Fat around the midsection is not only unsightly, it’s the most dangerous place on your body to have extra flab. Belly fat in particular comes with serious health risks, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even some types of cancer.
Registered dietician and author Liz Pearson explains why: “It doesn’t just sit there,” she says. “It’s biologically active, producing hormones and other substances that promote chronic inflammation and negatively impact the way your body handles sugars and fats. Abdominal fat can kill you – the more of it you have, the greater your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, dementia, cancer and more.”
It’s easy to find out if you have a potentially unhealthy amount of belly fat – just get out a tape measure and measure around your stomach, keeping it straight and snug, without it digging into your skin. Women with a waist circumference over 35 inches are at an increased risk of heart disease and other problems, while men with a higher waist circumference of 40 inches have a higher risk.
A report published in the British Medical Journal states that the size of your waist may say more about your health than other common measures of obesity, including body mass index (BMI) or waist-to-hip ratio. In general, however, experts say that nearly everyone with a BMI over 30 also has a large waist circumference, though the small number of people with healthy BMIs and large waists are still at a significantly higher risk for health problems, testifying to the importance of melting that belly fat.
So how can you get rid of it, and quickly? These are some particularly surprising ways.
1. Eat more fat
While you probably think the best way to lose fat is to avoid fatty foods, eating the right kind of fat can actually help melt fat! We’re not talking about going to McDonald’s and indulging in a Big Mac and fries, rather fats found in foods like unrefined organic coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds, wild-caught salmon, avocados and grass-fed meats.
A 2009 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition claimed that a diet rich in monounsaturated fat, found it helped people to lose belly fat without reducing their calorie consumption.
Another study conducted in 2009 and published in the journal Lipids, tested the effects of either two tablespoons of coconut oil or two tablespoons of soybean oil on a group of 40 women over a one-month period. Researchers found that the group that consumed coconut oil had a decrease in belly fat, while those who ate soybean oil had a slight increase in belly fat. The group that ate coconut oil also received another benefit – they saw an increase in “good,” or HDL cholesterol levels, while the other group had increased “bad” or LDL cholesterol and decreased HDL cholesterol.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids, found in plant sources like flaxseeds as well as oily fish like salmon, also help to shrink waist size.
Read More: 6 Ways Coconut Oil Can Help You Lose Weight
2. Soak up some rays
While it’s sounds rather unlikely, the reality is that not getting enough sun could actually hinder your ability to get rid of belly fat. According to Dr. Michael Zemel from the University of Tennessee’s Nutrition Institute, when your vitamin D levels are low, it results in a rise of the hormone known as calcitriol. High levels of calcitriol trigger the body to hold onto fat. Vitamin D is also thought to work with calcium to aid in reducing the production of the stress hormone called cortisol, which also causes the body to hoard belly fat.
While getting vitamin D can help you lose fat all over, it’s particularly helpful for those stubborn pounds just above the belt.
3. Deep breathing
While stress is a natural part of life, and can even be healthy over the short term, helping us to deal with conflict, chronic stress can wreak havoc on our health and even cause weight gain, particularly in the belly. That’s because when you’re stressed, the body releases the hormone cortisol. Cortisol stimulates appetite and induces cravings for fatty, sugary foods. At the same time, it also sends a signal to the body that fat should be stored for emergency fuel.
Yale University researchers investigated the link between stress and cortisol levels in women who had excess belly fat but weren’t overweight. The lead study author, Elissa S. Espel, Ph.D., summed up their findings by stating: “we… found that women with greater abdominal fat had more negative moods and higher levels of life stress. Greater exposure to life stress or psychological vulnerability to stress may explain their enhanced cortisol reactivity. In turn, their cortisol exposure may have led them to accumulate greater abdominal fat.”
To break the cycle of chronic stress and put yourself into a more relaxed mindset, implement stress-relieving practices like deep breathing into your daily routine. Take just five minutes a day to inhale slowly while counting to five, holding for a count of three and exhaling for a count of five. Practicing meditation, which incorporates deep breathing offers similar positive effects.
4. Add weightlifting to your regular cardio activities
If you think running mile after mile is the best way to lose belly fat, think again. While you do need to do cardio exercises regularly, it’s important to incorporate weight lifting into your regular routine as well. That’s because lifting weights increase how many calories you burn by adding muscle.
A 2014 study published in the journal Obesity suggested that muscle building is at least as important as cardio for busting belly fat. The researchers studied 10,500 healthy American men over the age of 40 who were part of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study between 1996-2008. After assessing physical activity, waist circumference, and body weight of participants, the team analyzed changes in their activity levels during the 12-year period and how this affected their waistlines.
The results showed that those who increased the amount of time spent lifting weights by 20 minutes each day had a smaller waistline gain over the time period as compared to those who increased cardio exercise by 20 minutes a day. Those who spent more time participating in sedentary behaviors like watching television, not surprisingly, experienced more weight gain in the belly area. Researchers concluded that combining cardio activity and weight training yielded optimal results.
Experts recommend lifting weights before cardio as doing cardio first is more likely to tire you out, making it harder for you to lift weights.
5. Incorporate extra activity into your day whenever you can
Remember, it’s not just longer, scheduled sessions of exercise that count. All of those little activities you do during the day burn calories and help melt belly fat too. There are lots of ways you can easily squeeze more in, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator – you might want to take it up a notch by going up and down a few times too. You can also park further away from your office, the grocery store or wherever you’re going to get some extra walking in.
While you’re at work, take walk breaks, or even squat breaks, especially if your job requires you to sit for long periods of time. Spending your day sitting is one of the best ways to accumulate more fat. Consider investing in one or more of these healthy office gadgets to help burn calories while at work.
6. Eat every three hours or so
Jenny Evans, nutrition and exercise physiology expert and author of The Resiliency rEvolution: Your Stress Solution For Life, says that eating about every three hours throughout the day by alternating between moderate-sized meals and small snacks is best for melting belly fat. She explains, “Anytime we go longer than about four hours without eating, it stimulates the stress response, releases cortisol, and makes us overeat and store more belly fat.”
Evans adds that it’s the reason why eating less to lose more doesn’t work.
7. Drink more water
It’s important to drink lots of water throughout the day to prevent your body from becoming dehydrated. Nutrition and health consultant Deborah Levy explains, “Drink plenty of water. If you don’t take in enough, your body may be retaining fluids which cause bloating. Also, constipation and abdominal discomfort are often the result of not enough fluid intake.”
Drinking water increases the number of calories you’ll burn, otherwise known as resting energy expenditure. In adults, studies have shown that resting energy expenditure increases by 24 to 30% within 10 minutes of drinking water, and the effect lasts for at least an hour.
Research involving overweight and obese children found a 25% increase in resting energy expenditure after drinking cold water.
If you’re having a hard time drinking more water, try carrying around a gallon by investing in a stylish gallon-size water bottle. If you’re bored with the lack of flavor, add a slice of lemon. Lemon water not only helps to hydrate, it relieves bloating and constipation too.
8. Fill your plate with orange and yellow fruits and veggies
Pretty much all fruit and vegetables are rich in nutrition, but when it comes to losing belly fat, filling up on orange and yellow varieties are your best bet. That’s because they contain lycopene and betacarotene, compounds that give veggies like sweet potatoes, carrots and apricots their bright color.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate higher amounts of orange and yellow vegetables not only had less body fat overall, but smaller waists.
9. Don’t forgo a good night’s rest
While it may sound counterproductive, sleeping actually helps you lose fat. Those who don’t get enough sleep typically end up eating more the next day in order to give themselves a boost of energy – and, they also tend to turn to more unhealthy foods like sugary items to get it. But eating more sugary foods results in more fat. Ever notice that you feel more stressed after a bad night’s sleep too? That’s because your hormones are also working against you, triggering a bigger appetite.
Quality sleep helps to reduce cortisol levels, therefore helping you to lose excess belly fat. Consistently losing out on sleep increases body fat levels – specifically in the abdominal area. According to researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, study participants who slept for five hours or less each night saw an average 32% gain in visceral fat over five years, while those who averaged six or seven hours per night gained only 13%. Scientists believe that lack of sleep alters appetite-regulating hormones, causing you to overeat.
By getting six to eight hours of sleep each night, your body is able to recover from your day and when you wake up, you will feel energized naturally.
10. Meet your body’s magnesium needs
Ensuring that your body gets enough magnesium is a must as it helps to lower your stress levels. It’s known as the “anti-stress mineral,” and it’s depleted by emotional as well as physical stress. As mentioned previously, chronic stress equals more body fat, especially in the belly area.
This mineral also plays a key role in regulating blood sugar. A high intake of magnesium has been linked to lower levels of fasting glucose and insulin, which control fat and weight gain, as a 2013 study reported in the Journal of Nutrition.
A deficiency in magnesium can lead to many side effects, a loss of energy and fatigue being among them. With healthy amounts of magnesium in the body, you’ll feel better emotionally and physically, and be more likely to eat better too.
The foods that are highest in magnesium are green leafy veggies like spinach and chard, as they’re packed with chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is known as the “life blood” of a plant – it has the ability to absorb the sun’s light and turn it into energy. Other foods rich in magnesium are pumpkin seeds, black beans, avocados, and figs. Keep in in mind that buying foods that are grown organically may have higher levels of magnesium as the soil from conventional farms is typically depleted of this important mineral as the crops aren’t rotated. You can also boost your magnesium levels by applying magnesium lotion, or enjoying a magnesium-rich Epsom salt bath.