If there's one part of the body that most of us would like to be free of excess fat, it's the belly. After all, nicknames like spare tire, muffin top and beer gut aren't exactly terms of endearment.
Don't fall for fads promising lightning-fast weight loss or six-pack abs in just a few days. Here's what really works when it comes to trimming your tummy and keeping visceral fat at bay.
When you think about exercise for a flatter belly, your mind may immediately go to crunches and other core-targeting moves. But while abdominal exercises can tighten the muscles and make the abdomen look better, these moves won't actually trim down the fat around your waist.
Compared to low-fat diets, Dr. Petre maintains that lower-carb diets are better when it comes to blasting visceral fat. One important study, published August 2019 in the Journal of Hepatology, found that a lower-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet was more effective at reducing belly fat than a diet lower in fat.
Ilana Muhlstein, RD, dietitian and co-creator of Beachbody's 2B Mindset, is a fan of cruciferous veggies — such as cabbage, arugula, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts — as great belly fat-blasting fuel. "They are low in calories but high in fiber," she explains.
"I had a mentor trainer years ago tell me to think like there's a line of ants crawling under the small curve of your back and you need to squish the ants. It really stuck with me."
Research has established a link between sleep and visceral fat, Dr. Petre says. Indeed, a May 2014 study published in Obesity found that those who sleep a healthy amount of time — defined by researchers as seven to eight hours a day — gained significantly less visceral fat than those who slept too little or too much.
Speaking of cortisol, research has also connected higher stress levels to more belly fat. "High cortisol levels can actually increase your visceral fat, as the hormone is known to increase the amount of fat that clings to your body and magnifies the growth of your fat cells," Dr. Petre says.
Because there are so many components involved in blasting belly fat, Dr. Petre says that motivation and commitment are key — even when you don't see results right away. A program that focuses on whole foods, fiber and regular exercise along with a de-stress plan will allow you to see a waistline again, she says. "You can push past your genetics and bad habits to get rid of that elastic waistband forever."
Weight loss is a systemic process, which means that energy (read: fat) is burned at an equal rate throughout the body, Dr. Petre says. In other words, your body doesn't burn fat from any one particular area before any other.
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