It’s true that a caloric deficit—burning more calories per day than you take in—is a requisite of weight loss. But creating a deficit doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) involve deprivation. That goes for calories, carbs, sugar, fat, or any other commonly demonized nutrient. “No one food is responsible for your weight,” Langer says, explaining that a good vs. bad mentality sets people up for disordered eating and exercise habits. In fact, caloric deprivation increases how the brain responds to food, setting you up for binge-eating down the line, according to research from the Oregon Research Institute.
Physical activity helps burn abdominal fat. “One of the biggest benefits of exercise is that you get a lot of bang for your buck on body composition,” Stewart says. Exercise seems to work off belly fat in particular because it reduces circulating levels of insulin —which would otherwise signal the body to hang on to fat—and causes the liver to use up fatty acids, especially those nearby visceral fat deposits, he says.
Toning your abs when trying to lose belly fat is crucial as well. To make a traditional plank routine more challenging, add in side planks. Roll onto your left forearm and stack your right foot on top of your left. Hold this position for 60 seconds, then switch sides. Having only two points of contact rather than four works your core harder and challenges your obliques as well.
Want to lose that belly fat fast? In your dreams! Seriously, though: a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to get rid of that extra fat around your waist for good. Among the 60,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study, those who snoozed for fewer than five hours a night were at the greatest risk of becoming obese and gaining 30 or more pounds over the course of the 16-year study period when compared to those who slept for seven or more hours.
Going long periods of time without food does double-duty harm on our healthy eating efforts by both slowing down your metabolism, and priming you for another binge later in the day. (Think: You've skipped breakfast and lunch, so you're ready to takedown a whole turkey by dinner!) Make it your mission to eat three meals and two snacks every day, and don't wait longer than three to four hours without eating. Set a "snack alarm" on your phone if needed.
Build muscle. Muscle burns more calories than fat. So adding strength training to your exercise routine can help you reach your weight loss goals as well as give you a toned bod. And weights are not the only way to go: Try resistance bands, pilates, or push-ups to get strong. A good, well-balanced fitness routine includes aerobic workouts, strength training, and flexibility exercises.
In a new study, Stanford University researchers put more than 600 overweight adults on either a healthy low-fat or low-carb diet. It turns out, participants had similar levels of weight loss success on each plan. Researchers looked for clues (such as insulin levels and gene patterns) to see if there are any factors that might make someone more successful on either diet, but after combing through the data, they were not able to make any connections. Since it may take years before scientists discover individual traits that could lead to more success on one plan compared to another, for now, we can learn a lot — and lose a lot! — by recognizing the dieting advice that all experts agree on.
“Exercise should not be used to purge calories,” Albers says. “Instead, to boost your mood to keep you motivated.” The thing is, exercise is great for you and can make you feel awesome. And feeling good about yourself seems to be actually useful in weight-loss efforts. Plus, some research has shown that changes in exercise behavior can lead to changes in eating behavior. “In part, it is neurochemical. Movement and exercise you enjoy boosts your serotonin and dopamine levels, which makes you feel good all the way around,” Albers says.
The very notion of going “on” or “off” a diet is self-sabotaging. The key to sustainable weight loss is creating habits that you can (happily) live with pretty much forever, registered dietitian Georgie Fear, R.D., C.S.S.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss, tells SELF. And in a previous review from the University of Toronto, after examining 59 scientific weight-loss articles, including 48 randomized control trials, researchers concluded that how easy a diet is for you to stick with may actually be a much better predictor of your weight-loss success than the actual diet you choose.
"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."