There’s no shortage of flat belly advice these days, and it can be downright paralyzing. 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 best tips on the planet and prioritized everything into the step-by-step weight loss guide. The first two steps are to make over your home and kitchen, starting with replacing unhealthy foods with Zero Belly-approved eats. Then, read up the best fitness hacks for turning your beer belly into a solid six-pack. Follow the plan to avoid feeling overwhelmed and see the best possible results. And to really make a change, see the 14 Ways to Lose Your Belly in 14 Days.
Make Over Your Home
“Whether you have ten pounds to lose or 100, the first thing you should do is create an environment for success,” says Chris Powell, Extreme Weight Loss trainer. These are the 10 things you need to do to up your odds of weight loss success.
Curb Your Sweet Tooth
Out of sight, out of mouth? Simply reorganizing your pantry’s “top hits” could translate into serious sugar savings, according to researchers at Google. The study, dubbed “Project M&M,” found that storing chocolate candies in opaque containers as opposed to glass ones help curb M&M consumption by 3.1 million calories in just seven weeks. In the study, they also gave healthier snacks more prominent shelf space. 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. For more sugar-curbing tips, grab a copy of The 14-Day No-Sugar Diet.
Sleep in a Cold Room
Simply blasting the air conditioner or turning down the heat in the winter may help attack belly fat while we sleep, according to a study in the journal Diabetes. As it turns out, colder temps can subtly enhance the effectiveness of your brown fat stores, which keep you warm by helping your burn through belly fat. 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 participants had almost doubled their volumes of brown fat.
Light Some Candles
While scents of apple pie and snickerdoodle cookies will make your mouth water, others can actually help suppress your appetite. One study in the Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine found that people who sniffed peppermint every two hours lost an average of five 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 result in weight gain, according to a study 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!!
Stock Up on Healthy Foods
A study by Eat This, Not That! magazine advisor Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, found that you can estimate how much someone weighs by taking a photo of their kitchen counter. After analyzing photos of 200 kitchens, he found that women who have soda sitting on their countertops weigh an average 26 pounds more while those who have cookies weigh about eight pounds more. The biggest surprise: Keeping cereal on your counter leads to an additional 20 pounds of body weight. The lesson here is to clean empty calories off your countertops to start losing weight.
Make Fruits and Veggies Accessible
Replace your candy and cookie jars on the kitchen counter with a bowl of fresh fruits and containers of nuts. Stock your fridge with chopped veggies and hummus for a quick and healthy snack. This way they’re more readily available, and you have no excuses to grab a bag of chips, right? Katie Cavuto, MS, RD, the dietitian to the Philadelphia Phillies and Flyers, likes having washed and prepared 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.
Keep Electronics Out of the Bedroom
Is scrolling through an Instagram black hole costing you zzz’s? It might 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!
Read Ingredient Lists
Reading the nutrition label of packaged foods is important, but you also want to carefully review the ingredients list. While the nutrition label will tell you how many calories and grams of fat and sugar are in the food, the ingredients list will tell you what’s exactly in it. Ask yourself: Does it have processed oils? What is the source of the sugar content? Are there food additives?
Throw Out Jelly & Jam
Your breakfast toast won’t miss these sugar-laden spreads when you start to shed pounds and notice a flatter belly. One tablespoon of jam easily carries just under 10 grams of sugar. And let’s be honest, who just has one? Top peanut butter sandwiches with fresh pieces of fruit, like banana and strawberry slices to infuse it with some natural sweetness. This tactic will help ward off blood-sugar fluctuations that can cause insulin spikes and put hunger into overdrive.
Skip 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. Many breakfast 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 laced with Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) or BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole). These ingredients are banned in the U.K., 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 sources,” 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 cans.” Consalvo suggests eliminating soda and drinking water, seltzer or detox tea instead.
Forgo White Carbs
Many of us grew up eating white bread and bagels, so we understand why 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’re 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.
Kick Processed Snacks to the Curb
Processed snacks filled with saturated fats, sugar, refined grains and harmful chemicals. It’s no wonder they’re 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, a synthetic compound, to their recipe to add grease without adding calories. Research has shown that the spread may expand your waistline, increase dangerous cholesterol levels and up your heart disease risk. Instead of margarine, we suggest one of these 8 Best Fats for Weight Loss.
Limit Chewing Gum
Chewing gum when you’re hungry fills your tummy with extra air, causing bloat. Many gums also contain sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, like sorbitol and xylitol, which can lead to bloating. 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.
Stock Up Your 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 are supercharged with belly-flattening nutrients. The key: Each drink is packed with protein, healthy fats and fiber. Here’s the Mango Muscle-Up: Mix 1 scoop vegetarian protein powder, 2/3 cup frozen mango chunks, 1/2 tablespoon 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 help turn off the genes for belly fat storage. In a study of 21 men in the journal Nutrition Research, half of the men were fed a breakfast of bagels while the other half ate eggs. The egg group had a lower response to ghrelin and were less hungry three hours later. They also 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.
Pack in Prebiotics
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. Fiber-rich sources of carbs are 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!
Opt for 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 complete proteins with a full amino acid profile, so aim to find a protein powder blend that combines all three. 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 benefits. Even if they call for whey protein, you can sub-in your plant-based favorite.
Go for 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.
Glorify Your Greens
Leafy greens give you folate, which blocks the genes that trigger fat-cell formation. Romaine lettuce, spinach, 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.
Indulge in Dark Chocolate
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 enjoyed two servings of dark chocolate daily showed a significant reduction in waist size than when on a cocoa-free meal plan.
Researchers say it has to do with the flavonoids, the 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.
Sip Some Tea
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, tea can help 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!
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 Healthy Eating Rituals
There are no wrong ways to eat a Reese’s. 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 in 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 practice to “Eat until 80% full.” If you follow Hara hachi bu, you could save nearly 300 calories per day. 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 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, healthy-weight customers were nearly three times more likely to use chopsticks than obese customers.
Jot Down Your Thoughts
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 three pounds over a three-month period. On the other hand, their counterparts who wrote about an unimportant topic gained three pounds, according to Cheryl Forberg, author of A Small Guide to Losing.
“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 40 Ways to Lose Weight in 4 Seconds.
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 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, a 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.
Identify the Root of Your Emotional Eating
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? Realize that although a bad feeling will eventually go away, the calories you consumed while you were feeling down, won’t. 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.
Celebrate Your Non-Scale Victories
Losing weight can be just as hard 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.
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.
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:
Lift Before Cardio
By running, biking or rowing after you’ve hit the weights, you’ll 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, 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 many calories and works the most muscles, including your back muscles. To bump it up a notch, take your workout outdoors. In a Brazilian study, outdoor rowers burned 26 percent more calories during a race than those on an indoor rowing ergometers.
Focus on Pushups
Although push-ups will emphasize the upper-body, including the shoulders and arms, they’re actually full-body exercises. “When done properly, they actually work your entire body and are one of the very best ways to target your external obliques,” says Annie Mulgrew, director of programming at City Row.
Sculpt Love Handles with Side Planks
If you want to get rid of those stubborn love handles, side planks are the perfect exercise for toning your obliques. By challenging your balance, side planks force you to recruit other muscles to stabilize your body.
Increase Your Load
If you can do more than five reps of an exercise, pick up a heavier weight. As you build muscles and your body gets stronger, you can increase your load to challenge your body. It’s particularly important to work larger muscle groups, like your glutes, with a heavier weight. “This will burn fat, in the belly and other areas, quicker than any ab exercise.”