The Worst Habits For Belly Fat, According to Science
Habit: It's that thing that we do when we're not paying attention to what we're doing. And if you're finally, comfortably starting to emerge after being quarantined during the last year, it's extremely likely that you picked up at least one or two of those bad habits while you've been holed up at home.
But what if you could change your habits so that you could start losing fat automatically—without ever having to think about it? Research says that you can—and it's easier than you think.
We found out which habits are causing you to gain the most belly fat, along with the cures for each. Try kicking these bad habits to the curb,
So, which habits are costing you the most? Check out which habits are truly the worst for when you're targeting belly fat. And for more healthy tips, be sure to check out our list of 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.
You're not sleeping enough.
According to Wake Forest researchers, dieters who sleep five hours or less put on 2½ times more belly fat, while those who sleep more than eight hours pack on only slightly less than that. Shoot for an average of six to seven hours of sleep per night—the optimal amount for weight control.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: The National Sleep Foundation suggests seven to eight hours of sleep for most adults. And for the most productive night's sleep possible, check out these 17 Surprising Ways to Lose Weight In Your Sleep.
You're drinking diet sodas.
It's a logical assumption: Switching from a sugar-based soda to a non-sugar-based soda should help your health. While calorically speaking that might be true, diet sodas contain their own dangers and side effects. In a shocking study, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center monitored 475 adults for 10 years and found that the participants who drank diet soda saw a 70 percent increase in waist circumference compared with those who didn't drink any soda. So much for the idea that diet soda helps you get rid of belly fat!
That's not all: The participants who drank more than two diet sodas a day suffered a 500 percent waist expansion. Yikes! The same researchers conducted a separate study on mice that indicates it might be the aspartame that causes the weight gain. Aspartame raises blood glucose levels to a point where the liver cannot handle it all, so the excess glucose is converted into fat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Drink black tea instead, for a caffeine buzz without the weight gain. And after you uncover the 40 Side Effects of Drinking Too Much Soda, you'll want to drop the fizzy stuff for good!
You eat mostly with groups.
When we eat with other people, we consume, on average, 44 percent more food than we do when dining alone. Research published in the journal Nutrition found that a meal eaten with one other person was 33 percent larger than a meal savored alone. It gets scarier from there. Third-wheeling with two friends? You're looking at a 47 percent bigger meal. Dining with four, six, or 8+ friends was associated with meal increases of 69, 70, and 96 percent, respectively. Though part of this has to do with the amount of time we spend at the table when dining with company, another study from the journal Appetite found people who spent longer eating because they were simultaneously reading didn't eat significantly more, meaning time isn't the only factor at play here.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: You can still hang out with your friends. Just vary the activity once in a while, and include short runs or walk-and-talks. You'll save money and calories that are inflating your belly.
You follow a restrictive diet.
If you've just hopped on the Paleo or low-carb bandwagon, proceed with caution! "Often diets that cut out entire food groups do not allow for the balance and moderation we need to follow a healthy, lifelong eating plan," warns Zanini. "Plus, dieters who follow these plans may be prone to potentially dangerous nutritional deficiencies. Or they may simply get bored with their restricted plan and end up overeating down the road," warns Zanini.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: You don't have to go too hard too fast. If you've finally reached a weight loss plateau and haven't lost any more belly fat, consider taking a break from your diet. According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity, dieters who took a two-week break from their low-calorie meal plan lost more weight than those who dieted consistently.
You eat off large plates.
One Cornell study found that when given an option, a whopping 98.6 percent of obese individuals opt for larger plates. Translation: More food, more calories, and more belly fat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Keep your portions in check by choosing smaller serving dishes. If need be, you can always go back for seconds. And when you're dining out, be sure to look out for these 10 Common Menu Words That Are Secretly Red Flags so you don't get tripped up!
You scroll through social media in bed.
Keeping your cell phone around and your TV on is only going to keep you up later and cause you to mindlessly eat while you stare at your screen. A study by Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that the light emitted from tech gadgets actually suppresses melatonin production in the brain. This is the main sleep hormone for your body, so when you don't have enough of it being produced you can suffer from sleep complications. Plus, A study in Pediatric Obesity found students with access to one electronic device in their bedrooms were 1.47 times as likely to be overweight as those with no device in the bedroom. That increased to 2.57 times for kids with three devices.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Turn your bedroom into a no-technology zone and opt to read a book while in bed if you'd like to wind down before hitting the hay.
You don't eat mindfully.
Be mindful about eating mindfully. The practice has ancient Buddhist roots. It is, in fact, a form of secular meditation, asking us to experience food more intensely, paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each bite. Mindful eating is not a diet—and it doesn't ask you to eat less—but the approach is gaining traction as a successful weight-loss mechanism. In fact, recent studies have shown that mindful eaters respond less to emotional stress, consume significantly fewer calories, and, perhaps most importantly, have an easier time maintaining a healthy BMI compared with those who are unaware, according to a PLOS One study.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: To eat more mindfully to keep belly fat off your frame, chew slowly. Tune in to the texture, the smell, and the complexity of flavors. Keep chewing. Swallow. Take a sip of water. And for a few moments, resist the urge to take another bite. Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you'll experience the pleasures and frustrations of mindful eating. For more helpful tips, here are 5 Simple Mindfulness Tricks to Eat Less.
You're distracted while eating.
"We eat for many reasons, but the main prompt for mindful eating is physical hunger," says registered dietitian nutritionist Leslie Schilling, MA, RDN. "It's hard to be present if you're eating at your desk, cyber-loafing, or watching television. When your mind is focusing on something besides your food, you don't realize things like 'Was the food actually good?' and 'Am I getting full?' This often leads to 'do-over eating,' which isn't so mindful. Eat with purpose and presence!" This distracted eating also leads to consuming more calories that turn straight to belly fat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: A University of Vermont study found that overweight participants who reduced their TV time by just 50 percent burned an additional 119 calories a day on average. "Minimize distractions as often as possible," says Schilling. In other words, that episode of Game of Thrones can be watched after dinner.
You're not using all your senses while eating.
The warm smell of cinnamon, the charred stripes on a grilled chicken breast, the crunch of an apple … Experts say paying attention to the sensory details of food is a simple way to start eating mindfully—and start dropping pounds. In fact, a study in the journal Flavour found that participants who took time to appreciate the aroma of a meal ate significantly less of a dish that smelled strongly than a mildly scented one. A second study found that people served a monochromatic plate of food—like fettuccine Alfredo on a white plate—ate 22 percent more than those served a more visually appealing meal that provided more color and contrast. Texture also comes into play. Researchers in Florida found that people tend to eat more soft, smooth foods, which tend to be higher in fat, than hard, crisp ones. In one study, participants consumed more soft brownie bits than hard brownie bits until they were asked to focus on calorie content.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Just being mindful of how things like aroma, mouthfeel, and food presentation can influence how much we eat can help increase the satisfaction we get from a meal and also prevent overeating. Looking for more helpful tips? Here are 17 Reasons You're Overeating (And How to Stop!).
You eat too quickly.
If your body has one major flaw, this is it: It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it's had enough. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that slow eaters took in 66 fewer calories per meal, but compared to their fast-eating peers, they felt like they had eaten more. What's 66 calories, you ask? If you can do that at every meal, you'll lose more than 20 pounds a year!
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Put your fork down between every bite to slow your pace and keep yourself from overstuffing. It's been proven: one PLOS One study found that people who focused on taking "small bites" of food consumed about 30 percent less soup for their meal than those who didn't make the conscious decision. A second study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that simply slowing down had similar results. People who focused on doubling the number of times they chewed before swallowing ate 15 percent less food and 112 fewer calories over the course of a meal. So pump the brakes, and slow down to slim down.
You haven't been drinking enough water.
Adequate water intake is essential for all your body's functions, and the more you drink, the better your chances of staving off belly fat. In one Virginia Tech study, dieting participants who were instructed to drink two cups of water before each meal lost 30 percent more weight than their thirsty peers. And you can magnify the effect by adding ice. German researchers found that six cups of cold water a day could prompt a metabolic boost that incinerates 50 daily calories. That's enough to shed five pounds a year!
Eat This, Not That! Fix: You read the study results! Drink at least a glass of water before you sit down to each meal to decrease your calorie consumption. Plus, you'll avoid these 7 Side Effects of Not Drinking Enough Water.
You eat when you're emotional.
A Journal of the American Dietetic Association study found that emotional eaters—those who admitted eating in response to emotional stress—were 13 times more likely to be overweight or obese. If you feel the urge to eat in response to stress, try chewing a piece of gum, chugging a glass of water, or taking a walk around the block. Create an automatic response that doesn't involve food, and you'll prevent yourself from overloading on calories.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: "Eat mindfully with intention and attention," says Michelle May, MD, founder of Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs. "Eat with the intention of feeling better when you're finished eating than you did when you started, and eat with your full attention on the food and your body for optimal enjoyment and satisfaction."
You always take the elevator.
Your office is on the fifth floor. You always take the elevator. Big mistake! Using the stairs burns twice as many calories. Still not convinced you should change your ways? A 150-pound person could lose about six pounds per year just by climbing up two flights of stairs every day, according to the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. Bump that up to six, and you could drop 18 pounds without ever hitting the gym.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Not only should you be ditching the elevator upon your arrival, but find another excuse to take the stairs. Use the bathroom one floor below or the microwave that's down two. It may be tough at first, but sooner or later you'll see results and it'll be well worth it.
You sleep too much.
Unfortunately, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. While skimping on sleep is associated with weight gain, researchers at Wake Forest found that those who sleep more than eight hours a night packed on more belly fat, the dangerous kind that's associated with heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Shoot for an average of six to seven hours of sleep per night—the optimal amount for weight control. And burn calories overnight with these 30 things to do 30 minutes before bed to lose weight.
Your food is always on display.
Our homes are filled with hidden eating traps, and simply being aware of something as simple as the size of a bowl can influence how much you eat. For example, a study conducted at Google's New York office found that placing M&Ms in opaque containers as opposed to glass ones and giving healthier snacks more prominent shelf space curbed candy consumption by 3.1 million calories in just seven weeks. So what does that mean for your weight? The lesson here is clear: Clear junk food off your countertops to start losing weight and to make better choices.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Bottom line: It's easier to change your environment than to change your mind. Employ simple strategies like removing junk food from your line of sight to keep belly fat off your frame.
You hit up the add-ins station after ordering your coffee.
If your coffee tastes like ice cream, you're doing it wrong. Adding packet upon packet of sugar will ultimately cause your blood sugar to spike and crash—which makes you crave unhealthy food—and can ultimately lead to weight gain. And it's not just sugar you have to be worried about if you're looking to save calories. According to a 2017 study published in the journal Public Health, researchers found that nearly 70 percent of coffee consumers drink coffee with caloric add-ins (including sugar and creamers); out of those people, close to 16 percent of their daily caloric intake came from sipping on their coffee concoction. That 16 percent translates to an additional 70 calories a day more than non-coffee drinkers.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Try using other flavor boosters to make up for the sweet stuff, such as cinnamon or cocoa powder, both of which are often available at your local coffee shop. And if you crave that sweetness, go for the less processed stuff. Stevia, which is now available at Starbucks (just ask if it isn't out) was proven to help minimize spikes in blood glucose and insulin, according to a study in the journal Appetite.
You eat dinner late.
Eating late in the evening is a great way to go up a couple of pant sizes. Research published in Obesity Society shows that eating dinner earlier in the day can help with weight loss because you have more time to burn off the calories. Remember that the next time you're hankering for a slice of pizza late at night.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Stick to a consistent dinner time and schedule it for early in the evening. If you happen to have a late dinner, consider going for a walk afterward to get your metabolism going.
You're always bored.
According to a study published by Frontiers in Psychology, people have the tendency to eat when they're bored.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Before you pick up that afternoon snack, ask yourself if you're really hungry or just eating because you don't have anything else to do. Try reading a book, meditating, or writing in a journal to keep your mind (and your stomach) preoccupied.
Your bedroom is too warm.
Adjusting the temperature in your room is a simple fix to a smaller pants size. According to research published in Cell Press, regular exposure to mild cold can actually boost weight loss. The researchers noted that a Japanese study found that participants who stayed in colder temperatures (around 62 degrees) for six weeks saw a significant decrease in body fat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Make sure to turn your thermostat down and take off any extra blankets when the weather starts to get warm. Because your body temperature naturally falls when you begin to fall asleep, the colder room will help you sleep soundly and keep belly fat off your frame. And be sure you're all caught up on the 40 Best and Worst Foods to Eat Before Sleep, too!
You buy white bread.
Ask any diet expert what they think about fiber, and they'll likely explain that it's an imperative part of any weight-loss goal. So, if you tend to skimp on the nutrient by purchasing white bread products, it could explain why you've been packing on the pounds. Refined wheat flours, such as white bread, pizza, pasta, and bagels, have been stripped of their slow-digesting fiber, which means your body can break down what you just consumed very quickly.
And the faster your body digests these foods, the faster your blood sugar levels rise, which leads to spikes in your insulin levels and ends with fat accumulation.
According to multiple studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who consume the most refined grains have the most amount of belly fat and largest mean BMI and waist circumference, whereas those who eat the most high-fiber, whole-grain foods have the lowest amounts of belly fat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: We know change is hard, but making the switch to whole grain is well worth it. Find fiber in all of your foods. Adding berries such as raspberries and blueberries to your morning oats is a smart move. These fruits carry over 6 grams of the belly-filling stuff per cup. Not to mention, they're low in sugar and filled with flavor. "According to research from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, eating foods rich in soluble fiber, like oatmeal (one of the best carbs for weight loss), apples, and beans, can reduce belly fat," says registered dietitian nutritionist Jennifer McDaniel.
You always celebrate with food.
… or a drink! But just because your BFF got a promotion, or you finally moved into your new home, doesn't mean you need to overload on champagne and cookies. In fact, you should do the opposite. Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN explains that rewarding yourself, or your friend, with food is a very slippery slope: "Often times, I see my patients reward a weight loss by indulging in foods they know aren't the best for their goals. Instead, I suggest using things like manicures, SoulCycle classes, and workout gear as a reward for all their hard work. Using junk food will only contribute to weight gain and lead to unhealthy yo-yo dieting."
Eat This, Not That! Fix: There are plenty of ways to celebrate these achievements without the junk. If you went on a congratulatory trip to the beach three times a year instead of devouring a fancy dinner out, you could keep nearly 4,000 calories out of your mouth. That sums up to a little more than a pound of fat!
You watch cooking shows all the time.
Chopped, Top Chef, Chef's Table—these appetite-enhancing shows are doing more than making us hungry, they're making us fat! "Television recipes often contain more calories, protein, and fat than the experts recommend," says Mary Hartley, RD, MPH a consulting nutritionist from Rhode Island. "According to a study from Cornell, watching cooking shows and then cooking from scratch is associated with a higher body mass index (BMI). However, cooking show viewers who watch but don't cook do not have higher BMIs." So feel free to watch, but sorry Ina, we can't cook up the food.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Watch the shows, let them inspire you, but make them flat-belly friendly. Change one fattening ingredient to one of these 40 Best-Ever Fat-Burning Foods and enjoy.
You love to binge-watch TV.
Time spent on Netflix as opposed to at the gym is obviously not a flat-belly move. But it's more than just a lack of gym time that's packing on the pounds; a study conducted at the University of Vermont found that overweight participants who cut back half of their normal TV time saved an additional 119 calories a day on average. Watching just one less show (if you only watch two) would be an automatic 12-pound annual loss!
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Make the most of your TV time by multitasking while you watch—fold some laundry, or plank and wall sit during commercial breaks. An easy load of chores can further bump up your caloric burn. And if your hands are busy washing the dishes or making your kids lunch, then they won't be in the popcorn bag! Mindlessly snacking is a tummy trap during this sacred time. Check out these 21 Ways to Sneak In a Workout to get inspired.
You always eat out for lunch.
If your lunch break is consistently you running out to a local spot or out the door to meet a delivery guy, then chances are you're eating up more calories, salt, and sugar than if you just ate a lunch from home. Restaurant options are often spiked with diet-destroying sauces and belly-bloating sodium. And when you eat out, you often say "yes" to more than you need. And your local place is just as to blame as the McDonald's down the block. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that restaurant food is as caloric as fast food. Researchers found that 92 percent of meals gathered from both large-chain and local restaurants in three cities contained on average 1,205 calories—nearly 60 percent of the FDA's daily recommended intake of 2,000.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: To stay away from those unwanted calories, brown bag it. With these 25 Super-Healthy Lunches Under 400 Calories, you're set to make an awesome week's worth of lunches.
You're having too much protein.
A high-protein, low-carb diet may help your extra pounds fly off initially, but it can actually cause weight gain in the long term, according to a recent Spanish study. Researchers had more than 7,000 participants fill out questionnaires about their eating habits over the course of six years. After analyzing the data for commonalities, they found that those who ate high-protein diets had a 90 percent greater risk of gaining more than 10 percent of their body weight during the course of the study than those who ate less of the stuff. Yikes!
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Instead of going heavy on the meat, "make half your plate vegetables and/or salad," says nutritionist and dietitian Danielle Omar, blogger at Food Confidence. The vegetables are nutrient-dense, high in satiating fiber, and low in calories. By eating the veggie half of your plate before anything else, you will take the edge off your hunger, eat less overall calories, and still feel full and satisfied.
You prefer potato chips.
If you're a sucker for a packaged, salty kick, chances are that's part of the reason for your widening belly. And it's not all water weight, either. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that salt actually confuses the biological processes that tell you when you're full.
"Our body has biological mechanisms to tell us when to stop eating, and fat activates those mechanisms in people who are sensitive to the taste of fat," lead author Russell Keast said in a statement. "However, when salt is added to the food, those mechanisms are blunted and people end up eating more food. This can cause you to eat more fatty foods, and over time, your body adapts or becomes less sensitive to fat, leading you to eat more to get the same feelings of fullness."
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Cooking at home? Use fresh herbs instead of salt. When dining out, scan the nutrition info at home before you head out and pick a low-calorie dish with about 1,000 milligrams of sodium or less. And make sure to avoid the worst orders at popular restaurants.
You eat at your desk.
You may think it's beneficial for your hourly pay, or to prove yourself to your boss, but eating your lunch at your desk isn't doing your waistline any favors. And you're not the only one doing this. According to research conducted by NPD group, roughly 62 percent of working American professionals dine "al-desko." The issue is that you're eating distractedly, which can cause you to consume up to 50 percent more calories than you intended, according to a 2013 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Invite a colleague, take a walk to the salad shop, and eat it there! Taking a break will help you refresh your mind and give you control over your caloric intake.
You always presume it's hunger.
Your stomach makes some noise. You're hungry, right? Maybe not. A study in the journal Physiology & Behavior found that 60 percent of the time people confused hunger for thirst. Drinking water is a simple trick to stay on track with those weight-loss goals. This may simply be because water is filling, but researchers note the added H2O may well be displacing calories otherwise spent on calorie-laden beverages. "If all else fails, have a cup of tea, which has almost no calories," recommends Kelly Choi, author of The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse. "Tea can help hydrate you and calm down cravings!"
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Even if you're sure those rumbles are for hunger, preloading meals with some good ol' calorie-free H2O can shave some calories. And if plain water sounds boring, you can add some practically calorie-free fresh citrus to create a health-boosting (and flavorful!) detox water.
You skip meals.
In a 2011 national survey from the Calorie Control Council, 17 percent of Americans admitted to skipping meals to lose weight. The problem is, skipping meals actually increases your odds of obesity, especially when it comes to breakfast. A study from the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who cut out the morning meal were 4.5 times more likely to be obese. Why? Skipping meals slows your metabolism and boosts your hunger. That puts your body in prime belly fat-storage mode and increases your odds of overeating at the next meal.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Don't say you don't have time for breakfast; it's easy if you make these overnight oats!
You order the healthiest-sounding menu item.
If you think you're doing yourself a favor by ordering a lighter fare, you may be surprised to learn you're not. That's because when you are under the impression you chose the better option, you tend to let up on restraint. In fact, consumers tend to choose beverages, side dishes, and desserts that contain up to 131 percent more calories when they ordered a "healthy" main dish, according to a study from the Journal of Consumer Research.
A separate Babson College study even found that the mere presence of healthy meals on a menu can actually cause people to select a less nutritious meal. Experts believe that people end up splurging because they take the fact that they count the consideration of ordering a healthy item as being virtuous, so it leads them to make poor food choices down the line. Plus, not all lighter fare dishes are as healthy as they sound.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: To keep your slim-down plans in line, take a peek at the restaurant's menu options in advance. Many chains have nutritional facts readily available, and knowing what you take in will rid you of any guilty feelings later as long as you stick to your plan. If you're considering ordering lunch, placing an order ahead of when you'll start to feel hungry can also help you cut down on calories, according to research published in the Journal of Marketing Research.
You order the meal as-is.
Restaurant chefs tend to soak their meals in deep, treacherous puddles of oil, cream, butter, and sugar—all of which are calorically dense and offer little to no nutritional benefits. By asking for your veggies and meat to be cooked dry and leaving sauces on the side, you could save loads of calories. Simple renditions like this on your order can lead to major weight loss success.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: If you're not already making this request when you dine out and order in, it's time to start. Ask for your chicken and broccoli dish steamed, leaving the sauce on the side. When you order, ask for a side of fruit with your veggie-filled omelet rather than going for the oil-drenched potatoes.
You eat three meals a day.
Despite diet experts and new research constantly telling you otherwise, many people still consume the bulk of their calories in two or three large meals each day, often—in an attempt to slim down—going for hours at a time eating nothing in between. Sure, you can lose weight on a reduced-calorie three-meal plan, but you can't make your body burn fat more efficiently, which is key to long-term weight loss.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: A nutritious meal or snack about every three hours keeps blood-sugar levels stable, feeds your body a steady stream of necessary nutrients, and helps control hunger-induced cravings for less-than-slimming snacks like sweets and fats. It also leads to more effective glycogen storage in the liver and muscle tissues, ensuring that your body won't cannibalize muscle as an energy source during your workouts. So make your meals mini, and spread them out. If you have trouble fitting in extra eating times at work, prepare food ahead of time that you can zap in the microwave or eat cold. Add these 30 Foods to Meal Prep on Sunday for Healthy Eating During the Week to your list!
Your diet depends on the day.
Allowing your cycle of good days and bad days to dictate your eating habits can set your diet up for failure. We're not saying that a cheat meal isn't allowed. In fact, quite the opposite: "Occasionally indulging can aid weight-loss efforts by warding off feelings of deprivation and bouts of overeating," explains dietitian Cassie Bjork, RD, LD of Healthy Simple Life. "It can make it easier to stick with your healthy eating regimen for the long haul." Rather, it's when you let your emotions dictate your eating routine or when one diet slip-up causes a cascade of poor eating decisions where you can run into a problem.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: We have two suggestions for you: Either keep your hard work in line by picking your cheat meal in advance and be sure to jump right back on the healthy eating bandwagon afterward, no matter how good a second greasy meal may sound. Or, choose a meal plan that's realistic. If you're a dairy lover, days without cheese, yogurt, and ice cream will be quite painful. Instead, allow yourself one meal a day with a little bit of the good stuff. That way, you never feel deprived.
You eat 'low-fat'.
It's time to get fat—not around your waist, but on your plate. Stop buying foods marketed as low-fat or fat-free. Typically, they save you only a few calories, and, in doing so, they replace harmless fats with low-performing carbohydrates that digest quickly—causing a sugar rush and, immediately afterward, rebound hunger. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that meals that limited carbohydrates to 43 percent were more filling and had a milder effect on blood sugar than meals with 55 percent carbohydrates. That means you'll store less belly fat and be less likely to eat more later.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Check out The 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss.
You ignore nutrition advice.
Good news here: By reading this, you're already forming habits that can help you shed belly fat. When New Zealand researchers sent diet and exercise advice to 491 people, they found that the recipients began eating smarter and working more physical activity into their daily routines. Not surprisingly, the habits of the non-recipients didn't budge.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Take note of the incredible advice we received in our list of The Best Nutrition Tips.
You've been avoiding nuts.
The UCLA Center for Human Nutrition researchers divided study participants into two groups, each of which was fed a nearly identical low-cal diet for 12 weeks. The only difference between the groups was what they were given to eat as an afternoon snack. One group ate 220 calories of pretzels while the other group munched on 240 calories' worth of pistachios. Just four weeks into the study, the pistachio group had reduced their BMI by a point, while the pretzel-eating group stayed the same, and their cholesterol and triglyceride levels showed improvements as well.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Enjoy pistachios—and almonds—and avoid any of the 100 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet.
You sit too much.
Ideally, we sleep about eight hours for every 24. Most people spend an extra seven to 10 hours sitting at their desks. That means most of us spend the overwhelming majority of our time sedentary. Our bodies weren't designed for this level of inactivity. Most of human evolutionary history has involved being active, searching for food and fuel. Nutritionist Lisa Jubilee, MS, CDN says that one way to burn more calories daily is to stand more and sit less. She cites a British study that found that standing at work burned 50 more calories an hour than sitting. If that doesn't sound like a lot, consider this: If you stand for just three hours every day, in one year you'll expend more than 30,000 extra calories—which amounts to about 8 pounds of fat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Set a phone timer to remind you to get up every hour and walk around, even for a few minutes. Just two minutes every hour can offset the predicted pounds, according to a Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology study.
You don't eat a filling snack before going out to eat.
While it may sound counterintuitive, eating before going to a work dinner or happy hour can actually take off pounds. A series of studies out of Penn State found that noshing on an apple or a broth-based soup prior to sitting down to a restaurant meal can reduce total calorie intake by 20 percent. With the average restaurant meal weighing in at 1,128 calories, saving 20 percent once a day could help you lose up to 23 pounds this year.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: You don't have to reach for an apple or soup to keep your appetite in check. Any of these 50 Best Healthy Snacks for Weight Loss should do the trick.
You never step on the scale.
Abandon your habit of stepping on the scale completely, and research has shown your weight is likely to creep up. University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing researchers found that people who never weighed themselves or only stepped on a scale once a week did not lose weight in the following year. However, dieters who weighed themselves every day a week lost an average of 1.7 percent of their body weight in 12 months.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: To get the most accurate measurement, weigh yourself once a week in the morning before breakfast.
You're brewing the wrong tea.
A steaming cup of tea is the perfect drink for soothing a sore throat, relaxing at night, or binge-watching your favorite TV show. But certain teas are also perfect for doing something else—helping you lose extra weight. Pu-erh tea, for example, can literally shrink the size of your fat cells! To discover the brew's fat-crusading powers, Chinese researchers divided rats into five groups and fed them varying diets over a two-month period. In addition to a control group, there was a group given a high-fat diet with no tea supplementation and three groups that were fed a high-fat diet with varying doses of pu-erh tea extract. The researchers found that the tea significantly lowered triglyceride concentrations (potentially dangerous fat found in the blood) and belly fat in the high-fat diet groups. It's a natural fat blaster, along with barberry, rooibos, and white tea.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: We love pu-erh so much, we made it part of our weight-loss plan, The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse.
You eat free restaurant food.
Breadsticks, biscuits, and chips and salsa may be complimentary at some restaurants, but that doesn't mean you won't pay for them. Every time you eat one of Olive Garden's free breadsticks or Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits, you're adding additional calories to your meal. Eat three over the course of dinner and that really starts to add up in calories. What's worse, none of these calories comes paired with any redeeming nutritional value. Consider them junk food on steroids.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: If you're starving before you get to a restaurant, consider keeping some nuts or a healthy bar in your car. Snack on that or a piece of fresh fruit so you don't overindulge in some of the unhealthiest restaurant breads.
You go to happy hour frequently.
You may be bonding with your co-workers and getting on your boss's good side, but there really is nothing happy about what those post-work drinks do. In fact, in a report found in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers claimed that drinking alcohol can cause people to eat an extra 384 calories a day.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: "Not drinking at all may be unrealistic, so less is, of course, more. I recommend choosing the most satisfying option. Choose that drink that's going to take you the furthest satisfaction-wise with the least quantity. I also generally find that cravings-wise wine is the worst and can open up the fridge more easily than something like a vodka soda," says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition.
You order the combo meal.
A study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing shows that compared to ordering a la carte, you pick up a hundred or more extra calories by opting for the "combo" or "value meal." Why? Because when you order items bundled together, you're likely to buy more food than you want. You're better off ordering your food piecemeal. That way you won't be influenced by pricing schemes designed to hustle a few more cents out of your pocket or the extra calories you didn't need to consume that are adding to your belly fat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: For starters, skip the soda. And then, order exactly what you think you'll eat. Consider swapping your usual side of fries for some fresh fruit or a side salad.
You let others serve you.
Whether it's at a family dinner table or at a restaurant, when you don't have control over how much food you put on your plate, science shows you're more likely to eat more calories—putting you at a higher risk of developing belly fat. In fact, a study published in The Journal of Nutrition showed that when college students were given larger portions than what they served themselves, significantly greater amounts of food were consumed.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: A staggering 92 percent of restaurant meals have more calories than you should eat in an entire day, finds a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. So why not eat home as much as possible to cut down on those large serving sizes and finally lose belly fat?
You're eating out of cans.
Bisphenol A, commonly referred to as BPA, can negatively impact fertility in both men and women and has also been been linked to obesity. Don't believe it? The science doesn't lie: A 2011 Harvard study found that adults with the highest concentration of BPA in their urine had significantly larger waists and chance of being obese than those in the lowest quartile. Another study by Harvard researchers published the same year pointed some blame at canned soup. The researchers found that subjects who consumed a serving of canned soup each day for five days had a 1,000 percent increase in urinary BPA concentrations compared with those who consumed fresh soup daily.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Put your cooking skills to the test and whip up one of these fat-burning soup recipes.
You don't let off steam.
You manage to avoid the office candy bowl, which is pretty impressive—especially on super stressful days—but you've got to let off some steam somehow. If you don't, it could lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels, causing sleep and immunity problems, blood-sugar abnormalities, and weight gain.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: How should you chillax? Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says stress relief is very individualized, so what helps your BFF relax may not work for you. Give a few different tactics a try and see what works best for you. Practicing yoga, meeting up with friends, and unplugging from technology for an evening are all things Zanini says are worth a shot. And even having any of these 7 Best Foods to Buy When You're Totally Stressed can help out!
You're always scrolling through Instagram.
It's actually a scientific fact that scrolling through delicious and perfectly arranged foods on your Instagram feed can actually lead to weight gain. Research published in the journal Brain and Cognition found that regular exposure to virtual foods might be exacerbating our physiological hunger way too frequently.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: They might look beautiful, but it might be time to unfollow some of the extremely indulgent Instagram accounts if you want to get rid of your belly fat.
Your partner doesn't like working out.
For better or… fatter? Research suggests a committed relationship has the potential to wreak havoc on your diet. A study in the American Journal of Public Health analyzed the impact spouses, friends, and siblings played on dietary patterns over the course of 10 years. Couples had the greatest influence on each other's eating habits, particularly when it came to drinking booze and snacking. And if the two of you happen to booze and snack a lot, that's a recipe for more belly fat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: The good news is that the "halo effect" applies to healthy habits, too. A Harvard Public School of Health study found that people on a weight-loss program who had the support of at least one partner lost 6.5 pounds more than those going it alone. So sign up your spouse or friend to be your partner in getting fit. And you can both click here to read The 25 Best-Ever Nutrition Tips!
You're not getting outside enough.
A new analysis showed a surprising link between vitamin D—the sunshine vitamin—and belly fat. After analyzing data from the Netherlands Epidemiology of Obesity study, researchers from VU University Medical Center and Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that obesity is linked to vitamin D deficiency. They also discovered how the nutrient plays a role in fat accumulation in men and women aged 45–65. The analysis suggests that women and men with higher levels of abdominal fat, aka belly fat, are also vitamin D-deficient.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Although you may get scanned for high cholesterol or diabetes at your annual exam, MDs don't typically test or look for physical signs of nutritional deficiencies—which can be dangerous! Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, CSSD, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Go Wellness in Orange County, California, suggests having your vitamin D levels checked if nothing else. "Many people are deficient and don't even know it—and not getting enough may increase the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain types of cancer," she warns.
You ignore sodium counts.
Your favorite trail mix only has 150 calories, but did you check to see how much sodium is lurking inside the package? All too often, those who aren't suffering from a health condition overlook that part of the nutrition label. "Americans consume, on average, about 50 percent more than the daily recommended intake of salt, and most of the excess sodium is coming from processed foods like frozen waffles, bagels, cheese cottage cheese, veggie burgers, and salad dressings," says Loy. Sticking to the USDA's daily recommendation of 2,300 milligrams per day or less can help you keep a bloated belly, high blood pressure, and other health conditions at bay.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Before you eat out, make sure you've read up on our guide to the healthiest low-sodium fast food orders.
You're not seeking medical help for your depression.
Constantly reprimanding yourself about your diet and ripping yourself apart over one indulgence is only going to make things worse. A study in the Journal of Health Psychology has shown that people who suffer from depression are actually more at risk for obesity than those who do not.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Consider seeking medical treatment if you think you're suffering from depression.
Animal protein takes up most of the space on your plate.
Even if you are making healthier choices, you may not be eating as many veggies as you need to when trying to get rid of belly fat. Vegetables are nutrient-dense and packed with fiber, which will fill you up without overloading on calories.
You don't eat enough food.
Some dieters get so caught up in being thin that they heavily restrict the number of calories they eat, or even turn to going the whole day without eating. Going on these dangerously restrictive diets can actually slow down your metabolism and cause pounds to burn off slower—or even pounds to creep onto your frame.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Remember to stay on the healthy track of a balanced diet and exercise and watch out for the signs you're not eating enough.
Your go-to proteins are high in saturated fat.
All meats have protein in them, but some are fattier than others. Red meats, like beef and lamb, have a higher fat content than lean meats like turkey and chicken. While some fats are healthy in moderation, these animal proteins are particularly high in saturated fat, which a Chinese study found to be positively associated with abdominal obesity and larger waist circumference. A high saturated fat diet can cause belly fat to stick around, whereas replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats can help get rid of belly fat and improve insulin sensitivity, according to a Diabetologia study.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: In order to get your protein intake for the day without consuming excess amounts of fat, try sticking to leaner meats like poultry and fish. If you can't combat your red meat cravings, try going for grass-fed beef, which has less fat and more good-for-you omega-3s than farm-raised beef.
You start your morning with fruit juice.
All juices, even the 100 percent natural ones, have high amounts of sugar. One cup of apple juice can contain 24 grams of sugar, which is nearly half of the daily recommended sugar intake per the FDA. Over 14 grams of that sugar comes from fructose, a sugar that is mainly processed by the liver and has been found to negatively affect your metabolism, which can lead to belly fat. Juices also lack fiber, one of the key components to a whole fruit's nutritional value.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Rather than drinking juice on its own, make yourself a smoothie instead. To keep your smoothie from being a sugar bomb, use no more than a cup of fruit and make sure to add a serving each of healthy fats (avocado, nuts), fiber (flax or chia seeds, oats, and protein (protein powder or Greek or Icelandic yogurt).
You haven't tried yoga.
Yoga is not only a great form of exercise, but it also helps with stress and teaches you tactics for mindful eating. According to a study conducted by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, people who practice yoga tend to be more mindful eaters in comparison to those who do other forms of exercise.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: You don't need to go to a studio to practice yoga. Look up a short 15-minute practice on YouTube and try it at home!
Your workouts are too easy.
If you aren't sweating, you're not working out hard enough. Doing the same workout over and over again without making it more intense won't give your body the push it needs to get stronger. And if your metabolism stalls, you won't be burning any more belly fat than you already have.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Instead of your regular exercise class day in and day out, try switching it up and exploring another workout, such as a spin class, Zumba, CrossFit, or boot camp.
You think exercising means you can eat whatever you want.
Studies show that most people greatly overestimate how many calories they burn when they're working out. As a result, you may end up consuming specialty snacks and drinks before, during, or after your sweat sesh—which all rack up the calories.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Since weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise, don't treat training days any differently than you would any other day. Refuel with something better, like these protein shakes.
You're not doing the right exercises.
Contrary to popular belief, you can't spot target fat loss. Your body more or less decides on its own where the fat is going to be shed from. But you can strengthen certain parts of your body. Both cardio and strength training can help you shed pounds, so it's important to perform a combination of both.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Torch calories with cardio like running or spinning and strengthen your abdominals with ab workouts like planks, crunches, and mountain climbers. Switch up your workout routine with some tummy-targeting exercises, and incorporate these Ways to Lose Your Belly in 14 Days to get a slimmer stomach in just two weeks.
You switch up your routine regularly.
Believe it or not, the fewer decisions you make in a day, the better it is for your belly. A study published in Social Science and Medicine found those who have high levels of what's called "skill discretion"—i.e., they exercise control by getting things done themselves—tended to have lower BMIs. In contrast, those who are constantly deciding on courses of action for others may eventually come down with "decision fatigue" and make ill-informed choices, such as ordering that piece of cheesecake for dessert.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: That's why we recommend rotating just a few go-to recipes during the week. Get inspired by these easy breakfast recipes.
You don't think twice about what you're eating.
Your friends and family may roll their eyes when you whip out your phone to Instagram your meals, but what they see as an annoying habit might actually be improving your health. An analysis of "attentive eating" studies in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found those who recall their last meal as being filling and satisfying tended to eat less at their next meal, thus keeping their bellies flatter.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: So if you have trouble remembering what you had for dinner last night, try Instagramming your meals in an effort to feel content the next time you sit down to break bread.
You're an adventurous eater.
As it turns out, there's something to be said for being a creature of habit and eating the same foods day in and day out, especially if you're on a mission to shrink your belly. When researchers looked at the diets of 6,814 people, they found that the more diverse one's diet, the more likely one was to experience weight gain. In fact, those who ate the widest range of foods showed a 120 percent greater increase in waist circumference compared with those who had the least diversity.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Make yourself a food subscription box on Amazon or your favorite online retailer that renews regularly. Fill it up with healthy snacks you love to keep your diet on track.
You still hate greens.
If you haven't changed your childhood habits, that may be the reason why you keep seeing fat creep onto your belly. Like many other veggies, greens can also help you stay slim and keep your belly flat. "When we make dietary choices, we usually load up on protein and complex carbohydrates like bread and rice," begins Lisa Hayim, MS, RD, founder of The Well Necessities and registered dietitian consultant for Emmy's Organics. "While these foods can be nutrient-dense, we miss out on major micronutrients that nourish us, fill us up, and happen to be calorically less dense. Thinking about ways to add greens to each meal is an excellent way to debloat and amp up your nutrients and fiber."
Eat This, Not That! Fix: "For clients that are looking to target their belly, I always recommending eating greens 2-3 times per day," Hayim advises.
Pizza is a staple in your diet.
A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips? How about this: A night at the Hut, a lifetime in the gut. In fact, pizza is the second biggest contributor of saturated fat to the American diet (just below cheese itself), and most slices serve up to half a day's worth of the artery clogger. Researchers have found that, unlike other fats, the saturated variety is the most likely to be stored in the stomach.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: If you're craving that tomato and bread combo, opt for bruschetta instead. This tomato basil salad is served on crostini and is saturated fat-laden cheese free!
You gave up coffee.
Sticking to a cup of black coffee each morning could actually rev your metabolism; the average metabolic rate of people who drank coffee with caffeine was 16 percent higher than those who drank decaf, according to a study in Physiology & Behavior. Coffee is also an excellent pre-workout beverage too, getting you pumped for your sweat sesh without all the added fillers and artificial sweeteners as the tubs sold at your local supplement store. In fact, a study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that cyclists who took a caffeine supplement experienced up to 3.1 percent more power than those who took a placebo.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: A cup of coffee doesn't mean four cups of coffee. Stick to a cuppa to reap the benefits and limit your add-ins to a splash of creamer, or, even better, a scoop of protein powder.
You love fried foods.
One thing to avoid when ordering food is trans fats. These man-made fats are typically found in fried foods—like these restaurant foods with trans fats. They're a "Not That!" because, as noted in the journal Obesity, they've been found to pack on the belly fat in monkeys.
As it turns out, they're not great for humans either. "Trans fats cause inflammation in the body leading to insulin resistance and impairing the body's ability to use glucose properly, resulting in excess fat storage around the belly," says Tina Marinaccio, MS, RD, CPT. Trans fats, which are created by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils, are beloved by manufacturers because they increase the shelf life of processed foods, but they are no friend to your waistline.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Read up on that list of restaurant foods with trans fats and avoid them at all costs!
You always pass on dessert.
Sure, skipping dessert saves you on calories and sugar. But constantly depriving yourself could lead to an out-of-control binge later on. And if you forgo your favorite sweet treat for a "healthier" version, you may feel less satisfied and reaching for something else to curb that sweet tooth.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: You're better off opting for a few bites of your favorite dessert than depriving yourself altogether. As long as it's not any of 50 Unhealthiest Desserts on the Planet!
You blindly buy 'all natural' and 'organic' groceries.
In a recent study, people estimated snacks labeled "organic" to be lower in calories, more nutritious, and even tastier than when reviewing the same snacks without the "organic" label. The only problem? That's hardly the case. Plus, all-natural isn't a regulated term, so marketers can slap this on products that are still highly processed, caloric, and loaded with sugar. If you down these groceries without looking at the label, you may ingest more calories than you realize, which can derail your rapid weight loss efforts.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Always read the nutrition label before you buy a product to make sure it has a healthy nutrient composition.
You avoid dairy.
Unless you're lactose intolerant, steering clear of milk, Greek yogurt and other popular dairy-based breakfast foods to save calories may be doing you more harm than good. The primary reason: Calcium plays a key role in regulating the way the body metabolizes food. Specifically, it determines whether we burn calories or tack them on as excess fat—like belly fat. On the flip side, a calcium-rich diet can help you burn more flab, according to a University of Tennessee at Knoxville report, which is exactly what you want if weight loss is your goal.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: If you are sensitive to lactose, you can still have dairy with these lactose-free yogurts.
You go gluten-free.
For some people, eating gluten-free is a necessity. But for those who think "gluten-free" means weight loss-friendly, beware the health halo. "Most gluten-free breads are made from refined grains, with white rice flour being the most popular. These breads have double the carbs of whole-wheat breads," shares Nashville-based nutritionist Sarah-Jane Bedwell. "Plus, studies show that people who eat whole grains have less belly fat than those who eat refined grains."
Eat This, Not That! Fix: If you must go gluten-free, due to celiac disease or a similar diagnosis, Bedwell recommends you look for gluten-free breads made with a mixture of seeds and naturally gluten-free whole grains, such as millet and amaranth.
You skip the yolk.
Egg white omelets might be your brunch and breakfast go-to, but it's time you give those silky, golden yolks some love. They're a great source of fat-incinerating choline and vitamin D, a vitamin most Americans don't eat enough of. Why's that matter? Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to abdominal obesity. Also, the yolks contain healthy fats that boost satiety, making it less likely you'll overeat later in the day, explains registered dietitian Kayleen St. John.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: If you want to cut back on calories, for every two eggs you crack, keep at least one egg yolk.
You work out daily.
It's great that you're so committed to your workout routine, but if you're spending all your free time sprinting and lifting you're not giving your body enough time to recover and rebuild, which can increase your risk of injury and actually hinder your progress, explains Jay Cardiello, a fitness and nutrition expert who has sculpted the bodies of some of the music scene's biggest superstars, including 50 Cent and J.Lo.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: To ensure you're giving your body the downtime it needs to lean out, Cardiello suggests taking one or two days off per week.
You always get the side of fries.
Yes, the salad is an upcharge, but isn't it worth it if you could get rid of belly fat? Any fat-laden carb-fest will make you gain weight, but there's something almost magical about the effects of fried spuds on your body's fat-storage system–and by magical, we mean Voldemort, not Potter. One longitudinal Harvard study found that people who ate fries regularly gained more than three pounds of body weight every four years; over the course of the study, the french fry eaters gained 13 pounds of belly flab from fries alone!
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Spend the dollar. Upgrade to the side salad and dress it with a healthy dose of olive oil and a splash of vinegar. And steer clear of The Unhealthiest Fast Food Side Dishes on the Planet.
You have meat at every meal.
Meatless Monday is more than just an alliteration; it's an easy way to shrink your belly. Numerous studies have shown that those who eat the least amount of meat are less likely to be obese, have lower BMIs, and the lowest body fat levels. Though it's perfectly fine to eat meat a few times a week, these high-protein foods tend to fill you up before you can work your way over to the veggies, which are known to possess fat-fighting, waist-trimming powers.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Try Meatless Mondays with these meatless meal ideas!
You don't see C.
Vitamin C, we mean. The important nutrient has been shown to counteract stress hormones which trigger fat storage around the midsection.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Bell peppers, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, and kale are some of the best vitamin C rich foods.