Do you want to become as fit as you possibly can? Doing 100 sit-ups won't make that happen! Understanding the link between body fat and cortisol levels is key. When cortisol levels go up, so do the inches around your waistline.
So how do you win the next round? Extreme dieting isn’t the answer. What you eat is 80% of the equation. Incorporate the tips below and you'll be on your way to a flatter stomach and fitter body in no time!
1. Get enough sleep.
If you're staying up all night and skimping on Zs, you should reconsider. You end up eating more when your biorhythms are off. When you’re tired, you produce more ghrelin, which triggers cravings for sugar and other fat-building foods. Getting about 7 hours of sleep a night is one of the best things you can do to reach your body-slimming goals.
2. Drink oolong tea.
Oolong tea is a metabolism booster, meaning it helps you burn fat faster. Oolong's unique combination of catechin, an antioxidant, and caffeine ignites your body’s fat-burning furnace and raises your metabolism for up to 2 hours after drinking it. Oolong tea also contains polyphenols that help block fat-building enzymes. Studies have shown that drinking oolong tea supports weight loss.
3. Perform high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Many people turn to endurance-type cardio workouts, slaving away on the elliptical machine, when trying to lose tummy fat. The problem with this approach: a 45-minute elliptical workout at a consistent pace may help you shed pounds at first, but soon your body will adjust and you'll stop seeing the results.
A better and more effective way to tone your tummy? HIIT training — or high-intensity interval training. Research has proven that this is the most effective way for losing body fat and changing your body composition because it raises your heart rate while also taxing your muscles. In my new book, STRONG IS THE NEW SKINNY, I discuss how people who exercised with high-intensity experienced a 20% decrease in abdominal fat and that changing the duration you do an exercise at and the level of its intensity is crucial. Participants lose inches from their waist and hips after just two weeks on the program.
Flat-belly prescription: you can create a HIIT program with any sort of exercise, including cardio workouts as well as full-body strength workouts.
4. Eat good fats.
Yup, that's right! It takes fat to burn fat. Like I said above, it’s sugar that makes you fat, not fat. Good fats include foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, like flaxseed, spinach, and halibut. These foods are nutrient dense and will keep your hunger at bay all day long.
Feeling stressed leads to your body pumping out more cortisol which can lead to shopping for bigger dress sizes. To put the brakes on that, try meditation. In a UC San Francisco (UCSF) study, doctors found that those who received training and most actively practiced meditation and mindfulness lost the most body fat. Next time you are thinking about popping a pretzel to reduce stress, find a quiet space and say "Om." Focus on your breathing. Make this a daily habit and you'll help reduce your belly fat over time.
6. Lift weights.
Lifting weights creates micro-tears in muscles that take more energy (i.e. burns more calories) in the healing process, which can last up to two days after your training session. Try challenging your muscles by lifting heavier weights than you think you can once a week. You will be amazed at what you can actually do and the amount of tummy bulge you can lose.
7. Say no to sugar.
As mentioned above, having a healthy diet is 80% of fighting belly fat. Reduce calories by filling yourself up with protein, vegetables, whole grains, and replacing bad habit snacks with good ones. A great trick is putting a sprinkle of cinnamon in your morning coffee or oatmeal (this spice has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar). It also slows the rate at which food exits the stomach, which helps you feel fuller for longer.
8. Get enough vitamin C.
When you’re under a lot of stress, your body releases more cortisol hormone. Vitamin C helps balance the cortisol spikes that occur when your body starts churning out too much. Besides being a good way to prevent a cold, Vitamin C is also essential for making carnitine, a compound used by the body to turn fat into fuel, making this vitamin your secret weapon for fighting belly fat. If you’re stressed out from work or juggling a lot and feeling overwhelmed, increase your vitamin C intake — it’ll help counteract the negative side effects. Try eating kiwi fruits, kale or bell peppers. Believe it or not, these pack in even more Vitamin C than oranges!
9. Remember the "F" word.
Fiber, people! The bulk takes up more space in your stomach which makes you feel full longer and therefore eat less throughout the day. So try eating more oatmeal, beans, and veggies to get your fiber intake up and your belly fat down!
10. When it comes to greens, get bitter.
Bitter greens like kale, arugula, mustard greens, collards and escarole are diet staples that aid in digestion and de-bloating. Bitter foods are also known to stimulate and support better digestion. These dark greens are low calorie (with about 36 calories in a cup) and are packed with vitamins and fiber that your body needs to stay lean. Most bitter greens are also great anti-inflammatories, which means they can help fight bloating and water retention.
Photo Credit: Robert Randall