Striving to get a flat stomach shouldn’t be about appearances, but research shows that less fat in the belly area is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. Our bodies are complicated and unfortunately, a variety of factors (such as hormones and genetics) can affect how flat your midsection naturally is. That means that trying to make your stomach smaller — and keep it that way — can be difficult physically and mentally.
There’s also the issue of bloat. A variety of factors can make us feel uncomfortably puffy sometimes, regardless of how big our tummy is. The good news is you can make small tweaks to your routine that will help reduce bloating. What’s more, many of those little habits can help you adopt safe, long-lasting lifestyle changes that will improve your overall health — and slim your belly — without resorting to extreme (and dangerous) dieting techniques. (To this end, it’s also worth noting that weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects so before you decide to go on a diet and overhaul your eating patterns, we invite you gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.)
The bottom line? If your goal is to reduce bloat in the short term, the strategies below will definitely help with that. And if you’re hoping to reduce your abdominal fat and shed a few pounds from your midsection to lower your risk of chronic conditions, consider starting by adding more wholesome and unprocessed foods (including some touted as “flat belly foods”) to your menu and increasing your physical activity. After that, the straightforward, science-backed and expert-approved strategies explained below should also help you get a flatter belly.
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This may sound obvious, but if you’re ingesting a lot of air, it needs to take up space somewhere in your body and lead to bloat as it moves through your digestive system. To prevent that from happening, avoid drinking carbonated beverages and using straws, both of which can increase the air that ends up in your stomach, suggests Roshini Raj, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist and author of Gut Renovation. “Don’t talk and eat at the same time because it also makes you swallow air,” she adds.
You don’t have to convert to a standing desk full-time, but research shows that replacing just one hour of sitting at work with one hour of standing can reduce your waist circumference. It might feel good to stretch a little, anyway!
When you eat too much sodium, research shows that your body is forced to retain water to dilute the sodium before it’s excreted. As a result, you’ll probably feel a little bloated from the extra “water weight.” To avoid this (and lower your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke), aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Americans get 70% of their sodium from processed and restaurant foods, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so the easiest thing you can do is avoid packaged foods.
Those colorful hoops aren’t just for kids! One study found that when research participants began using a weighted hula hoop for six minutes a day and then each week thereafter added two minutes to their daily total, they lowered their abdominal fat and increased their muscle mass in just six weeks.
Gradually increase your fiber intake
Fiber is great for keeping things moving through your digestive tract so you don’t feel bloated from constipation. But adding too much too quickly can have the opposite effect and actually cause more gas, says Amy Fischer M.S., R.D., C.D.N.. To gradually eat more fiber, choose high-fiber cereal or oats for breakfast and make daily snacks fruit- and veggie-based with carrots and hummus or apple with nut butter. You can also add chia seeds, avocado and frozen raspberries into your smoothie for a boost of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Keep those fluids coming! “Being dehydrated causes the body to hoard water,” says The Biggest Loser trainer Kim Lyons. This can lead you to carry up to four excess pounds around your midsection. Drinking water also helps your body handle the extra fiber you’re ingesting. (Cruciferous veggies and legumes are especially known for causing gas pain if you’re not adequately hydrated.) Aim for at least eight cups of water or other fluids daily.
Straighten up and your tummy will look flatter right away, advises Lyons. “When your posture is good, you’re automatically engaging and toning your stomach muscles,” she says. If you need to remind yourself to stand tall, a few strategically placed sticky notes should do the trick, or consider some of these posture-correcting products.
Another win for your cup of joe: Caffeine in coffee can help with de-bloating because it is a natural (mild) diuretic, meaning it helps your body get rid of excess water. It is also a stimulant that can get your bowels moving which can lead to a flatter belly, Fischer says.
Another metabolism-boosting tip: Eat every three to four hours and make time for breakfast. Research shows that people who miss a morning meal experience a surge in a hunger-related hormone later in the day. Regular snacks (which should include fiber-filled complex carbs and protein!) will keep you feeling full and your body burning calories at a steady rate.
Even if you can’t get to the gym, try to squeeze in a 30-minute walk daily, Lyons says. The simple boost in metabolism will help you burn waistline fat more efficiently. Plus, one study found that people with hypertension who began walking 15 minutes a day and worked their way up to 300 minutes a week two months later reduced their waist circumference as well as their blood pressure
Yep, you read that right. High-water foods like fruits and veggies will fill you up faster. Try incorporating more salads and greens that have a high water content such as cucumber, celery and zucchini. A simple pre-dinner app of sliced crudité and spicy hummus is a healthy choice. Plus, the combo of capsaicin (a spice in hot peppers) and the chickpeas’ soluble fiber can help curb hunger.
Rather than scarfing down meals, make a point of chewing each bite at least 10 times before swallowing. “The body has to work overtime to break down food in the stomach and intestines, which can lead to major gas and indigestion,” says Judith Reichman, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Plus, when you eat fast, you’re more prone to swallowing air. To make slowing down easier, try eating mindfully and pay attention to the scents, textures and taste of every bite.
Getting under the covers a little sooner doesn’t just help you avoid late-night snacking. Missing sleep slows down your body’s metabolism and it can lead to elevated cortisol levels which can encourage your body to store more fat. If you want to increase your calorie burn and keep cortisol levels in check, aim for 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye every night.
Add ginger to your diet
Ginger provides loads of health benefits. Not only does it have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it’s also a natural diuretic. On top of that, ginger has been shown to improve digestion by helping food to move through the gut at a quicker pace which reduces gas and bloating. Ginger tea is a quick and popular way to add it into your diet. You can also put it in smoothies, soup or salad dressing.
“When you’re frazzled, your body increases its production of steroids and stress hormones, which negatively affect your digestive system, causing major constipation,” says Dr. Reichman. And as if that weren’t enough, stress also amps up the production of cortisol, a “fight or flight” hormone that sends excess fat directly to your midsection in its attempt to protect your vital organs. To minimize tension, Dr. Reichman advises setting aside 20 minutes every day to relax.
Research has linked eating nuts with having a smaller waist circumference. Nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, making them a more satisfying pick than refined carbohydrates like chips or pretzels. Make sure you stick to the unsalted versions to stave off sodium-induced puff, and keep in mind one serving is about a small handful.
Add milk to your breakfast
Pour low-fat milk on your morning cereal and you may have a belly-busting win. The minerals found in dairy products — calcium, potassium and magnesium — can help to counterbalance bloat-inducing sodium.
“Most women don’t want to talk about it, but you really have to set aside a specific time each day to use the bathroom,” notes Dr. Reichman. “If you don’t, it’s too easy to give into feeling rushed, and ignore the urge to go.” Once you’ve trained your brain to dismiss your body’s signals, you set the stage for bloat-inducing constipation.
Choose more probiotics
Don’t forget about prebiotics
If you want healthy probiotics, you need prebiotics to feed them. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that are not digested in the GI tract. They work to promote the growth of good bacteria to help create a healthy gut environment that has less bloating. You can find prebiotics in veggies, fruit, nuts, beans, seeds and 100% whole grains, Fischer says.
Yoga might not be a hardcore cardio workout but it has plenty of belly-flattening benefits. In fact, one small study of women with a waist circumference of 34.6 inches or more found that those who did two 90-minute sessions of hatha yoga every week for 12 weeks significantly reduced their waist size compared to women who didn’t do yoga. If you want to give it a shot, try Prevention’s Flat Belly Yoga program to tighten and tone your tummy in just minutes a day — no crunches required!
You are special, strong and valuable no matter what size your waist is. Before you decide to slim down, take some time to think about your motivations for doing so. In some cases, a smaller belly is linked to better health, but not always. And just like there are a million ways your body is unique, there are a million ways to change your body. The strategies listed above might help reduce bloat or take inches from your waist, but there’s no surefire, one-size-fits-all, magical solution for weight loss. That’s why it’s so important to focus on your health and do what you need to do to make yourself happy. If you’re interested in learning more about how diet culture affects us on an individual and community level, check out our collection of articles on the topic.
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