For example, when it comes to hormones, ghrelin makes you hungry, leptin and other hormones keep you feeling full, Nadolsky says. Thyroid, cortisol, insulin, testosterone, and estrogen all influence how you metabolize and store energy. Meanwhile, genetics have a large influence on both basal metabolic rate (how many calories you burn just to live) and hormone health. While all of these things are impacted by our diet, they’re not only controlled by the way we eat. And, in fact, while sleep, stress management, and, when needed, medication can help regulate other hormone levels such as estrogen and thyroid, our hormones and other physiological processes are often out of our control. And by the way, being able to impact our hormone levels and metabolism with our diet doesn’t always work out in favor of weight loss. As a 2016 review notes, one of the reasons weight loss by way of caloric restriction isn’t efficacious is because “this strategy is countered by the body’s natural physiological response to negative energy balance.” In other words: The body fights back against caloric restriction.
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.
And beyond that, weight-loss efforts can take an emotional toll. “It can destroy your relationship with food. It can lead you to feel obsessed and frustrated,” Albers explains. For some people, quitting dieting is better and healthier than continuing to try to lose weight. And whatever a person’s weight-loss goal, the priority should be first and foremost on health. “Eating for health frees you up emotionally and is based on improving your body rather than rejecting your body,” she says.
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.
Switch to Lighter Alternatives. Whenever you can, use the low-fat versions of salad dressings, mayonnaise, dairy products, and other products. "You can trim calories effortlessly if you use low-fat and lighter products, and if the product is mixed in with other ingredients, no one will ever notice," says Magee. More smart substitutions: Use salsa or hummus as a dip; spread sandwiches with mustard instead of mayo; eat plain roasted sweet potatoes instead of loaded white potatoes; use skim milk instead of cream in your coffee; hold the cheese on sandwiches; and use a little vinaigrette on your salad instead of piling on the creamy dressing.
If you don’t have an established exercise routine, simply walking is the best first step toward weight loss. “Walking is a pretty good entry point for people,” says Gagliardi. This is particularly true if you have been out of the gym for a while and want to ease back into a workout routine. One small study published in The Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry found that obese women who did a walking program for 50 to 70 minutes three days per week for 12 weeks significantly slashed their visceral fat compared to a sedentary control group.
“Do what works for you,” Langer says. “And if something doesn’t, change it. There’s a million other ways to go about it. There are no absolutes in nutrition.” Case in point: In a 2018 JAMA study, when more 600 adults who were classified as overweight followed a low-fat or low-carb eating plan over the course of 12 months, everyone lost about the same amount of weight.
You don’t have to go low-carb to ditch those extra pounds around your waist in a short period of time. In fact, opting for more whole grains might just get you there faster. Researchers at Tufts University have linked eating three or more daily servings of whole grains to as much as a 10 percent reduction in visceral body fat, the kind that ups your risk for chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
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.
A diet that’s low in fat and carbohydrates can improve artery function, according to a 2012 study by Johns Hopkins researchers. After six months, those on the low-carb diet had lost more weight, and at a faster pace. But in both groups, when weight was lost—and especially when belly fat shrank—the arteries were able to expand better, allowing blood to travel more freely. The study shows that you don’t have to cut out all dietary fat to shrink belly fat. For heart health, simply losing weight and exercising seems to be key.
Thing is, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be in on the secret, too. Whether you’re planning a last-minute vacation, or auditioning for latest action movie there’s a method you can follow to get as lean and hard as possible, so your muscles look like they’ve been shrink-wrapped by your skin. Follow these seven steps to get “the body” for your big moment.
The first step might be symbolic. If you bring your least-favorite diet book to the Lakeshore Athletic Club Lincoln Park, 1320 W. Fullerton Ave., at 2 p.m. Sunday, Stevens will shred it in exchange for a copy of "The Overfed Head." The destroyed books will be recycled and could possibly end up as toilet paper, a fitting end from Stevens' perspective.
When the going gets tough (and it likely will from time to time along any weight loss journey), it’s important to realize that a host of non-food factors can make losing weight difficult, explains board-certified obesity medicine specialist Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., a diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. Hormones, genetics, and, ultimately, metabolism are three big ones, he says.
It’s impossible to target belly fat specifically when you diet. But losing weight overall will help shrink your waistline; more importantly, it will help reduce the dangerous layer of visceral fat, a type of fat within the abdominal cavity that you can’t see but that heightens health risks, says Kerry Stewart, Ed.D. , director of Clinical and Research Physiology at Johns Hopkins.
But just because belly fat comes off a bit more easily doesn’t make it less dangerous. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. “Belly fat is unfortunately the most dangerous location to store fat,” says Dr. Cheskin. Because belly fat—also known as visceral fat, or the deep abdominal fat that surrounds your organs—is more temporary, it’s more active in terms of circulating in the bloodstream. That means it’s likely to raise the amount of fat in your blood (known as blood lipid levels) and increase your blood sugar levels, which as a result raises your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Smith applies this same idea to diet. He maintains that if you eat the same foods all the time, your body adjusts to that specific diet. Your metabolism stabilizes and fat accumulates as a result. By varying the types and quantities of food you eat, you’ll prevent your metabolism from slowing down and trick your body into burning more calories. In this way, diet confusion keeps your metabolism off-kilter and fuels your fat-burning engines.
Eat Breakfast Every Day. One habit that's common to many people who have lost weight and kept it off is eating breakfast every day. "Many people think skipping breakfast is a great way to cut calories, but they usually end up eating more throughout the day, says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. "Studies show people who eat breakfast have lower BMIs than breakfast-skippers and perform better, whether at school or in the boardroom." Try a bowl of whole-grain cereal topped with fruit and low-fat dairy for a quick and nutritious start to your day.
That’s because strength training helps you build muscle, which will replace body fat. In fact, 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. Bonus: When your metabolic rate becomes faster due to muscle growth, you’ll have a little more wiggle room in your diet if that’s something you struggle with, says Dr. Cheskin.
While it’s often assumed that bread is off-limits when you’re trying to lose belly fat, the right bread may actually expedite the process. Switching to sprouted bread can help out carb-lovers eager to get their fix without going up a belt size, thanks to the inulin content of sprouted grains. The results of a study published in Nutrition & Metabolism reveal that found that pre-diabetic study subjects whose diets were supplemented with inulin shaved off more belly fat and total weight than those whose meal plans didn’t pack this healthy prebiotic fiber.