Fat around the middle can be the hardest to get rid of, but it’s not impossible. Depression, hormones, and genes all make belly fat a struggle for some of us. The good news: Losing that weight could be as simple as getting a better night’s sleep, meditating, or rethinking your meals. Daily choices can supercharge your ability to burn belly fat. Here are the most common causes of belly fat and tips on how to start your midsection slim-down.
1. You’re eating too many processed foods
Belly fat is associated with inflammation, which is caused by eating refined grains like white bread and cracker, as well as the refined sugars in sweetened drinks and desserts. Trans fats and animal products are two other highly-processed ingredients in our food that have been shown to cause inflammation, which goes straight to your belly. Try avoiding processed foods as much as you can. Consuming vegetables and fruits that are full of antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties will help you drop the excess weight and may prevent belly fat in the future.
2. Your workout isn’t challenging you
Belly fat is stubborn, so you’ll need to work extra hard to get rid of it — think high-intensity interval training. High intensity workouts mean you’re going all-out for as long as you can, briefly recovering, and then doing it again. HIIT is one of the more recent “darlings” of the exercise world, and research from the Journal of Obesity says the results match the hype. You really will blast fat all over.
One of the biggest benefits you’ll gain from a HIIT workout is how your body responds after. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, following a HIIT session, you’ll continue to burn fat and will blast about 6% to 15% more calories than traditional workouts. It may not sound fun, but your belly will thank you. Think of the challenge this way: You’ll burn more calories in less time and your workout will be over sooner.
3. You aren’t getting enough sleep
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls insufficient sleep a public health epidemic, saying, “persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.”
Here’s the simplest way to slim down your center: Get enough sleep. A six-year study in the journal Sleep found those who slept five hours or less a night were 27% more likely to become obese than those who got an adequate amount of rest. Getting your beauty sleep is really that important. Try getting in at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Not only will your belly shrink, you’ll feel better, too!
4. You’re not eating enough fat
Eat fat to burn fat? It’s true, as long as it’s the right fat. Monounsaturated fats (the kind in olive oil and avocados) and omega-3s (found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, and fatty fish like salmon) have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Harvard School of Public Health explains, “These ‘good fats’ improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms, and play a number of other beneficial roles.”
One Harvard study of 101 men and women found the healthy fat-eating group dropped 11 pounds compared to their low-fat eating peers, who shed only six pounds — despite similar calorie consumption. Fat adds up quickly, so keep track of how much you’re adding to your diet. Too much fat will negate your health and weight-loss benefits.
5. You’re stressed
Stress causes fat, and not just because you’re reaching for that tub of ice cream (although that certainly doesn’t help). Under stress, our bodies produce a hormone called cortisol, which may increase the amount of fat your body clings to and enlarge your fat cells. Recent findings from the journal Obesity Research has linked higher levels of cortisol to more visceral fat.
Carving out quiet time is important for your mental and physical health because a stressed-out mind leads to a bigger belly. Combating stress — and belly fat — could be as simple as taking some time to meditate or trying yoga. There usually isn’t one magic solution to losing belly fat. It’s more of a wellness overhaul — but one that is totally worth it.