There’s no shortage of flat belly advice these days, and it can be downright paralyzing. And if you manage to motivate yourself to lose weight, it’s hard to know what to do first to reach your goal—until now. To help you start on a path toward flat abs and quick weight loss, our research team tracked down the very best tips on the planet and prioritized everything into the step-by-step weight loss guide you’ve been searching for.
The first two steps of this flat belly lifestyle transformation include making over your home and your kitchen. The next step involves restocking your cupboard and refrigerator with Zero Belly-approved eats, and then, we’ll give you the only fitness hacks you’ll ever need to keep your stomach looking—and feeling—lean for life. Follow the plan in the order in which we’ve laid it out to avoid feeling overwhelmed and see the best possible results. And to feel healthier and happier than ever, don't miss these essential 30 Skinny Secrets from the World's Sexiest Women!
FIRST, TWEAK YOUR ENVIRONMENT
“Whether you have ten pounds to lose or 100, the first thing you should do is create an environment for success,” says Chris Powell, the trainer who has helped hundreds of overweight people lose up to half their body weight on ABC’s reality series Extreme Weight Loss. These are the 10 things you need to do to up your odds of weight loss success:
HIDE YOUR VICES
Out of sight, out of mouth? Simply reorganizing your pantry's “top hits” could translate into serious calorie savings, according to researchers at Google. A study, conducted at the search engine’s New York office dubbed “Project M&M” found that placing chocolate candies in opaque containers as opposed to glass ones, and giving healthier snacks more prominent shelf space, curbed M&M consumption by 3.1 million calories in just seven weeks. A similar study published in the Journal of Marketing found that people are more likely to overeat small treats from transparent packages than from opaque ones. Better yet, chow down on these 50 Snacks With 50 Calories or Less!
LET IN COLD AIR
Simply blasting the air conditioner or turning down the heat in winter may help attack belly fat while we sleep, according to a study published in the journal Diabetes. As it turns out, colder temperatures subtly enhance the effectiveness of our stores of brown fat—fat keeps you warm by helping you burn through the fat stored in your belly. Participants spent a few weeks sleeping in bedrooms with varying temperatures: a neutral 75 degrees, a cool 66 degrees, and a balmy 81 degrees. After four weeks of sleeping at 66 degrees, the subjects had almost doubled their volumes of brown fat. (And yes, that means they lost belly fat.)
BUY SOME CANDLES
Certain scents can make your mouth water, and others can actually suppress your appetite. One study published in the Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine found that people who sniffed peppermint every two hours lost an average of 5 pounds a month! Banana, green apple, and vanilla had similar effects. Consider burning a minty candle until you head to bed to fill the room with slimming smells. If you don’t want to bother with blowing out candles before you turn down the covers, try adding a few drops of peppermint oil to your pillow.
DITCH YOUR NIGHT LIGHT
Exposure to light at night doesn't just interrupt your chances of a great night's sleep, it may also result in weight gain, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Study subjects who slept in the darkest rooms were 21 percent less likely to be obese than those sleeping in the lightest rooms. For more ways to lose weight, check out these 33 Ways to Flatten Your Belly—Fast!!
CLEAN OFF YOUR COUNTER
A new study by Eat This, Not That! magazine advisor Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, found that a woman’s weight can be estimated simply by taking a photo of her kitchen counter. After analyzing photos of 200 kitchens, he found that women who have soda sitting on their countertops weigh an average of 26 pounds more, while those who have cookies on their counters weigh about 8 pounds more. The biggest surprise: Keeping cereal on your counter leads to an additional 20 pounds of body weight. The lesson here is clear. Clean empty calories off your countertops to start losing weight.
KEEP PRODUCE IN PLAIN SIGHT
And after you remove the junk, replace it with a fruit bowl. You're more likely to grab fruits and veggies over less healthy options if they’re readily available and right in front of you, expert say. Katie Cavuto MS, RD, the dietitian for the Philadelphia Phillies and Flyers, suggests keeping washed and prepared family-friendly veggies like cucumbers, peppers, sugar snap peas and carrots in the front of the fridge so they aren’t overlooked. Bananas, apples, pears and oranges fare well as sweet snacks and should be kept on the counter where you can see them. To discover more healthy foods that will help you lose weight, check out these 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body.
TOSS YOUR DINNER PLATES
According to Carolyn Brown, MS RD of Foodtrainers, “The bigger your plate, the bigger your meal.” Why? While smaller plates make food servings appear significantly larger, larger plates make food appear smaller, which can lead to overeating. In one study, campers who were given larger bowls served themselves and consumed 16 percent more cereal than those given smaller bowls. Swapping dinner for salad plates will help you eat more reasonable portions, which can help the pounds fly off your frame!
Take Out Your Scale
Just months after hitting your goal weight, your skinny jeans are starting to feel a tad tight. The reason? If you’re like the majority of dieters, you’re probably still eating well and exercising, but you stopped stepping on the scale—a major no-no. Although the number on the scale isn't the only way to judge your continued success, research shows that those who avoid the ritual tend to pack on more weight than those who don’t. But there’s no need to be a slave to your scale. Checking in once a week should do the trick. Since weight naturally fluctuates throughout the week, researchers say that Wednesday weigh-ins are the most accurate.
Kick the Computer Out Of Bed
Late night Netflixing costing you Zzz’s? It may be the reason you can’t shake those love handles. In a recent study, researchers analyzed more than 500 participants’ weekday sleep diaries and found that losing a mere 30 minutes of shut-eye increased their risk of obesity by 17 percent!
Limit Your Options
Variety is the spice of life. The more variety we have, the more we eat, explains Wansink. If you must keep packaged foods like cereal or crackers in the house, limit yourself to one kind. It'll help you consume it more slowly, he adds.
THEN, CLEAN OUT YOUR KITCHEN
The more junk that’s in your kitchen, the harder it will be to reach your goal weight. Our advice: Accelerate your weight loss by removing the temptation the word world’s worst health offenders from your kitchen. Because a full-on kitchen makeover can be overwhelming, start the process by tossing out the foods below.
Throw Out Jelly & Jam
These classic spreads look innocent enough, but they are really just pieces of fruit smothered in sugar and juice that have been shoved inside a jar. One tablespoon carries just under 10 grams of sugar and 60 calories and, let’s be honest, who ever uses just one? Top peanut butter sandwiches with fresh pieces of fruit like banana and strawberries to get a similar taste with none of the added sugar. This tactic will help ward off blood sugar fluctuations that can cause insulin spikes and put hunger into overdrive, derailing your weight loss efforts.
Donate Sugary Cereal
There’s no sugar-coating it: sugar wreaks havoc on the body. Consuming too much of the white stuff can lead to obesity, which often causes other health problems like diabetes and heart disease. And many cereals pack more sugar into one bowl than you’ll find in a Boston Kreme Donut! To make matters worse, many popular varieties like Frosted Flakes and Fruity Pebbles are also laced with Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) or BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole), ingredients that are banned in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and much of Europe because they are thought to be carcinogenic. Speaking of scary ingredients, check out these 40 Most Horrifying Things Found in Food.
“Soda, both diet and regular, have absolutely no nutritional benefits and may even have serious health implications,” says Gina Consalvo, MA, RD, LDN, a Pennsylvania-based registered dietitian. “Not only are they loaded with empty calories, harmful preservatives, sugar or artificial sweeteners, they also have dangerous artificial coloring derived from coal tar. The coloring has been linked to allergic reactions, fatigue, asthma, skin rashes, hyperactivity, headaches and even cancer,” explains Consalvo. But that’s not even the worst part. “To prevent mold growth in the cans and bottles, makers add the preservative potassium benzoate (a known carcinogen linked to thyroid damage, leukemia and other cancers) into the can.” Consalvo suggests eliminating soda and drinking water, seltzer or detox tea instead.
Get Rid of Empty Carbs
Many of us grew up eating white bread and bagels, so we understand that they may hold a special place in your heart. But these starchy grains (and things like white rice and pretzels) are anything but healthy. Made with enriched flour instead of healthy whole grains, they are void of the belly-filling fiber that boosts satiety and keeps blood sugar stable. What’s worse, refined white-flour foods like these are linked to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Plus, they lead to weight gain and make it more difficult to lose weight, too. For more ways to get the slim body you crave, check out these 50 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds—Fast.
Toss Processed Snacks
Processed snacks filled with saturated fats, sugar, refined grains and harmful chemicals and are some of the biggest weight loss saboteurs! To discover the worst snacks for weight loss in the supermarket, check out these 20 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet.
Ditch the Margarine
You know that light yellow color that makes margarine look almost indistinguishable from butter when laid side by side? Well, it’s far from natural. In fact, without all the additives, margarine is actually an appetite-crushing shade of grey—yuck! As if that weren’t bad enough, many brands add propylene glycol, the antifreeze compound, to their recipe to pile on the grease without adding calories. Research has shown that the spread may expand your waistline, increase dangerous cholesterol levels and up your heart disease risk. People have been cooking without margarine for centuries, and we suggest you continue to follow in their footsteps Not sure what to use instead? We suggest one of these 8 Best Fats for Weight Loss.
Toss Canned Soup
Good for the soul but potentially bad for the stomach, soup can high sky-high sodium counts that may lead to water retention and temporary weight gain. When you overload your system with salt, your kidneys can’t keep up; salt that would otherwise be flushed away has to sit in your bloodstream, where it attracts water, causing increases blood pressure and bloating. Instead of the canned variety, whip up one of these 20 Best-Ever Fat Burning Soups.
Get Rid of The Gum
Not only does chewing gum cause you to swallow tummy-bloating air, many gums also contain sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners like sorbitol and xylitol that can cause bloat. Skip the gum altogether or opt for an organic variety like Glee gum or Simply gum instead. They’re still low-cal, but they don’t use sweeteners that’ll make you puff up.
THEN, YOU’VE GOT TO STOCK THE KITCHEN
After you’ve gotten rid of the weight loss saboteurs, it’s time to restock your shelves with
Zero Belly-approved eats. All of the foods below will reduce bloat, heal your gut and turbocharge your metabolism. These three mechanisms work in tandem to turn off your fat genes—resetting your body to “slender.”
Stock Up on Smoothie Ingredients
Zero Belly smoothies, perfect for breakfast or snack time, are supercharged with belly-flattening nutrients. The key: each drink is packed with protein, healthy fats and fiber. Here’s a quick recipe I call the Mango Muscle-Up: Mix 1 scoop vegetarian protein powder, ⅔ cup frozen mango chunks, ½ tbsp almond butter, and ½ cup unsweetened almond, coconut or hemp milk. You’ll get 29 grams of protein for just 224 calories!
Shop for Eggs
Eggs are the number one source of choline, a fat-burning nutrient. They fire up your metabolism and they help turn off the genes for belly fat storage. In a study of 21 men published in the journal Nutrition Research, half were fed a breakfast of bagels while half ate eggs. The egg group were observed to have a lower response to ghrelin, were less hungry three hours later and consumed fewer calories for the next 24 hours! And speaking of belly fat, lose more of it with the help of these 42 Ways to Lose 5 Inches of Belly Fat.
Favor Red Fruits
More and more research has begun to show that some fruits are actually better at fighting belly fat than others. And the better fruits all have one thing in common: they’re red, or at least reddish. Grapefruit, tart cherries, pink lady apples, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon and peaches all fit the bill and can help flatten your belly.
Buy Beans & Fiber-Rich Carbs
You have 80 trillion microbes in your belly, and most of them are angry. Healthy fiber is what we call “prebiotic,” meaning it feeds the healthy bacteria and helps them fight inflammation and fat gain. Healthy, fiber rich sources of carbs like BPA-free canned black and garbanzo beans, peas, peanuts, peanut butter, old-fashioned oats, quinoa and brown rice. Looking for tasty ways to enjoy your oatmeal? Check out these
50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes!
Get Plant Protein
Plant-based protein powders are a low-sugar, high-fiber alternative to popular dairy-based supplements, which can lead to bloating. Hemp, rice and pea proteins are all good options; however, you’ll want to ensure you’re getting a complete protein with a full amino acid profile, which is why a blend that combines all three is superior. We like Vega One ALl-in-One Nutritional Shake and Sunwarrior Warrior Blend. Whip up any of these 23 Best Protein Shake Recipes for Weight Loss to reap the benefiits. Even if they call for whey protein, you can sub-in your plant-based favorite.
Buy Lean Meat & Fish
Protein is kryptonite to belly fat. When you eat protein, your body has to expend a lot of calories in digestion—about 25 calories for every 100 calories you eat (compared with only 10 to 15 calories for fats and carbs). With that said, stock your kitchen with boneless skinless chicken breast, lean ground turkey, lean beef, lamb, wild salmon, shrimp, scallops, cod, tuna, and halibut. Looking for a new tasty way to eat salmon? Check out this Zero Belly Green Tea Poached Salmon Recipe for some inspiration.
Leafy greens give you folate, which blocks the genes that trigger fat-cell formation. Romaine lettuce, spinach, leaf lettuce and collard greens are some of the most potent sources of the flat-belly nutrient. For more ways to supercharge your weight loss, check out these 55 Best-Ever Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.
Hit Up the Candy Store
It's every chocoholic’s dream: Research now shows that eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate can reduce overall body fat and shrink the waist. A study among women with normal weight obesity (skinny fat syndrome) who ate a Mediterranean diet that included two servings of dark chocolate each day showed a significant reduction in waist size than when on a cocoa-free meal plan. Researchers say it has to do with the flavonoids, heart-healthy compounds in chocolate that have important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Just be sure you’re reaching for a bar with at least 70 percent cacao, and stay away from the “alkalized” stuff, which has a significantly reduced flavonoid content. We like Nibmor Extreme Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs.
Buy Some Bags
You know all that soda we told you to throw out? Use all that money saved to re-stock your kitchen with tea. Tea is the closest thing we currently have to magic weight loss elixir. Rich in health-promoting compounds called catechins, regularly sipping the beverage can fry stubborn belly fat and even fight off disease. Not sure which brew is best for you? Pick up a copy of the The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse!
NEXT, ADJUST AT YOUR MINDSET
All the healthy food in the world won’t do you any good if your mind isn’t in the right place. Once you’ve gotten used to eating the Zero Belly foods, try to shift your perspective a bit to best align with your new healthy eating plan. Here are our top suggestions:
ADOPT EATING RITUALS
There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s—as long as you have a way that’s yours. Feasting rituals, research suggests, are a form of “mindful eating,” which has the power to make food more pleasurable, and may help prevent overeating. Pleasure, according to research published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, catalyzes the relaxation response, promoting parasympathetic and digestive activities. In other words, you’ll metabolize dessert faster if you really, really enjoy eating it. In one study, participants who were assigned to eat a chocolate bar in accordance with a particular breaking and unwrapping ritual found the candy much more enjoyable—and even more flavorful—than a group who ate the bar informally.
CHANGE YOUR PERCEPTION OF “FULL”
Hara hachi bu is a Japanese expression that means “Eat until 80% full,” which, if you put the advice to practice at every meal, translates roughly to a 300 calorie-per-day saving for the average American. It can take up to 30 minutes for the body to register satiety signals, according to research, so consider using chopsticks to slow your pace and feel your fullness. According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, healthy-weight customers were nearly 3 times more likely to use chopsticks than obese customers.
Affirm Your Values
A recent study revealed that when women who were unhappy with their weight completed a one-time, 15-minute writing exercise about an important personal issue, they went on to lose at least 3 pounds over a three-month period while their counterparts who wrote about an unimportant topic gained 3 pounds, says Biggest Loser dietitian and author of A Small Guide to Losing Big Cheryl Forberg. “Researchers believe that reflecting on values can serve as a buffer to the stress and uncertainty that leads to emotional eating and help in maintaining self-control in difficult situations,” she explains. To reap the benefits at home, Forberg suggests pulling out a journal, setting the timer and free-flowing about what’s important to you. “Write as though no one else will read it. Come clean with what’s bugging you. It may surprise and enlighten you,” adds Forberg. For more weight loss hacks, check out these 25 Ways to Lose Weight in 5 Seconds.
Treat Yourself Like a Good Kid
Beating yourself up over food is a knowledge-behavior gap many unsuccessful dieters fall into. Calling yourself “greedy” or a “fat pig” or “weak-willed” only makes you feel bad about yourself, which often leads to eating more in an attempt to give yourself a boost. It’s important to try to stop the negative self-talk, says weight-management coach Freida B. Herron, M.S.S.W., L.C.S.W. “I often suggest imagining that your desire to overeat is a lovable 5-year-old child,” she says. “You don’t want to berate or shame your appetite—that only leads to more dysfunctional eating.” Instead, treat yourself with respect, understanding and affection, as you would that child. And when that seems near impossible to do, try chanting a mantra that has a personal meaning to you, suggests Jen Comas Keck, personal trainer and Owner of Beauty Lies In Strength. If you’ve been working on your fitness, for example, something like "I feel stronger and healthier every day that passes" may be effective.
Turn Into Your Emotions
If you’re the type of person that drowns your sorrows in a pint of ice cream, you might be what experts refer to as an “emotional eater”—and it’s likely the primary reason you have trouble staying trim. To lose weight, you need to first learn the difference between emotional hunger, which comes on suddenly, and physical hunger, which comes on gradually and is often accompanied by physical cues like a growling stomach, explains Forberg. The best way to overcome the urge to eat? First, realize that although a bad feeling will eventually go away, the calories you consumed while you were feeling down, will not. And the next time you’re feeling emotional, don’t try to mask your emotions or distract yourself. Experts say that truly experiencing your emotions will teach you that it’s possible to tolerate them head on. Once you’ve done this exercise, it’s time to find a new, healthy coping strategy. Hitting the gym or calling a friend to vent are both solid options. For more tips from Forberg, check out her latest ETNT article, The Biggest Loser Dietitian's Top 25 Weight Loss Foods.
Take Time to Reflect
Losing weight can be just as hard both emotionally and physically. Remembering why you started your weight loss journey can help lift your spirits when you're down and motivate you to stick with it when you want to throw in the towel. “Take a moment each morning to remember what you're working for—whether it be improved energy so you can play with your children or a longer happier life, says Dyan Tsiumis, who dropped more than 70 pounds before becoming a personal trainer. “When you focus on all the good that will come from all of your hard work it's easier to stay on track,” she adds.
Eat This! Tip
Tsiumis suggests setting an alarm on your cell phone as a “motivation reminder.” “I have an alarm that goes off three times per day to remind me what I'm working for— and I lost my weight over ten years ago! It keeps my mind focused on being my best,” explains Tsiumis.
AND FINALLY, AMP UP YOUR WORKOUT
To chisel your newly trim stomach into the rippled abs you’ve always wanted, you have to amp up the intensity of your workout. Here are some of our go-to tips:
Upload a New Playlist
Sure, your time on the treadmill may seem like a great time to catch up on the news and your favorite sitcom, but doing so might make your cardio session less effective. (Cue the groans!) According to various studies, fast-paced, motivational music that include phrases like "push it," "I believe," and "work it" can help you move faster and subconsciously motivates you to keep at it, which will supercharge your weight loss progress.
LIFT FIRST, THEN CARDIO
By running, biking or rowing after you've hit the weights—when your body is already tired—the same speed or intensity will have a greater effect on your fat and calorie burn than had you done it beforehand. And don't do any of these 25 Things You're Doing to Slow Your Metabolism!
Sprint it Out
Sprinting is better for weight loss than running at a steady pace, says Dan Roberts, one of the UK’s top trainers. “Sprinting builds muscle which helps burn fat quickly. Also, the action of driving the legs initiates the abs and core” explains Roberts. “The faster you go and the shorter your recovery, the more your abs will develop.” Instead of your typical 30-minute trot, set out to do 20 sets of 30-second sprints with a 30-second recovery between each. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Keeping your feet on either side of the belt, set your treadmill to a 10 percent incline. Then, set the machine to a challenging speed. This is typically at least two miles per hour faster than your distance running speed. So, for example, if you typically jog at 6.5 MPH, you’re full-on sprint speed will be at least 8.5 MPH.
Step 2: Hit the ground running for a solid 30-seconds. Then, slow the belt to a comfortable stroll and step your feet off to either side once you feel comfortable. Recover for a total of 30 seconds before repeating this pattern 19 more times. These circuits should take you exactly 20 minutes to complete.
Hop On a Rower
Rowing burns the most calories and works the most muscles, including muscles in your back, and also improves posture. To bump it up a notch, head outdoors. In a Brazilian study, outdoor rowers burned 26 percent more calories during a race than those on indoor rowing ergometers did.
“Though you may think pushups work mostly your arms, when done properly they actually work your full body and are one of the very best ways to target your external obliques,” says Annie Mulgrew, Director of Programming at City Row in New York City.
Side Plank Your Way Skinny
Sure, regular planks are better for your core than traditional sit-ups, but side planks are even more challenging. When you perform a plank on your forearms, your body has four points of contact with the floor. Planking on your side forces you to support your entire body on just two points, making it harder to stay stabilized. A harder exercise equals harder abs. And have a powerfood after: Don't miss these 21 Amazing Things Bananas Do To Your Body!
UP YOUR WEIGHT
If you can do more than 5 reps of an exercise, up your weight—especially when you’re working bigger muscle groups through exercises like squats, suggests Roberts. “This will burn fat, in the belly and other areas, quicker than any ab exercise.”