It’s pretty common for men to pack some extra poundage around their midsection. In fact, the average man is about 24lbs heavier today than men in 1960, according to stats from The State of Obesity—and the figures are rising. We’ve seen slimmer days, but don’t think this is a grim sentence, dooming you to eternal chubbiness. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways for you to burn belly fat—fast.
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.
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.
This popular plan recently underwent a rebranding to create a more balanced program, changing its four-phase approach with the help of a science advisory board. The Atkins Diet is still low-carb, but you won't be chowing down on steak and eggs all the time to promote weight loss. Lean protein is still key, but there's more of a spotlight on fiber, fruit, vegetables, and healthy fats.
Those trans fats on your menu are hiding out in plain sight and sabotaging your lean belly plans every time you eat them. If a food product says it contains partially hydrogenated oils, you’re eating trans fat, which can increase your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and obesity with every bite. In fact, research conducted at Wake Forest University reveals that monkeys whose diets contained eight percent trans fat upped their body fat by 7.2 percent over a six-year study, while those who ate monounsaturated fat gained just a fraction of that amount. Instead of letting harmful trans fat take up space on your menu, fill up with the 20 Healthy Fats to Make You Thin.
Mindfulness matters. “If you slow down and stop just mindless eating, you often realize you don’t need to eat as much as you thought you did; you’re already full,” said Dr. Steinbaum.” Part of this is watching portion sizes, which have ballooned in restaurants over the past 40 years, leading adults to consume an average of 300 more calories per day now than they did in 1985. Did you know that one serving of bread is actually just one slice? Or one serving of pasta or rice is just half a cup? And a serving of cheese is only two ounces, or the size of a domino? You’re probably eating much more than you realized. “There have been multiple studies that see keeping a food journal is effective,” said Dr. Steinbaum. “When you start paying attention, you can really see what you’re doing.”
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.
Created in 2003 by cardiologist Arthur Agatston, this low-carb diet features three phases. The first phase is the most restrictive, limiting carbs such as potatoes and rice. Each subsequent phase becomes more lenient, and the diet emphasizes lean protein, unsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbs such as nonstarchy vegetables. South Beach promotes lasting lifestyle changes, according to the Mayo Clinic. (21)
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.
However, if you’re already on medication and think it could be hampering weight loss efforts, speak with your doctor about your options. It may be possible to transition to a more natural option, like a natural form of birth control, coming up with a plan to transition off medication or simply trying an alternative that’s not known to cause weight gain.
Even if you do meet your goal, it's nearly impossible to keep off the weight over the long term: "The amount of restriction required [to maintain that number] will make you so hungry that you’ll eat everything in sight—it’s survival instinct," Dr. Seltzer says. And since calorie restriction gradually slows your metabolism, your body will be less prepared to burn the foods you binge on, he adds. That could mean gaining more pounds than you lost in the first place.
Consequently, researchers have widely discredited the hCG diet, which involves using hCG injections, pellets, sprays, or drops, and consuming as few as 500 calories daily. The diet is problematic not only because there’s a lack of research on hCG supplements, but also because the calorie requirement is dangerously low, potentially leading to nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, hormone imbalances, blood clots, and other issues. Thus, most experts agree the hCG diet is not safe for anyone, the Mayo Clinic notes. (35)
“Every morning I drink a cup of warm water with half a lemon squeezed into it, a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, and a dash of cayenne pepper,” says Michelle Keough. This helps her start her day off on a healthy note while getting her hydrated after a long night. This trick, combined with eating meals built around protein and veggies, helped her lose 20 pounds and keep it off.
The best diet is the one we can maintain for life and is only one piece of a healthy lifestyle. People should aim to eat high-quality, nutritious whole foods, mostly plants (fruits and veggies), and avoid flours, sugars, trans fats, and processed foods (anything in a box). Everyone should try to be physically active, aiming for about two and a half hours of vigorous activity per week. For many people, a healthy lifestyle also means better stress management, and perhaps even therapy to address emotional issues that can lead to unhealthy eating patterns.
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.
Swapping out unhealthy foods for nutritious ones gives you benefits beyond just losing weight. "I cleaned up my diet, swapping deli sandwiches with high-sodium meat and mayo for Tupperware containers or big butter-lettuce salads topped with carrots, walnuts, feta, and homemade dressing," says Jennifer Lasher, who lost 75 pounds. "I found that ditching processed foods left me with more energy, a clear head, and better skin, too."