Give This Ingredient the Boot
When grocery shopping and looking at packaged food, Stahl advised to be on the look out for trans fats. Although they were banned by the FDA and should no longer be found in packaged foods as of June 2018, in May 2018, the food industry argued that trans fats were necessary in certain circumstances. So the FDA gave food companies one more year to comply (and in some cases until January 2020, which means that these man-made fats, often listed as partially hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated fats, may still be lingering in your foods. They’re found in some brands of margarine and shortening, baked goods, candy, frosting, and some sauces and dressings.
Why is trans fat bad for your belly? Past research indicates that trans fats increase the amount of fat around the belly, not to mention that it’s dangerous for your health. So if you’re unknowingly eating these foods, Stahl said avoiding them will help slim down your waistline.
Skip the Scones
You’re not going to like hearing this, but Stahl recommended limiting your sugar intake to reduce belly fat (sorry, deliciously-frosted scone!). Studies show that eating excess sugar can lead to an increase of fat storage in the belly and in the liver. This in turn can cause insulin resistance, which makes it hard to lose weight. So if you’ve been eating good-for-you foods, but also eating sugar, ditching it could be the one healthy habit that makes a huge difference in your waistline.
These foods also affect your insulin levels. Jason Fung, MD, a nephrologist (kidney specialist), explained in a previous interview that sugary foods and foods made with refined flour like cookies, crackers, and white bread spike your insulin levels. By not eating sugar and refined carbs, it’ll keep your insulin levels low, which will help reduce your overall body fat percentage, helping you lose belly fat.
Sugar elevates insulin levels, which block leptin (the hormone that signals to your body that you’re full, and overload your dopamine receptors, which leads to insatiable cravings, explained Susan Peirce Thompson, a psychology professor with a PhD in brain and cognitive sciences. In her book Bright Line Eating, she explained that this is why you eat cookie after cookie and still want more — eating sugar makes you crave it. Since sugary foods are so high in calories, and you tend to overeat them, it’s no wonder eating sugar leads to weight gain and belly fat.
While enjoying these foods every once in a while is fine (and necessary for your sanity!), find healthier ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. “I find it handy to keep fruit on hand when sugar cravings hit,” Stahl said. “Fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation throughout the body.” You can also turn frozen fruit into ice cream. Noshing on these lower-sugar, lower-calorie foods is an easy habit to help with your lean-belly goals.
Rethink Your Drink
It’s not only ice cream and cookies you need to avoid. Stahl said to ditch sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, fruit juice, and sweetened iced tea as well. Aside from sugar (particularly high-fructose corn syrup) affecting insulin levels and increasing visceral fat, Stahl said that since your brain doesn’t process liquid calories the same way it does solid ones, you won’t feel as full, so you’ll end up reaching for more food. Soda is linked to weight gain and a 60 percent increased risk of obesity. Giving up soda and juices is one of simplest things you can do to effectively target your belly fat.
Registered dietitian Sheri Kasper agrees, and said in a previous interview, “At least if you’re indulging in a piece of cake, you need to chew and will feel more satisfied and less likely to overeat later.” Soda offers zero nutrition, doesn’t fill us up, doesn’t require chewing, and “is usually consumed in addition to our normal diets and occasional treats.” So sip on unsweetened herbal tea instead or go for water or sparkling water with fresh fruit slices.
Making these diet changes to eliminate trans fat, cut down on refined carbs and sugary foods, and ditch sugar-sweetened drinks may be hard at first. But once you make it a habit and you start seeing results in how your body feels, it’ll inspire you to stick with it.