell, but it doesn't even give you that great of a workout. Experts say if you're trying to flatten your abs, one of the most effective methods is actually interval training, which means incorporating short bursts of high-intensity burnouts into whatever you're doing, whether that's running, squats, whatever. And bonus — it'll keep you burning calories for up to 16 hours post-exercise. Um, we'll take it.
To prep his patients for success, Dr. Seltzer tells them to plan around a large evening meal by eating a lighter breakfast and lunch—NBD since most people who eat a meal before bed tend to wake up feeling relatively full, he says. Research suggests balanced bedtime meals may also promote steady next-day blood sugar levels, which also helps with appetite regulation.
"When going out for fast food, I used to get the large-size value meal. Now, I satisfy a craving by ordering just one item: a small order of fries or a six-piece box of chicken nuggets. So far, I've shaved off 16 pounds in seven weeks, and I'm on track to being thinner than my high school self for my 10-year reunion later this year." —Miranda Jarrell, Birmingham, AL