One day, we’re slipping into our skinny jeans and the next one, we’re suddenly staring down a big belly in the mirror. Even when we’re eating well and exercising regularly, those extra pounds can sneak up on us, adding some jiggle around the middle, or some not-so-lovely love handles, particularly as we age.
All we want is a flat belly! Is that so much to ask?
As we get older, our odds of getting a flat belly without any changes to our habits are just as slim as our bodies have ceased to be. Fortunately, you have an advantage: knowing these 50 flat belly truths before your 50th birthday can help you kiss that bloated belly goodbye before you know it. Even if you’ve got more than a few pounds to lose, the 42 Ways to Lose 5 Inches of Belly Fat can help get you there fast.
A Flat Belly Starts in the Kitchen
It’s nice to imagine that our regular workouts are enough to keep our bellies flat as we get older, but in reality, carving out abs (or just knocking a few inches off that waistline) starts in the kitchen. Many people use the 80/20 equation to explain how much of each you’ll have to do to get the body you want: 80 percent eating better and 20 percent exercising. While this may seem daunting at first, a few simple changes, like swapping out white bread for whole grains, ditching artificial sweeteners, or just keeping a food journal can all make the process a whole lot easier.
Breakfast is the Most Important Meal
You wouldn’t start a marathon by sitting down, so why are you starting your day on the wrong foot with a sugary breakfast? The right breakfast — ideally one that combines protein and whole grains — can set the tone for the whole day, keeping you full and focused, making it less tempting to treat yourself with something sugary or loaded with fat later in the day. In fact, research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that individuals who regularly ate breakfast were significantly less likely to become obese than their breakfast-skipping counterparts.
Protein is Key
Say bye to those bagels and forget about that French toast; if you’re really eager to flatten your belly, protein is the way to go. Research published in the October 2008 volume of the International Journal of Obesity reveals that adults who ate eggs for breakfast reduced their waist measurements by 34 percent more and lost 65 percent more weight than those who had a carb-heavy breakfast. Start every morning off on the right foot with the 46 Best Breakfast Foods for Weight Loss!
Stress is Your Belly’s Enemy
We all get stressed sometimes, but if every little annoyance is sending your stress level through the roof, you could be setting yourself up for a bloated belly. When we’re stressed out, our body releases cortisol, a hormone that has been linked to fat storage, particularly around the abdomen. In fact, a study published in Obesity Reviews reveals that overweight women who had the highest waist-to-hip ratios were more likely to have high cortisol levels than those with smaller waists. Even if you can’t cut out all the sources of stress in your life, exercising on a regular basis, taking time to decompress, and treating yourself to scheduled breaks from work can all help.
You Need More Water Than You Think
If you’re having a hard time shedding those extra pounds around your middle, the answer could be as close as your nearest faucet. Most of us know that we should be drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day, but research from the CDC reveals that a whopping 43 percent of adults are drinking less than four cups of H20 every day. While this may seem like no big deal, skimping on your aqua intake could have serious consequences for your waistline: a 2016 study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics found that individuals who were adequately hydrated had less salt, sugar, and cholesterol in their diets, and consumed up to 206 calories less each day than those who weren’t drinking enough.
Happiness is Good For Your Health
That ballooning belly is no laughing matter, but the solution to it just might be. Research published in the International Journal of Obesity reveals that laughter can increase your calorie burn by as much as 20 percent, making it easier to shed those extra pounds. Happiness can also decrease your cortisol levels, reducing the risk of you hanging on to extra weight around your waist.
Preservatives Can Make You Pack on the Pounds
Those ingredients keeping your food shelf-stable are also responsible for your widening waistline. A study published in Nature in 2015 reveals that emulsifiers found in foods disrupted the delicate balance of bacteria in the guts of rodent test subjects, thus increasing their risk of developing metabolic syndrome and obesity.
Diet Soda is No Bargain
That diet soda you’re sipping may not have any calories, but that doesn’t mean it’s a waist-friendly drink. Unfortunately, the artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas can make your belly just as big as their caloric counterparts. According to research published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, artificial sweeteners can trigger cravings for real sugar, and can contribute to an increased risk of obesity, too. Find out how your soda stacks up by discovering the 70 Most Popular Sodas Ranked by How Toxic They Are.
Cool Bedroom = Hot Bod
Trying to shed that belly? Try cooling things down at home. Research published in Diabetes reveals that study participants who kept their bedrooms at 66 degrees over a four-week period had nearly twice as much brown fat —the kind that stokes your metabolism and helps you burn calories — than those who slept in a warmer room.
Eggs Are Essential
While eggs have a checkered reputation as a health food, recent studies confirm that they can be part of a healthy diet without widening your waistline. Not only does research support the notion that the protein in eggs can keep you satisfied, making it easier to eat fewer calories overall, the cholesterol in egg yolks can actually increase your HDL or “good” cholesterol while lowering the bad. Find out how to increase your fat burn with the 15 Best Egg Combos That Double Your Weight Loss!
Sitting is Making Your Fat
All those hours sitting on your butt at work are just as likely the culprit behind your expanding waistline as your occasional junk food splurge. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that men who spent most of their day sitting were at a significantly increased risk for obesity, even if they were otherwise active. While quitting your job may not be an option, taking breaks to stand up and walk around, or opting for a standing desk, may help you combat the fat.
TV is Junk Food, Too
Those TV marathons and your big belly aren’t as unrelated as you might hope. Not only does watching TV mean you’re spending more time sitting, which can contribute to weight gain in and of itself, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that people who eat while watching TV often consume up to 10 percent more than those who are focused on their food and limit distractions.
Dessert Can Be Good For You
Ditching dessert isn’t the only way to flatten your belly; in fact, indulging in some chocolate may help you reach that goal more easily. Researchers at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute found that the oligomeric procyandins in cocoa can help keep blood sugar stable, thus decreasing insulin spikes, fat storage, and sugar cravings. Cocoa is also a good source of the antioxidant pigment resveratrol, which has been linked to reductions in belly fat, too.
Carbs Are Not Your Enemy
Repeat after me: carbs are not the enemy. While going low-carb may be an effective weight loss plan in the short-term, cutting out carbs forever isn’t sustainable. Luckily, you don’t have to get rid of all the delicious carbs in your diet to slim down; research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that study subjects who ate whole grains lost significant amounts of belly fat and decreased their risk of heart disease, too.
Green Tea is Your Flat Belly Friend
Green tea and a slimmer belly are a matcha made in heaven. A review of research published in the International Journal of Obesity found that the consumption of green tea —particularly green teas with high catechin content — were significantly linked to increased weight loss and more effortless weight maintenance. Start sipping your way slim today with the 22 Best Teas For Weight Loss!
Love Breeds Love Handles
Love is beautiful. Love is bliss. Love is also a major contributor to your pudgy belly. While marriage is often associated with health benefits, like increased longevity and decreased heart disease risk, it may be making you gain weight. Research published in Health Psychology reveals that happily married women studied over five years weighed nine pounds more than their single counterparts, while married men were six pounds heavier than bachelors.
You Need to Work Out Harder, Not Longer
Want to bust through that weight loss rut? It turns out it’s not the hours you’re putting in at the gym, it’s how you’re using that time. Research suggests that even short sessions of high-intensity training can help you burn serious calories up to 24 hours after you’ve finished working out, a benefit you’re unlikely to get from a lackluster cardio session.
Portion Sizes Aren’t Always What They Seem
The internet has made it easier than ever to get access to nutrition information, but it’s far from a foolproof tool when it comes to weight loss. In fact, Chipotle was recently sued when it turned out that a burrito advertised as a weight loss-friendly choice actually weighed in at more than 1,000 calories, so take those calorie counts with a grain of salt when you’re indulging.
Sunlight is Your Friend
Consistent sun exposure may not be doing any favors for your skin, but it might just whittle your belly. Researchers at Northwestern University have found that exposure to early morning sunlight was linked to lower BMI and may help regulate your circadian rhythms, making it easier to shave off those unwanted pounds.
Trans Fats Are Widening Your Waist
While common wisdom dictates that weight loss is all about calories in versus calories out, trans fats might just be the exception to that rule. Researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine found that primates fed a diet high in trans fat over a six-year period increased their weight by 7.2 percent as compared to those fed monounsaturated fats, who bulked up by just 1.8 percent. The kicker? The two groups were fed the exact same number of calories, with a standard 35 percent coming from fat. So, even if you’re counting calories, the trans fat in your diet may still be sabotaging your weight loss. Make your weight loss easier by kicking the 5 Shocking Sources of Trans Fat off your menu now.
All Fish Aren’t Created Equal
Most of us think of fish as a healthy food, but not all seafood is created equal when it comes to your weight. In addition to having varying levels of harmful mercury, some fish, like tilapia, have a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, making them potential contributors to both inflammation and weight gain. For a healthier meal that can help you slim down, stick to wild-caught salmon, known for its high omega-3 count.
Your Gut Bacteria Matters
You may be concerned with how your belly looks, but it’s what’s lurking inside that could be causing your health issues. Your gut bacteria are essential for staving off disease and reducing your obesity risk, but unfortunately, the foods we’re eating, like antibiotic-treated meats, artificial sweeteners, and added sugars can all throw the delicate balance in our bellies out of whack. In fact, research published in Nature reveals that signals sent from out gut can increase our bodies’ production of both insulin and hunger hormone ghrelin, the combination of which is a surefire recipe for overeating and weight gain.
Skim Milk Isn’t Slimming
Think you’re slimming down by opting for skim milk? Think again. A review of research in the European Journal of Nutrition found that consumption of full-fat dairy is linked to reductions in heart disease and diabetes risk and that those who consume reduced-fat dairy are actually more likely to become obese.
Crunches Don’t Produce Flat Abs
If you’re slogging through what seems like an endless number of crunches every day to attain a flatter belly, you may be suffering in vain. While crunches may have some minor abdominal toning effects, you’re not going to see a flatter belly until you address the fat that’s obscuring those abs. Losing weight and doing ab-toning exercises, like planks and leg lifts, can help you carve out the belly you’ve always wanted without a single crunch.
Organic Produce Really is Better
Although a weekly trip to Whole Foods may be cost prohibitive for most of us, opting for organic produce, whether it’s picked from your garden or purchased from a CSA, can help you keep that belly flat while warding off future health issues. Research published in Environmental Health Perspectives reveals that prenatal exposure to organochlorines, a group of common pesticides, was linked to an increased risk of rapid weight gain and obesity in children, making organic produce the clear winner for weight loss. Make every meal more satisfying by loading up on the 20 Most Filling Fruits and Veggies!
Gum is No Friend to a Flat Belly
While it’s often suggested as a means of cutting down on snacking, chewing gum to stave off hunger may be the reason for your expanding waistline. Not only is chewing gum loaded with waist-widening artificial sweeteners, the very act of chewing it can cause you to swallow excess air, bloating your belly and causing discomfort.
Your Metabolism Matters
You may believe that you’re simply cursed to have a sluggish metabolism forever, but figuring out your metabolic rate and eating to suit it can make a huge difference in both your health and weight. By discovering how many calories you’re actually burning, you can tailor your eating and exercise habits to maximize your weight loss and break away from that ballooning belly.
High-Fat Doesn’t Mean Unhealthy
Despite what virtually every diet program from the 1960s through the 1990s may have told you, fat is not the enemy of a flat belly. Not only have Mediterranean diets high in monounsaturated fats been linked to lower rates of obesity and heart disease, research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reveals that eating a 1.5-ounce portion of almonds each day instead of a carb-rich snack decreased belly fat.
Caffeine Boosts More Than Your Energy
Go ahead, enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning —your belly will thank you. The results of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveal that caffeinated coffee can significantly increase both metabolic rate and fat oxidation, making it easier to lose weight and flatten your belly.
Your Thyroid Can Make or Break a Flat Belly
That lump in your throat could be the reason behind those extra inches around your belly. Your thyroid influences everything from your energy level to your weight, and when it’s not working properly, your health can go downhill while your weight goes up fast. If you’re finding it harder than ever to shed those excess pounds, try talking to your doctor to see if a thyroid issue may be at play.
Artificial Sweeteners Are Everywhere
So, you don’t put belly fat-promoting artificial sweeteners in your food; pat yourself on the back. However, that’s not the only place they could be lurking in your diet. From chewing gum to sauces to snack foods, artificial sweeteners that can disrupt your healthy gut bacteria are everywhere and they may be wreaking havoc on your belly. When you’re reading food labels, make sure to look out for sucralose, acesulfame K, xylitol, sorbitol, and the dreaded aspartame — all of these could have a hand in your ever-expanding belly. Get your gut health under control today by discovering how bad those added sweeteners can really be.
Spicy Food Heats Up Your Metabolism
The key to keeping your metabolism working at a steady clip? Heating things up in the kitchen. According to research published in PLoS One, the capsaicin found in hot peppers increased fat oxidation, meaning that side dish of salsa could help you shave off that unwanted belly fat in no time.
An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
We’ve all heard the saying, but it’s true: an apple a day really does keep the doctor away, especially when your belly fat is concerned. Researchers at the State University of Rio de Janeiro found that eating three apples a day spurred significant weight loss when compared to eating a similar amount of an oat-based snack. Money may not grow on trees, but a flatter belly sure does!
Even Savory Foods Are Full of Sugar
We all know that sugar isn’t so sweet when it comes to our waistline, but few realize just how much added sugar we’re eating every day. The American Heart Association suggests that adult mean eat no more than 37.5 grams of sugar a day, or 25 grams for women. Unfortunately, research suggests that Americans are eating an average of 151 grams a day, or 130 pounds of the sweet stuff each year. However, when you consider that a single tablespoon of ketchup has nearly four grams of sugar in it, it’s not hard to see how our seemingly minor dietary offenses can add up fast.
Your Friends Are Fattening
Having strong relationships with your friends in adulthood is great for your social life, but it may not be great for your belly. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health in May 2011 reveals that people with heavier friends were more likely to be heavy, with the likelihood of weight gain increasing alongside the strength of the relationship. While it may be hard to swim against the tide of your friends’ unhealthy habits, leading by example may help your less healthy pals slim down, too.
Food Labels Don’t Tell the Whole Story
Reading the nutrition label seems like it should give you enough information to make an educated decision about what you’re eating, but it doesn’t always give you the whole story. While new legislation has been proposed to change this, current food labeling doesn’t separate added sugars from natural sugar, or require an indication when ingredients, like mono- and diglycerides, are made up of trans fats. The best defense for your belly is choosing whole foods with ingredients you recognize and keeping the 20 Weird Reasons You’re Gaining Weight on your radar.
The Weight Room is Your Friend
Avoiding the weight room because you’re afraid of getting too bulky could have serious belly-fattening consequences. Not only does muscle take up less room than fat, making you look leaner even if you haven’t actually lost any weight, it also helps you burn more calories per pounds than an equivalent amount of fat would. If you’re trying to shed that belly for good, make sure you’re eating whole grains, vegetables, and plenty of protein, and keep those weight-bearing workouts on your menu, too.
“Whole Grain” Doesn’t Always Mean Healthy
The words “whole grain” on food packaging can attract health-conscious consumers like moths to a flame, but that phrase may sound more promising than it actually is. Statements like “made with whole grains” mean virtually nothing in terms of how healthy your food actually is, or how likely it is to promote belly fat and weight gain. Plenty of supposedly whole grain products have just a tiny amount of whole grains in their recipe, and even worse, many are loaded with all the high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and sodium you’d expect from less healthy foods.
Eating Three Squares Really Works
Opting for a graze-all-day diet instead of three square meals may be the real reason you can’t shed that stubborn belly fat. Research published in Hepatology found that men on weight gain-promoting meal plans who ate five times a day had significant increases in their belly fat as compared to the group who ate just three meals a day, even though both groups consumed the same number of total calories.
Salt is Lurking Everywhere
Here’s a flat belly fact sure to send your blood pressure through the roof: most of us are eating more than double the recommended amount of hypertension-inducing, belly bloating salt each day. In fact, the 1500 milligrams of sodium we’re supposed to limit ourselves to is equivalent to less than a teaspoon of salt. However, even if you’re not seasoning your food with added salt, it’s likely still making it into your diet; just 12 Doritos pack eight percent of your daily sodium allowance, and a single teaspoon or Sriracha contains about four percent of your daily total. Instead of filling your pantry with salt-laden snacks, make sure you’re keeping things healthy with the 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen!
Eating at Night Isn’t Bad
If you’ve been saying no to carbs at night, you could be doing yourself a disservice, especially when it comes to belly fat. A study of Israeli police officers found that those who consumed more carbohydrates in the evening had improved insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar, and lost more fat than those who ate their carbs in the AM.
Sleep is the Best Weight Loss Aid
Want to wake up with a flatter belly tomorrow? Try getting some more sleep tonight. Research published in Sleep reveals that adults who slept less than five hours each night had significantly wider waists at the end of the five-year study period than those who got more than six hours of shut-eye.
Making Your Own Meals Saves More Than Money
Keep that money in your pocket while shaving pounds off your waistline by preparing your meals at home instead of eating out. Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that, among a group of 1,319 adults, those who spent less than an hour preparing their meals each day ate fewer fruits and vegetables than those who spent more time on meal prep. If you’re trying to defeat that bloated belly, ditching the takeout is a great place to start; all that money you’ll save can even help you buy the new wardrobe you’ll need.
Your Favorite Cocktail is Slowing Your Metabolism
Sure, a glass of red wine from time to time may lower your blood pressure, but your nightly cocktail habit could be standing between you and a flatter belly. Not only are many alcoholic drinks hugely caloric, with frozen margaritas packing upwards of 400 calories a piece and most restaurant sangrias packing tons of added sugar, alcohol can actually grind your metabolism to a screeching halt. Your body prioritizes the metabolism or alcohol, slowing down your metabolism as much as 73 percent and making it harder to burn through that belly fat.
Soy is a Saboteur
A flatter belly begins to take shape the second you step away from those soy-based foods. While natural soy, like edamame, may lower blood pressure and improve your heart health, it can also be a recipe for serious bloat. Soy is full of hard-to-digest oligosaccharides, which ferment in your gut and cause uncomfortable gas and a distended belly. Instead of belly-bloating soy, load your diet with healthy protein by adding the 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss to your meals!
Decompressing is Key
The easiest way to get a flatter belly is to give yourself plenty of time to decompress. Allowing yourself some personal time can significantly reduce your blood cortisol levels, reducing the likelihood that you’ll gain and hang onto extra belly fat.
Frozen Yogurt Isn’t Helping Your Gut
Yogurt may be loaded with gut health-boosting probiotics, but that doesn’t mean your fro-yo habit is going to help you lose weight. Not only are some of the beneficial bacteria in yogurt killed by the freezing process, the shocking amount of sugar you’ll get in every cup of the sweet stuff can lead to a bacterial overgrowth in your gut, causing inflammation and potentially increasing your risk of a bigger belly in the process.
Cheat Meals Are a Good Thing
Unless you’re a long-lost Hemsworth brother, the odds that you’ll go anything less than crazy eating exclusively grilled chicken and undressed veggies for months at a time are slim. Cheat meals can be a great weapon for helping you break up the monotony of your diet, making it easier to stick to your healthy eating plan when you know you can still indulge from time to time.
Your Belly Needs a Break
Giving your belly a break might just be the key to losing that extra pudge once and for all. Researchers at the Salk Institute found that mice who took a 12-hour break from eating each day gained significantly less weight than those who were given 24-hour access to food, even though the two groups consumed the same amount in total.
Starving Yourself Doesn’t Work
Shedding that belly doesn’t have to mean resigning yourself to a life of hunger. In fact, your best weapon against belly fat is food itself. Eating the right foods can stoke your metabolism, keep your gut bacteria in balance, and make it easier to shed those extra pounds and stay healthy, no matter what your age. Keep your belly flat and your body happy by cutting out the 31 Things You Did Today to Slow Your Metabolism and eating plenty of filling and nutritious whole foods.