Let’s face it, when most people say they want to lose weight what they really mean is, they want to lose weight around their middle, specifically belly fat.
Your waistline and tummy tends to be the part of your body that grows the most when you put on weight and you notice it more too – trousers or skirts feel tighter, blouses and t-shirts ‘sit’ on top of you and, if you run, you feel the wobble there more than anywhere else.
While it isn't possible to control exactly where on your body you first lose fat there are ways to tone that area, and some simple lifestyle changes that can help you reduce fat overall. Here are eight of the best.
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1. Walk to help tighten your waistline
Walking is one of the simplest and easiest forms of exercise and luckily it’s also a great way to tighten up that waistline. Research shows that if you can walk briskly for 45 minutes or more, your body begins to burn your fat reserves – and most of your reserve fat is stored around your middle.
Find out how to walk your way to better health
2. The simple food swaps that help reduce belly fat
A lot of the belly-fattening foods we eat come in the form of small, processed add-ons to food – marinades, sauces, dressings and so on – so target these in your diet, as well as looking at overall calorie intake, to shrink your belly.
So instead of butter on pasta, use a small amount of olive oil and/or passata; instead of mayonnaise on your salad, use fresh herbs and lemon juice to add flavour, and add avocado if you want something creamy. Swap low-fat yogurt (often high in sugars) for cream with fruit. Snack on healthy, filling foods instead of fatty, sugary foods with no nutritional value. Popcorn instead of crisps, for example. And if you are a chocoholic opt for a small piece of dark chocolate instead of a bar of low-quality chocolate, which are usually filled with sugar and vegetable oils.
Read our guide to fat-burning foods
3. Keep moving to fight fat
Sitting around for long periods of time makes your abdominal muscles weak and makes you put on weight without even trying, so become a fidget. Pace when you take or make phone calls, try using your computer on a higher surface so you can stand, moving from one foot to the other, while you check your emails, and sit on a Swiss exercise ball or even exercise bike while you watch TV. Even if you sit still on a Swiss ball your core muscles are constantly working to maintain balance, meaning you’ll be burning fat.
Discover these gym-free fitness tricks
4. Take up yoga to beat belly fat
It’s not the most obvious type of exercise to take up if you want to lose weight but perhaps that’s why it’s effective: you’re more likely to stick to something if you enjoy it and yoga not only helps you lose weight, it makes you feel good overall. By lowering your stress levels, yoga also reduces your blood cortisol levels (stress hormones) which are linked with putting on weight around your middle.
Learn more about yoga and how it can boost your health
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5. Use vinegar to fight belly fat
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that obese patients who ate a tablespoon of vinegar daily for eight weeks decreased their levels of visceral body fat, the most unhealthy kind of fat, so if you put vinegar in a low-fat dressing or sprinkle it on some oven-baked potatoes, it can only be good! This is likely because acetic acid found in vinegar lowers blood sugar levels, decreases insulin levels and, in rat studies, was found to boost metabolism. Another study, published in Nature Communications, even found acetic acid acted as an appetite suppressant.
6. Sleep, sleep, sleep for a flatter stomach
Numerous studies have linked lack of sleep with excess weight, so make sure you get enough each night. Wear ear plugs if noise bothers you or play a white noise CD, make sure light from outside can’t bother you, and avoid watching TV for an hour before bedtime as the light emitted from it can make it more difficult to sleep afterwards.
Need more sleep? Read our guide to getting better sleep
7. Eat more low-GI food to whittle your waist
When you eat foods that spike your blood sugar levels, cortisol is released and this is linked with excess belly fat. So stick to low-GI foods like beans, lentils and wholegrains, rather than potatoes, white rice or pasta, to make sure your cortisol levels remain normal.
8 foods that help regulate blood sugar
8. Eat calcium to banish belly fat
Okay, not too much high-fat cheese but some low-fat cheese, or yogurt, or skimmed milk may help you banish the belly fat. That’s because if your body doesn’t have enough calcium it starts to store more body fat. Make sure you get at least 700mg of calcium per day to avoid that happening.
Plant-based sources of calcium include soy-based food such as tofu and tempeh, beans (especially Thai winged beans, although these can be hard to find in the UK), tahini, almonds, chia seeds, seaweed, chickpeas and blackcurrants.
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