Americans are getting less sleep than ever these days and it’s taking a toll on our health—most visibly on our waistlines. Losing just 30 minutes of sleep per night can make you gain weight, according to a study done by the Endocrine Society. Worse, that weight is more likely to go straight to your tummy. Instead, the researchers found, the best sleep cycle is one that follows your natural circadian rhythms, which means sleeping and waking around the same time as the sun. Here are the 7 ways to banish belly bloat in your sleep.
We all get by with a little help from our friends, and this is especially true of people who have lost weight and kept it off. In one study among women who went through a 12-week weight loss program, 74 percent of them maintained their loss or lost more in the three years after the program ended. Those who reported having a support system around eating well were more likely to keep the weight off. (Support around exercise didn’t seem to matter.) Another study found that the type of support you receive matters, too. Your friend who’s cheering you on isn’t likely to be as helpful as your friend who will pass on the fries when you’re trying to eat well. When you’re going out to eat, join friends who will support your healthy eating goals and go to a museum or movie with those who are less likely to be in it with you. Your pals who are in the trenches with you are more likely to hold you accountable, and that’s going to help you in the long run.
"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
Probably. If you have overweight or obesity, your risk for many health problems is higher than that of women who are at a normal weight. Even a small amount of weight loss can lower your risk for or even prevent health problems like diabetes and heart disease. Calculate your body mass index (BMI) to see whether you’re at a healthy weight. If you have overweight or obesity, start by making small changes to your eating habits and getting more physical activity.
Fennel, peppermint, and ginger have all been shown in research studies to have calming effects on the belly. They work by enhancing digestive enzymes so your food gets moved through your system faster. And faster-moving food means a flatter tummy. In addition, peppermint reduces cramping and gas, ginger helps with nausea and inflammation, and fennel is a diuretic to help you stop retaining water.
The researchers hypothesize that participants who abstained from animal products dropped significantly more pounds since plant-based foods include loads of filling fiber and slow-to-digest complex carbs. Though more research is needed to confirm these results, the study authors write, "Vegetarian diets appeared to have significant benefits on weight reduction compared to non-vegetarian diets."
Food preferences: Think about whether the foods on a given diet are things that you generally enjoy. If you hate eating greens, you won’t like a diet filled with salads; but if you have a sweet tooth, a diet that substitutes milkshakes for meals might be more your speed. Consider a diet's overall approach to food and ask yourself, realistically, if you can eat the foods on this plan more or less for the rest of your life? And will you enjoy the foods on a given diet plan, or if it will feel like a “diet” food that you won’t be able to stick with long-term?
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.
You’re only losing one or two pounds a week. Sustainable weight loss is slow and steady. “It depends on where you start — if you have quite a bit of weight to lose, you tend to lose the initial weight faster,” noted Dr. Steinbaum, “but losing more than a pound a week is quite a bit. A gradual decrease in weight loss implies that your dietary changes are sustainable. If you lose weight very quickly, it means that there has been a calorie restriction or an increase in activity that is really significant, and it is really hard to sustain that.” That’s why so many yo-yo dieters gain the weight back. But aiming for smaller targets can add up to big changes -- and reaps more health benefits than the numbers on the scale suggest. “Even when you lose only 3% of your body weight (six pounds for a 200-pound person), your blood sugar improves; your insulin sensitivity is improved; inflammation goes down; your cholesterol goes down,” said Dr. Arad. “You don’t have to cut down half of your weight; even losing 3% to 5% is an excellent goal.”
Walking puts all of the abdominal muscles to work. Make sure you swing your arms and contract your midsection while you walk, and maintain a brisk pace. Once you get your body accustomed to a daily walk, you'll hate to go a day without it. Walk for at least thirty minutes each time to achieve the aerobic effect, and be sure to drink plenty of water.
“I started my 78-pound weight-loss journey by tracking everything I ate with the Lose It! app. I track right after I finish because if I wait until later, I don’t always remember. Sometimes I’ll even record before I eat, so I know if I have enough calories for the day. That, paired with daily weigh-ins helps to keep me accountable.” —Kari Hammond, 42
That doesn’t mean you need to ditch the scale, though. Studies continue to point to the fact that monitoring your weight can be an effective strategy for losing weight and discouraging weight gain (another healthy pursuit) provided it doesn’t cause any emotional distress. Just don’t get married to a number on the scale or get caught up in a set number of pounds you’d like to lose. Instead, settle on how you’d like to feel. Maybe you’d like to be more energetic or perhaps you’d like to manage your health without the need for medications. You can accomplish these goals without losing much weight.
Avoid fad diets. It's never a good idea to trade meals for shakes or to give up a food group in the hope that you'll lose weight — we all need a variety of foods to get the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Avoid diet pills (even the over-the-counter or herbal variety). They can be dangerous to your health; besides, there's no evidence that they help keep weight off over the long term.
Frozen meals are super-convenient. They’re cheap, easy to throw in your bag as you’re running out the door, and take just three minutes to cook. While your 300-calorie Lean Cuisine may seem like a waist-friendly option, it’s not. Most frozen meals are loaded with sodium—as much as you should eat over a full day, not just in one meal—and lots of other synthetic additives. Sodium packs on water weight, as the body needs to maintain a balance in the body, and when you’re thirsty, you could reach for a sugary beverage, which adds hundreds of more calories. Salt also makes food taste better, prompting you to shovel more of it in your mouth. Another problem with frozen meals is they frequently lack sufficient fiber to keep you full, so you’re likely to find yourself sneaking back into the kitchen shortly after you’ve eaten. If you must eat a frozen meal, consider adding a serving or two of frozen vegetables to boost the fiber and fullness quotient and dilute the sodium.
Don't banish certain foods. Don't tell yourself you'll never again eat your absolutely favorite peanut butter chocolate ice cream. Making all treats forbidden is sure to make you want them even more. The key to long-term success is making healthy choices most of the time. If you want a piece of cake at a party, go for it! But munch on the carrots rather than the chips to balance it out.
Ultimately, weight loss for the long-term requires some short-term behavior change and healthier habit formation. That's why we created our Good Housekeeping Nutritionist Approved Emblem, which exists to help turn smart food choices into healthier eating habits. All GHNA foods and drinks make it easier to find — and eat — good-for-you foods without additional time, effort, and cost. We target the lifestyle-related factors that make healthier eating hard, and find simple but creative solutions that actually work! Look for the emblem on labels wherever you shop for food!
Even better, once you start lifting challenging weights, you'll see major changes happen in your body, more than you do with cardio which burns calories but doesn't help you build muscle. Don't forget that you're building strong bones and preserving your muscle mass, which means you can control the weight gain that comes with age and lack of exercise.
Also, while your menstrual cycle may not affect weight gain or loss, losing or gaining weight can affect your menstrual cycle. Women who lose too much weight or lose weight too quickly may stop having a period, or have irregular periods. Women who have obesity may also have irregular periods. A regular period is a sign of good health. Reaching a healthy weight can help women who have irregular periods to have cycles that are more regular. Learn more in our Menstrual Cycle section.
DO IT: Assume a pushup position with your hands below your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from your head to your heels. This is the starting position. Lifting your right foot off of the floor, drive your right knee towards your chest. Tap the floor with your right foot and then return to the starting position. Alternate legs with each repetition.
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.
If you want to shrink your gut, get enough protein in your diet. In this case, about 25 percent of calories. Why? For starters, protein makes you feel full and helps you build muscle (which increases metabolism, thereby making it easier to lose weight). Just as important, high-protein diets have been shown to be the best way of attacking belly fat. In one study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, Danish researchers put 65 people on either a 12 percent protein diet or a 25 percent protein diet. The low-protein dieters lost an average of 11 pounds, which isn't bad. But the high-protein subjects lost an average of 20 pounds--including twice as much abdominal fat as the low-protein group.
When you exercise on the rowing machine, try this interval workout: Row for 60 seconds, note the distance on the machine, then rest 60 seconds. Repeat, only this time, row for 55 seconds and try to match or better your distance from the first time. Rest 55 seconds, then repeat, reducing the time to 50 seconds. Continue until you can’t beat your original distance.
Noom: To help you figure out how to prioritize or limit food items, Noom offers color coding. Green means go for it — “green” foods include veggies and grains, and these should make up a solid 30% of your diet. “Yellow” foods include lean meats and starches, and these can account for a touch more — 45%. “Red” foods (red meats and sweets) should appear less than both green and yellow, around 25%. When you log meals, the app lets you know how well you’re aligning with these proportions.
When researchers at the University of Tennessee put a group of volunteers on one of two diets—one high in calcium and one not—and cut each group’s calorie intake by 500 calories, they found that the people getting calcium lost twice as much weight (an average of 13lbs) compared with people on the standard diet. Study author Michael Zemel, Ph.D., believes extra calcium helps the body burn more—and store less—fat.
If you're specifically looking to target your belly, we have some bad news: you can't spot-target fat loss. That means you can do crunches or planks all day long, but you won't specifically burn belly fat. Instead, you can lose body fat overall, including from your belly. And by avoiding certain belly-bloating foods and with some strategic exercise, you will inevitably see results in your belly.
If you like the idea of an actually useful app, but aren’t interested in tons of interaction or paying a large membership fee, we suggest MyFitnessPal. There are lots of nearly identical apps on the market, but this one provides the easiest, quickest food tracking we experienced, plus advanced options like goal setting and nutrition analysis. For education and support, you’ll have to turn to outside sources.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can't digest, and it helps regulate the body's use of sugar as it slowly passes through your digestive system. Increasing your daily fiber intake can result in greater satisfaction after meals, less blood-sugar spiking and crashing, and subsequent reductions in the amount of calories eaten for the rest of the day. When trying to trim belly fat, aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber in your diet each day. Foods that are rich in fiber include pulses, like lentils and beans; apples and pears, with the skin; nuts and seeds; and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Try this recipe for Tabbouleh with Chickpeas for a fiber-packed side dish or a one-dish dinner!
“Starting slow and working your way up is better than overdoing it and giving up,” says Gagliardi. “I like the idea of attaching the new behavior of taking a walk to an existing behavior.” An easy way to approach it: Commit to going for a quick 10-minute walk after dinner, and slowly increase the time as you become more comfortable with daily movement.
This is what's known as insulin resistance. Basically, when your body doesn't respond well to insulin, it actually makes more of the stuff, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. And that can lead to fat storage, especially around the middle of your body. That's where protein comes into play: A diet high in protein may protect you against insulin resistance, says Aronne.
Choose Liquid Calories Wisely. Sweetened drinks pile on the calories, but don't reduce hunger like solid foods do. Satisfy your thirst with water, sparkling water with citrus, skim or low-fat milk, or small portions of 100% fruit juice. Try a glass of nutritious and low-calorie vegetable juice to hold you over if you get hungry between meals. Be careful of alcohol calories, which add up quickly. If you tend to drink a glass or two of wine or a cocktail on most days, limiting alcohol to the weekends can be a huge calorie saver.