Anyone with belly fat knows how hard it is to lose that bit of inconvenient pooch. The good news is that you don’t have to do 50 crunches every day to lose your ‘burrito baby.” The bad news is that you can’t really target one specific trouble spot when trying to shed excess weight. If you want to lose weight in one area, you’ll have to settle for losing weight all over.
That said, there are several studies that show making certain changes to what you eat and how you work out can help reduce belly fat. Try these five science-backed ways to get a more svelte stomach:
1. Snack on almonds. This protein-packed snack is a smart choice for those late-afternoon cravings when sugar-loaded Frappuccino is calling your name A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people who ate 1.5 ounces (the average shot glass size) of almonds daily reduced their abdominal fat — and even lowered their bad cholesterol.
2. Ditch diet soda. Are you really still drinking diet soda after all we know now about how bad it is for you? This may help you finally kick the bad habit: A 2011 study from The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio found that the waist circumferences of diet soda drinkers increased by 70% when they followed up nearly 10 years later, compared with those who didn’t drink the diet beverage. For people who downed two or more diet sodas daily, their waist circumferences were 500% greater than non-drinkers. Yipes.
3. Grab weights — not just cardio classes. We’re not suggesting ditching your beloved SoulCycle class, but if you’re looking to shrink belly fat, make sure lifting weights is part of your exercise routine (and no, it won’t bulk you up). Harvard University researchers found that 20 minutes of daily weight training slowed down the increase of age-related belly fat, compared to 20 minutes of aerobics daily. Lifting free weights and Kettlebells builds muscle mass, which increases your body’s ability to torch more calories.
4. Eat lean protein with dairy. Pairing quality protein with dairy can help you lose abdominal fat. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, 90 participants were put into the three diet groups with varying levels of protein and dairy: high protein with high dairy; adequate protein with medium dairy; and adequate protein with low dairy. The researchers found that the group who ate both high levels of protein and dairy lost fat all over their body, including abdominal fat and — bonus! — gained lean muscle mass.
“Fat in the abdomen is thought to be especially bad for cardiovascular and metabolic health, and it seems — according to what we found in this study — increasing calcium and protein in the diet may help to further promote loss of fat from the worst storage area in the body,” lead author of the study Andrea Josse told ScienceDaily.
5. Choose your fats wisely. Polyunsaturated fat, which is found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and fish (in a nutshell, the staples of the Mediterranean diet), can help fight off belly fat. In a small 2014 study published in the journal Diabetes, researchers set out to find out if foods influence where fat is stored in the body. They had two groups eat the same diet, except half of the study subjects consumed additional calories from polyunsaturated fat (sunflower oil), while the other half took in added calories from saturated fat (palm oil). Although both groups gained weight, which was the intention of the study, the researchers found that consuming too much saturated fat appears to increase the storage of fat in the abdomen, while polyunsaturated fat seems to help reduce fat storage in the body.