30 Worst Habits That Cause Belly Fat in Women
You've been crushing it with your at-home spin classes, making homemade healthy lunches, and not ordering in, and you drink weight loss smoothies like they're water. And yet the scale doesn't seem to be in any hurry to inch its way down, and your abs refuse to unearth themselves. In fact, did those leggings shrink, or are they tighter this month than last?
But fear not, we're about to school you in sneaky—and very common!—flubs that could be keeping the belly fat on your middle. After you've seen our list of mistakes many women make, reverse direction with these 21 Fastest Ways to Lose Belly Fat.
You and Your Roomie Get Cupcakes Every Week to Watch Your Fave Show
Sugar-laden treats like cupcakes, cookies and even protein bars (which can pack a whopping 20+ grams of sugar) can contribute to serious pound creepage. Swap 'em for these 50 Best Snacks for Weight Loss instead. We promise that fantasizing about trying out for "The Bachelor" will be just as fun.
You Have "Just One" Soda Instead of Tea
Just one soda each day—or even per week—can really add up, according to new research in The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse. "Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, sweetened coffee or tea, and fruit juice, can lead to excess calorie consumption and weight gain, specifically in the abdominal area," explains Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, Corporate Dietitian at Medifast. "Instead of having fruit juice, have plain water infused with fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Instead of orange juice for breakfast, try plain water infused with slices of orange and lemon." And melt up to two inches from your waist on The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse! Test panelists lost up to 10 pounds in one week!
You're Obsessed with Gluten-free foods
"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 Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, LDN. "Plus, studies show that people who eat whole grains have less belly fat than those who eat refined grains. If you must go gluten-free, due to celiac disease or similar diagnosis, look for gluten-free breads made with a mixture of seeds and whole grains, such as millet and amaranth," she elaborates.
You Don't Use Chopsticks
Ladies, channel that mindfulness from the yoga mat and bring it to the dinner table (okay, coffee table). When you're scarfing down lo mein with a fork, you're probably eating a heck of a lot quicker than you would be if you opted for chopsticks. Navigating the ramen bowl or sushi roll with chopsticks will help slow you down, which in turn promotes eating more mindfully and can make it so you consume fewer calories. No chopsticks? Try eating dinner with your non-dominant hand holding your fork, which will produce a similar slow-down effect. For more easy tweaks to make, take a peek at the 42 Ways to Lose 5 Inches of Belly Fat.
You Only Eat Mini Meals
So, it's official: You're that girl who shows up to your 3 p.m. meeting with a perfectly-portioned handful of almonds, an apple, two squares of dark chocolate and a stack of multigrain crackers. But if you think loading up on those small meals spread out throughout the day will speed up your metabolism, that's not always the case. "Although eating frequent meals and snacks has been proposed to help control appetite and food intake, a review of controlled feeding studies in adults found that eating more than three times a day had little, if any impact on appetite or food intake," says nutritionist Lisa Hayim, MS, RD, and founder of The WellNecessities. "If you like eating small meals throughout the day, keep them small and light, making sure that their total caloric intake is still within your body's needs." And while we have you, don't miss the 25 Things You're Doing to Slow Your Metabolism!
You Eat the Same Thing Over and Over and Over
Are you about to have your fifth hummus and sprouts sammie of the week? "Many women eat the same breakfasts, lunches, and dinners repeatedly. Eating the same foods over and over lowers your metabolic rate and prevents probiotic diversity," Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, MD, also known as "Dr.Taz," a weight loss expert and author of What Doctors Eat and The 21-Day Belly Fix. "Food diversity improves your metabolic rate since your gastrointestinal system is challenged by change and given a new set of probiotics with each new food."
You Make Your Way Through a Bottle of Wine
"Pouring a large glass of wine is a mistake," offers Bedwell. And boy, does she have that one right. "The recommended alcohol consumption for women is one 5-ounce glass per day, with good reason. Each glass has roughly 120 calories, and your body burns calories from alcohol first to get it out of your system as fast as possible. That means any calories you consume from food get put on the back-burner, making it harder to shed unwanted pounds," she explains. "Not to mention that alcohol tends to stimulate the appetite, so that wine may be making you consume more calories from [whatever you're eating]."
You Have Partner Comparison Disorder
PCD might not be an official diagnosis (yet), but when it comes to weight loss, the struggle is real. Hayim paints the picture well: "You and your boyfriend or husband have decided to commit yourselves to wellness. You both begin the journey together, waking up early, eating healthy for about a week or so. But your partner begins to fall off the trail, and he's skipping the early morning workouts. But not you, you're still on track day after day. A few weeks go by like this and you realize he's sleeping in and seeing results, and you aren't," says Hayim. Sound familiar? "Well, stop comparing! Women, you will never be able to accurately compare your body composition to your male partner. We will generally have a higher percentage of body fat than men, despite eating proportionally fewer calories. In fact, a healthy range of body fat for women is 20-25 percent, compared to men who are at a healthy range from 10-15 percent," she adds. Bottom line: Don't beat yourself up, and quit measuring yourself against your beau.
"Egg Whites Only" is Your Mantra
It might be your brunch and breakfast go-to, but there's reason to give the silky, golden yolks some love "Egg yolks are a source of Vitamin D (a vitamin most Americans do not eat enough of). Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to abdominal obesity. Also, the (healthy) fat within the yolks will help you feel fuller longer and less likely to overeat later in the day," offers nutritionist Kayleen St. John, RD at Natural Gourmet Institute, a health-supportive cooking school in New York City. For the head-to-toe amazing info on eggs, find out What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Eggs!
You Only Meet Up with People at Restaurants and Bars
Even if you're eating the seemingly good-for-you choice when dining out, you still can't fully control how much salt, oil or fattening ingredients go into a dish. (You might not even be aware of them!) "Research shows that those who prepare six to seven meals at home consume fewer calories than those who cook less, even when eating out. Find your niche in the kitchen and get connected to what you eat," suggests Dr.Taz. And then make cooking at home even easier with these 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen!
You Stay Up Late Binge-Watching Netflix
If if a show really is that addicting, it's still more important to get your beauty sleep, says Hayim. "Research consistently shows an association between short sleep duration and being overweight. Most recently, a 2014 study demonstrated that low sleep duration went hand in hand with high body mass index, a ratio measure of height-to-weight." Instead of Netflix-ing all night, find out 30 Things to Do 30 Minutes Before Bed to Lose Weight.
You Avoid Fruit Because It's "High in Sugar"
Saying "No, thanks" to that apple or banana is a huge mistake. "Potassium, found in high amounts in fruits and vegetables, helps to naturally de-bloat the body," explains St. John. "Also, the sugar found in whole fruits acts differently in the body than added sugars. Bananas, often cited as being 'high in sugar', are very high in potassium and definitely contribute to de-bloating and a flat belly," she continues.
No Matter What, You Eat Before a Workout
"Trainers have engrained into our brains that we must 'eat something' before and after a workout," says Hayim. "So much so, that we neglect our actual feelings of hunger and satiety, and thoughtlessly stuff something into our mouths. Although pre and post-workout eating is essential for athletic recovery, many people have enough fuel from a recent meal they consumed and do not need those extra calories. A good rule of thumb is, if your last meal was three or more hours prior to workout, grab a carbohydrate-rich snack (30 grams of carbohydrates or less)," she explains. Curious about carbs? Check out the 20 Worst Carb Habits of All Time.
Starbucks is How You Celebrate the Season
"Starbucks and other coffee shop chains are excited to present their holiday beverage flavors, but the calorie counts are less appetizing. A 12 ounce Chestnut Praline Latte at Starbucks, for example, has nearly 300 calories and more than a day's worth of sugar," says St.John. "For a lighter holiday spin, try a Cinnamon Dolce latte—but ask for only one pump of flavored syrup because the default is four. You'll save yourself a full tablespoon of added sugar!"
You're Only Eating Meat
Sure, the protein content has you excited, but eating a lot of meat might actually compromise your flat belly, and your health. In fact, did you see that Veganism Was Found to Be the Best Diet for Weight Loss? "Higher meat consumption has been positively associated with a higher daily calorie intake, BMI, waist circumference, and obesity and central obesity," shares Miller. "Diets largely based on plant foods offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants. Instead of having meat, like beef or pork, with every meal, try having more plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes," she adds. For serious #VeganInspo, you'll want to familiarize yourself with these Plant-Based Weight-Loss Secrets Omnivores Need to Know.
You Think Kettlebells Will Add Bulk
As it turns out, this is doing you more than just the disservice of locking eyes with that cute bodybuilder at the gym. "Muscle cells require more energy to maintain themselves than fat cells, which means they burn more calories at rest. Add some weight training exercises to your routine to tip your muscle-to-fat ratio. You'll end up expending more calories going about your normal day," offers St. John. You can also assist your efforts with these 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body.
You Still Haven't Paid Attention to Probiotics
"Probiotics have been shown to lower the effects on abdominal obesity as well as help with gas, bloating, and other digestive issues," adds Miller. Pro-tip: "Select yogurts with the Live & Active Cultures seal. The seal is a voluntary identification available to all manufacturers of refrigerated yogurt whose products contain at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture, and whose frozen yogurt contains at least 10 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture. Have yogurt with breakfast or lunch or as a snack," Miller adds. Try one of these 25 Best Yogurts for Weight Loss!
You Think "Healthy Fats" Are Bogus
This is right up there with not thinking climate change is real; trust us, all the avocados aren't conspiring together to get you to eat them. Simply put: Not getting enough healthy fat is no bueno for your waistline. "Research shows that dieters who ate foods containing monounsaturated fats like nuts and nut butters lost more belly fat than those who ate the same number of calories with less of the fats," offers Bedwell.
"Pass The Salt" is Your Middle Name
Too much sodium can lead to big-time belly bloating and there's a good chance you are already getting far more than you need. (Psst! Trying to de-bloat? Check out 24 Ways to Shrink Your Belly in 24 Hours) "Eat less processed foods high in salt, such as bread, pizza, and condiments. Focus on consuming more whole foods or foods lower in sodium," contributes Miller. "Read the Nutrition Facts label to find how much sodium is in each serving of the food or beverage. Very Low Sodium is 35 milligrams or less per serving; Low-Sodium is 140 milligrams or less per serving; Reduced (or less) sodium is at least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level."
You Never Miss a Post-sweat Smoothie
Whether it's a long run, a killer barre sesh, or a hot yoga workout, it's a mistake to feel like it isn't complete without a trip to the beverage bar. "If you're in the habit of 'refueling' with a protein shake or smoothie after every single workout, you may want to reconsider," cautions St.John. "For most workouts longer than one hour in length, eating a protein-rich meal afterward is completely sufficient. Consuming a protein shake in between is likely unnecessary and instead just increasing caloric consumption," she adds.
You "Save" Your Calories for Later
Hayim once again describes the situation so well: "You have a date tonight, so you've decided to save your calories for later since you will be tossing back some margaritas and guacamole." Hey, what's wrong with that? Seems kinda responsible, right? "Although this makes sense in theory—consuming fewer calories total per day—it rarely works out as cleanly as we like," Hayim spells it out for us. "By the time you get to the date, and have a drink or two, the feelings of extreme hunger rush in, and you're grabbing for whatever you can get your hands on, which is usually foods high in calories and fat. You're so hungry, you may even end up consuming more than a day's worth of calories in one sitting! Plus, with alcohol in your system, your body is less able to efficiently metabolize the calories," explains Hayim. "Instead, consume normal meals throughout the day, arrive at your date cool, calm, and collected, and enjoy your cocktail and eat responsibly." And while you're at it, try Bumble; it's a cooler dating app, anyway.
You Live for Coconut Milk
"Are you going for a coconut mocha at Starbucks as a post-workout treat? Because [you think] coconut milk is healthy?" Bedwell asks. Gah! Guilty as charged. What's the problem, exactly? "Coconut milk is a plant-based option, but it is very high in fat and not so much in protein," Bedwell continues. "The ideal post-workout snack has a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. This ratio helps to build muscle while burning fat. So you'd be better off with a mocha with regular low fat milk or a glass of chocolate milk, which is the post-workout choice of many professional athletes!"
You Still Don't Have a Water Bottle Always by Your Side
Slinging back the mimosas at brunch is never a problem, but many women can go all day without a water bottle by their side. And seriously, how many times do you need to be told to drink eight glasses of eight ounces each day? "Not drinking enough water can have a negative impact on the metabolism as well as your appetite," says Miller. "In addition, if you eat a diet rich in fiber, which is recommended, water helps move the fiber through your digestive system. A lack of water in conjunction with a high fiber diet can result in digestive issues, such as bloating and gas." Meh on guzzling water? Try these tasty detox waters for fat burning and weight loss!
You Don't Have a Period Game Plan
If you were having a guest come stay with you, you would probably be prepared with certain foods to curb appetites, an idea of how their visit with affect your workout schedule, and some other logistical things. But why aren't you ever thinking about Aunt Flo, a regular visitor? Many women forget that their hormonal cycles can put a temporary halt on flat belly dreams. "If you notice yourself getting bloated or pudgy about every month, your period may be to blame. Female hormones follow a cyclical schedule and often produce a bloating effect. If you're close to or on your period, cut yourself some slack," St. John reminds us. Better yet, try some of these foods to ease your PMS symptoms pronto.
You Think Vitamin D Only Comes from the Sun or Milk
"Insufficient levels of vitamin D have been linked to higher levels of belly fat," shares Bedwell. Yes, Milk is the most common source of vitamin D—but there's one plant source that is an amazing option. Bedwell suggests mushrooms that are labeled as being exposed to ultraviolet light since those will have even higher levels of vitamin D.
You're on Trend and That's About it
"Often times, women make changes to their diet without fully understanding why they are making them or the implications," Hayim describes. "They hear things on the news, read things in a magazine, and quickly make changes without proper education first. Many of my clients come to me upset and complaining, swearing they have done everything to try and lose that belly weight. Some of them have 'cut out gluten and dairy,' or have even 'become a vegan' in an effort to lose weight," she explains. "However, when we review their diet intake, I learn that they are now consuming much more calorically-dense—and sometimes nutrient-depleted—foods, which has resulted in weight gain. Before making [drastic] dietary changes, get educated or talk to a health professional." If you want to make less-risky changes, start with these 30 Best Breakfast Habits.
You Blend Up a "Healthy Drink" as a Meal Replacement
Beware the pre-packaged powders, containers, and other blender-marketed products. "Many 'health' juices and smoothies are filled with sugar," says Dr. Taz. "Decreasing sugar intake is the single most effective step you can take to drop pounds. Sugar packs a lot of calories, throws your insulin levels out of whack, depresses your immune system and is highly addictive!" Instead, try her slimming smoothie recipe, the "Lean and Green Drink: Chop 1 large apple or pear, 2 stalks celery, 1 cup watercress or spinach and whip in a blender with 1 cup cold water and juice of 1/2 lemon."
You Won't Eat Beans Because, Well, You Know
If you're nixing beans because they can make you gassy and bloated, you may want to rethink that theory. "Beans are actually a great belly-flattening food because research shows that bean eaters weigh less and have slimmer waistlines. If you are afraid that the fiber in beans will cause gas and bloating, just gradually increase the amount of beans you eat and drink plenty of water to avoid those issues," advises Bedwell. Genius! An easy way to increase your bean intake is to throw them into one of these 20 Best Broth-Based Soups for Weight Loss.
You Don't See Fresh Fruits and Veggies Unless They're on Your Instagram Feed
Those farmers' market stands sure are pretty, aren't they? But are you actually buying the foods or just documenting the lovely colors? Buy the things, girl! "We need a minimum of five fruits or veggies each day to meet our nutritional needs," Bedwell says. "Plus, all fruits and veggies are great flat-belly foods as most of them are 80-90 percent water. This means they are high in nutrients but low in calories. Not to mention, the fiber they contain helps you feel fuller longer, so you'll lose weight without feeling hungry all the time!"
You Think the Internet is Normal
Have you ever been 27 slides deep in a round up of next-level chocolate-peanut butter waffle creations you wish you thought of first? Time to hit pause. "The internet and social media sites are basically making you fat," says Hayim. "If it isn't 25 ways to eat tater tots then it's [another] national [something] day. The internet has made it basically impossible to stay away from cravings and indulgences. These are not excuses to eat unhealthy food; try googling healthy versions of some of your favorite treats [when cravings strike]!"
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