When the going gets tough (and it likely will from time to time along any weight loss journey), it’s important to realize that a host of non-food factors can make losing weight difficult, explains board-certified obesity medicine specialist Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., a diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. Hormones, genetics, and, ultimately, metabolism are three big ones, he says.
And that raises the most important point: Thinking about exercise as a way to work off food or simply allow you to eat sets up a host of unhealthy and unhelpful thought patterns and habits around food and exercise. For instance, one 2013 research review found that, not only did people generally overestimate how many calories exercise burned—when they did work out, they ramped up their food intake. And if you overeat following exercise, any caloric deficit created during your workout can become a wash. And related: thinking of food as a reward and exercise as a punishment is likely to sabotage your weight loss efforts anyway.
Similarly, just because snacks like blue chips don’t look like the greasy potato chips you know to avoid, don’t assume they’re a healthier option. “Yes, blue corn contains the antioxidant anthocyanin,” explains certified culinary nutritionist Trudy Stone. “However, much of the good stuff gets baked away during the process of creating the chips that very little nutritional value is left—leaving them not much healthier than your typical tortilla chip.”
Falling short on zzz’s is also a surefire way to put your waistline in jeopardy. That’s because sleep deprivation knocks your hunger hormones out of whack, leading to an increase in ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and a decrease in leptin, which signals when you are satiated. What’s more, research has shown that when you aren’t well-rested, you’re also more likely to reach for junk food (hello Ben & Jerry’s!)—and it may even become harder for you to build muscle mass.
For example, you might not realize just how much you eat when you go out to happy hour with friends. But if you take the split second to take a step back and make yourself aware of that fact, you’re more able to make a healthy decision. “The awareness and then planning and coming up with strategies for what else I can be doing—that might give me the same benefit of eating those comfort foods that make me feel better,” says Gagliardi.
The researchers hypothesize that participants who abstained from animal products dropped significantly more pounds since plant-based foods include loads of filling fiber and slow-to-digest complex carbs. Though more research is needed to confirm these results, the study authors write, "Vegetarian diets appeared to have significant benefits on weight reduction compared to non-vegetarian diets."
Sleep at least 7 hours a night. Eliminate all sources of light from your bedroom. Get to bed at least 8 hours before you expect to wake up, and spend the last hour before that relaxing with the lights turned down. When you sleep better, you’ll have more energy, and thus move more and burn more calories. Your body will regulate it’s appetite better. Your hormonal profile will improve, allowing you to build more muscle and burn more fat, independent of diet and exercise.
Physical activity helps burn abdominal fat. “One of the biggest benefits of exercise is that you get a lot of bang for your buck on body composition,” Stewart says. Exercise seems to work off belly fat in particular because it reduces circulating levels of insulin —which would otherwise signal the body to hang on to fat—and causes the liver to use up fatty acids, especially those nearby visceral fat deposits, he says.
Want to lose that belly fat fast? In your dreams! Seriously, though: a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to get rid of that extra fat around your waist for good. Among the 60,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study, those who snoozed for fewer than five hours a night were at the greatest risk of becoming obese and gaining 30 or more pounds over the course of the 16-year study period when compared to those who slept for seven or more hours.
"Protein is great for fat loss. It helps build and preserve lean muscle tissue and can increase the amount of calories you burn. It’s also a great source of energy that helps you feel fuller for longer, so you’re less tempted to snack. Good sources include chicken breast, tuna, eggs, milk and chickpeas. And if you’re finding it difficult to avoid snacks that are high in carbohydrates, try substituting them for protein shakes or bars. Remember also to opt for the lean sources of protein because some sources can be high in saturated fat."
Visceral fat, commonly known as belly fat, is the layer of fat below the muscles of your abdomen. Due to its crucial location surrounding many of your vital organs, belly fat supplies a constant source of energy but also exposes the body to harmful toxins and hormones. When you have too many fat cells or your fat cells get too large, they can overproduce toxins that increase your risk for chronic inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This is why belly fat can be more dangerous than subcutaneous fat—or the outer layer of fat that you can pinch with your fingers. That said, the reason you're having trouble buttoning your pants may not be visceral fat: what we're calling "belly fat" these days could be bloating or water retention rather than a fat buildup. Read on for steps you can take to beat the bulge.
Be choosy about carbs. You can decide which ones you eat, and how much. Look for those that are low on the glycemic index (for instance, asparagus is lower on the glycemic index than a potato) or lower in carbs per serving than others. Whole grains are better choices than processed items, because processing removes key nutrients such as fiber, iron, and B vitamins. They may be added back, such as in “enriched” bread.