Muffin top. Love handles. Spare tire. You don’t know what to call it—you just know you’ve been spending a redonkulous amount of time on the whole diet and exercise thing, and your food baby isn’t taking the hint. Sigh. Like many of us, you probably want to know everything you can about how to lose belly fat.
We spoke to Traci D. Mitchell, author of the new book The Belly Burn Plan, about the nine surprising mistakes getting in the way of losing belly fat and what you can do to turn things around:
1. You’re a yo-yo dieter.
If you’re constantly diving into new diet crazes and eating plans, you’re more likely to gain “rebound pounds” once the calorie counting is over. Replace your desire to lose weight at lightning speed with healthy eating habits you can stick to on the regular.
Always keep in mind that less is more: Choose simple, versatile ingredients you can use in multiple recipes to cut down on variety. A recent study published in the journal Endocrinology found when we have too many food choices, we tend to eat more than when variety isn’t an issue.
2. You don’t drink… apple cider vinegar
For reals: The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar helps control appetite, increasing insulin sensitivity and producing protein in the body that helps decrease fat storage. Mitchell recommends either a daily shot of apple cider vinegar on its own, or mixing it with warm water and a splash of honey.
3. You eat a ton of fruit.
Fruit is healthy, but it’s also the number one source of fructose, which doesn’t get broken down by our liver the same way other sugars do and ends up stored as fat. If you’re losing the belly fat battle, Mitchell suggests giving your bod a jumpstart by ditching fruit and all foods containing fructose or high fructose corn syrup for three weeks.
And when you do want to indulge, focus on low glycemic fruits, like berries. “As much as it’s important to keep fructose to a minimum, it’s equally important to make sure blood sugar levels stay on an even keel,” Mitchell wrote in an email. “Both excess fructose and uneven blood sugar levels will put anyone on the fast track for belly fat.”
READ MORE: How Many Furits & Vegetables Do You Really Need Every Day
4. Your love for dairy runs deep.
Mitchell recommends cutting out dairy — especially if it’s not organic—to get your body back on track, since most dairy contains hormones that mimic the ones that help your bod store belly fat. The maximum amount of dairy you can safely consume before your pooch is activated depends on your body type. For example, if you’re apple-shaped, you can handle more dairy than if you were pear-shaped. “Since an Apple does better with more fat and protein, she can eat more foods with cheese and yogurt,” wrote Mitchell. “Pears should keep dairy to a minimum of one serving or less per day.”
5. You drink diet soda.
A 2014 study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found adults who drink diet beverages ultimately consume more calories from food than adults who drink regular soda or sugary bevvies. Because artificial sweeteners mess with the reward centers in the brain and disrupt appetite control, the result may be increased food intake overall. (A 2010 study published in The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine also found diet soda drinkers had waist circumference increases that were 500% greater than those who didn’t drink diet soda!)
READ MORE: Why Is Diet Soda Bad For You?
6. Your posture sucks.
How you carry yourself can make it look like you have more of a pooch than you really do. When you hunch over a desk by day and get all slouchy on the couchy at night (I’m lame, I know), over time it can lead to a protruding abdomen… and people asking how far along you are. Nix the pot belly look with these ballet-inspired moves to improve your posture.
7. You nosh after 7p.m.
The closer you eat to bedtime — the same time of day your metabolism starts to slow down for the night — the more likely the food you just ate will get stored as fat. (Womp, womp.) If you do find yourself famished past 7p.m., Mitchell recommends sticking to snack-sized portions. For example, munch on almonds: A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found a daily snack of 1.5 oz of almonds reduced belly fat and other heart disease risk factors.
8. You don’t get enough sleep.
“One big reason belly fat won’t budge is if someone is sleeping less than seven hours a night,” wrote Mitchell. “You can literally sleep your way to a leaner belly.” We go through about five sleep cycles, and each cycle releases human growth hormone, which not only helps increase muscle mass and maintain metabolism, but helps regulate insulin (otherwise known as the fat-storage hormone). Gee, I feel like having a nap all of the sudden…
READ MORE: Losing Sleep on Week Nights May Lead to Weight Gain
9. Your workout is working against you.
Work out harder, not longer: According to Mitchell, long stretches of slow and steady cardio can elevate cortisol and lead to belly fat. Yep, the thing you’ve been banking on to flatten your belly could be what’s making it stick around! Ew. Plus, writes Mitchell, your cardio workouts stop burning fat the second the exercise stops, whereas high intensity interval training continues burning fat long after the workout ends: “Also, HIIT workouts go from high intensity to low intensity, allowing the body to recover without wreaking havoc on our hormones.”
READ MORE: 7 Exercises to Lose Your Love Handles