Frustrated with a flabby belly? You can get great flat abs by following these weight loss tips by Shape.
Can't get rid of your flabby belly, even though you do sit-ups and crunches until you're ready to drop? Maybe you're so mortified by the condition of your abs that you've relegated your bikini and low-rise jeans to the dark recesses of your closet.
Before you dump on (or just plain dump) your routines for not giving you killer abs, you should know the real culprit may be your diet — or even your high-stress lifestyle.
If you want to go from fat to fab abs, new research shows that what you eat is just as important as how — or even how much — you work out. And lifestyle counts, too, because stress doesn't just mess with your head, it also can induce a pooch.
Following are six weight loss tips from the country's leading weight-loss, nutrition and stress experts, all designed to get you flat abs in just four weeks, plus three delicious, low fat recipes that will fill you up without making you look or feel bloated.
Diet Tips # 1. Eat more fiber.
Not eating enough fiber may be a major reason women are getting fatter and flabbier. To ditch the fat and show off firm, beautiful abs, you need to eat at least 25 grams of fiber daily, says leading fiber researcher David J.A. Jenkins, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., professor of nutrition at the University of Toronto, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Food and Nutrition Board. Fiber, which is the indigestible part of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods, helps you achieve flat abs for three reasons:
Bonus Diet Tips: The "bulk" factor Fiber is like a dry sponge. When it combines with the water in your digestive tract, it makes everything move through more quickly.
High fiber diet benefit # 1: The "fill" factor - Because high fiber diet foods like fruits and vegetables supply plenty of bulk to your meals without adding a lot of calories, they keep you feeling full longer and help you lose weight, according to a study at the Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University. Researchers concluded that a low fat diet works only if it’s also a high fiber diet - rich in healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, all of which fill you up on fewer calories and less fat. In contrast, a low fat diet that is low in fiber and high in sugar, salt and preservatives can lead to bloating and weight gain.
In a study conducted by Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a professor at Penn State University and co-author of The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan (HarperTorch, 2003), subjects who ate vegetables as part of their meals consumed about 100 fewer calories and didn't make up for the caloric deficit later. While saving 100 calories a day may not sound like much, it translates into losing 10 pounds in one year. Use just this one trick — and there goes your tummy!
High fiber diet benefit # 2: The "chew" factor - "High-fiber foods require more chewing and take longer to eat," explains Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D., author of the American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion (John Wiley & Sons, 2003). "Because your mouth is more involved in the eating of high-fiber foods, you feel more satisfied with a high-fiber meal."
How to add fiber to your diet comfortably - It's important to add fiber slowly but consistently to prevent gas. "Make higher-fiber choices throughout the day; don't have all your fiber in one bunch," Jenkins says. "This is particularly important with viscous fiber — a type of soluble fiber found in beans, oats and barley that also has the benefit of lowering blood cholesterol," he says.
For best results, increase your fiber intake slowly over the course of one month and drink plenty of water to keep food moving through your system as quickly as possible.
Diet Tips # 2. Opt for a sensible amount of high-quality healthy carbs.
For flatter abs, make carbs 45–65 percent (202–292 grams based on an 1,800-calorie diet) of your total daily calories. Balance is the key here, so don't go below 45 percent (202 grams), or above 65 percent (292 grams), which can lead to water retention, bloating and temporary weight gain that shows up in your middle.
When you eat carbs, they break down into glucose, which is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. When glycogen is stored, it carries with it three times its own weight as water, compared to no water at all for protein and fat, according to Peter Garlick, Ph.D., a professor at Stony Brook University in New York. If you eat an extremely high-carb diet, you may store excess water, experience bloating and gain temporary water weight. (This is why people who go on no- or very low-carb diets can initially lose weight so quickly. They're really just losing water.) To avoid bloating and weight gain caused by consuming too many or the wrong kind of carbs, follow these weight loss tips:
Weight loss tips # 1: Fill up on fruits and vegetables as part of your healthy high fiber diet. These are the least bloat-promoting foods because they contain plenty of water and fewer carbs and calories for their volume.
Weight loss tips # 2: Avoid high-carb/empty-calorie foods like fast food, snack cakes, cookies and candy. These foods are high in simple carbs and sodium, which cause bloating and weight gain, and are low in fiber and nutrients.
Weight loss tips # 3: Focus on eating a balanced healthy diet. For best results, eat at least three to five, 4-ounce servings of veggies (15–25 grams of carbs); two to four, 4-ounce servings of fruit (30–60 grams of carbs) and about 1 cup (8 ounces cooked or 2 ounces dry, or 2 slices of bread) of whole grains per meal (90 grams per day).
Weight loss tips # 4: Make sure you eat enough calories, from complex healthy carbs, lean protein and healthy fats. If you don't get an adequate number of calories (most women require at least 1,800 per day to lose weight, 2,000 to maintain and 2,400 or more if they're very active), you risk temporarily lowering your metabolism, which can also bring on bloating.
A good guideline to follow throughout your flat abs diet:
Don't cut any more than 250-500 calories below what you need to maintain your weight from your balanced healthy diet, advises C. Wayne Callaway, M.D., a metabolic specialist in Washington, D.C.
Read on for diet tips involving water. Are you drinking too much – or too little?
Diet Tips # 3. Next, drink up!
Many women believe that drinking too much water will give them puffy abs, but just the opposite is true. "Even though we associate water with being bloated, drinking more water can help to flush sodium out of the body, and that reduces the bloat," said Jeff Hampl, Ph.D., R.D., nutrition researcher and assistant professor at Arizona State University.
An easy way to tell if you're drinking enough is by checking the color and quantity of your urine. If it's pale yellow and high volume, you're doing OK. If it's dark and scant and/or you're thirsty, you're very likely to be dehydrated. Follow these weight loss tips to stay hydrated and healthy:
Weight loss tips # 1: Drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Beverages with little or no calories, caffeine or sodium, including herbal tea, are best. Avoid regular soft drinks and soups with lots of sodium. If you are eating plenty of water-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and low-sodium soups, you can get half of your water requirements from foods, according to a 1998 NAS Food and Nutrition Board report.
Weight loss tips # 2: Avoid carbonated drinks. Fizzy drinks, including soda pop and spritzers, increase bloating because the carbon dioxide trapped in the bubbles creates gas, which slows down stomach emptying.
Weight loss tips # 3: Watch your intake of alcohol and caffeine. Both are natural diuretics, which increase fluid loss and don't replace your body fluids as effectively as water, juice and caffeine- and alcohol-free beverages. Because they promote dehydration, alcohol and caffeine also can fatten abs.
Diet Tips # 4. Watch the sodium.
Sodium may have a bad rap, but it's essential for regulating body fluids and blood pressure as well as for nerve transmission, muscle function and absorption of important nutrients. But even a small amount of excess sodium causes bloating.
According to the NAS, the average woman needs only 500 milligrams of sodium a day. Most of us get more than six times that, or 3,000–6,000 milligrams per day. The consequence of all this sodium — most of which is consumed as salt and preservatives in processed foods, fast foods and restaurant foods — isn't pretty for your abs. That's because where sodium goes, water follows.
When you eat a high-sodium meal, say, from your favorite Chinese takeout at 3,000 milligrams per entree, your body responds by retaining water. This results in edema and, possibly, a rise in blood pressure. Sodium's visible traces are outlined the next day when you stand sideways in your full-length mirror: major B-L-O-A-T! Even though it's temporary, that's no consolation when you want to wear something revealing that day. Here are diet tips to lower your sodium intake:
Eliminate sodium in diet tips # 1: The American Heart Association recommends you consume no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium daily — roughly 1 teaspoon of table salt. That's enough sodium to replenish your supply even if you work up a major sweat.
Eliminate sodium in diet tips # 2: Choose fresh, natural foods over fast, commercial or packaged foods. Instead of ordering french fries (265 milligrams of sodium), have a baked potato (8 milligrams). Instead of a pickle (1,730 milligrams!), enjoy a fresh cucumber (6 milligrams). And beware of cured meats: Three ounces of ham packs in 1,009 milligrams of sodium, compared to just 48 milligrams for the same amount of roast pork. Soups are also notoriously high in sodium; some canned varieties contain more than 1,100 milligrams per cup. Read labels carefully and stick with low-sodium brands like Healthy Choice.
Check out two more excellent weight loss tips next to kick your flat abs diet into high gear.
Diet Tips # 5. Eat light at night.
It never fails: You have a heavier-than-normal evening meal or snack, and when you weigh yourself the next morning, you're up by several pounds. But as depressing as it may seem at the moment, such a quick gain is always water weight; you simply cannot gain that much fat overnight.
Evening eating is often the most problematic for women, as it can be related more to emotional issues than to real hunger. You're tired, lonely, bored, anxious; you want to relax or reward yourself after a tough day. But indulge too many nights in a row and that temporary water gain becomes permanent fat gain — and fatter abs, rather than the flat abs you want.
In a study conducted by Callaway, people who skipped breakfast or lunch and ate their largest meal later in the day had lower metabolisms. So by eating light at night you'll receive a double benefit: You'll wake up with a flatter tummy, and you'll also have a better appetite for a fiber-rich breakfast, which sets you up for a day of healthful eating. Some diet tips to get you started:
Weight loss tips # 1: Eat five times a day. Your body needs food every three to four hours, so instead of eating three large meals, try to schedule five smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day (breakfast-snack-lunch-snack-dinner). By staying full and energized, you'll avoid hunger pangs, maintain an even energy flow, make better, healthier food choices (no bingeing or craving) and enjoy the most efficient burning of calories.
Weight loss tips # 2: Eat two-thirds of your calories before dinner. Your body needs calories when you're active, not at night, when your natural rhythm is slowing down. Make sure to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner to keep your metabolism revved.
Weight loss tips # 3: If you have to eat at night because you're hungry, stick with fruit, vegetables and other foods that are low in fat, calories and sodium.
Diet Tips # 6. Reduce stress.
Research shows that stress triggers the hormone cortisol to turn up your appetite and deposit fat around the organs in your abdomen. Pamela Peeke, M.D., M.P.H., author of Fight Fat After Forty (Penguin, 2000) calls this "toxic weight," because it's associated with heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
"Worrying over an issue that will not go away can lead to prolonged increases in your cortisol," says Peeke. "That means one heck of a stress-related appetite and fat abs." To reduce stress-related eating, try these diet tips:
Weight loss tips # 1: Move it to lose it. A recent study conducted at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle showed cardiovascular exercise is especially effective in reducing midsection weight gain.
Weight loss tips # 2: Chill out. When you feel stress building, take a few moments to breathe deeply and regroup.