If beating belly fat were easy, we’d all look like magazine cover models. But that doesn’t mean flat abs are out of reach; it just requires a comprehensive attack plan.
“To combat fat storage, you need to reduce inflammation, maintain a healthy gut microbiome, avoid foods you may have sensitives to, regulate the hormones that promote fat storage, and ensure you consume and absorb beneficial nutrients,” says Shelly Malone, MPH, RDN, CBNP, and author of INFLAMED.
Got that? It can sound like a tall order—and it doesn’t help when you also hear conflicting information. That’s why we turned to some of the country’s leading nutritionists to bust belly fat myths that might be keeping you from the body you want. See what they have to say and then try out these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
Truth: “Nuts have gotten a bad reputation for their total fat content, but nutrition science suggests that the quality—not quantity—of fat is what is most important to our health,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook.
“In fact, the FDA recently announced they are reevaluating the term ‘healthy’ as it applies to foods with good-for-you fats, like pistachios,” Newgent continues. “What’s more, foods like in-shell pistachios may help you fool yourself into feeling full because the leftover shells may provide a visual cue for portions, potentially helping to curb intake.” For more intriguing tricks, check out these 30 Hacks to Feel Full When You’re Trying to Lose Weight!
Truth: While beer consumption doesn’t tend to help shrink your waist, a beer belly isn’t necessarily caused by beer; it’s more likely caused by consuming too many empty calories.
“Although, if you enjoy guzzling six-packs on a regular basis, then you do need to reconsider your beer drinking habits,” cautions Newgent. You know what has been proven to create a protruding gut? Soda. It’s called “soda belly” and these are the 108 Most Popular Sodas, Ranked by How Toxic They Are.
Truth: “Consuming a good amount of healthy fats are key to weight loss,” says Maria A. Bella, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Top Balance Nutrition.
“Healthy fats like olive oil and avocado oil promote longevity, glowing skin, hair, and nails, and fight against cardiovascular disease and diabetes by keeping your blood glucose levels stable.” Bella also notes that they make you feel full and require more energy from your body to digest. The key is to incorporate just the right amount into the diet. One serving of fat equals one tablespoon of olive oil, 10 olives, or 1/4 avocado. Most people should aim for two to three servings a day. To learn more about “healthy fats,” scan our list of 20 Common Fatty Foods That Won’t Make You Fat.
Truth: No amount of crunches will give you abs if you have layers of fat covering your abdomen.
In order for your abs to show, you must focus on your diet first. “Everyone is born with abdominal muscles that vary in shape and look, and exercise will only help to develop the muscle itself,” says Bella. “Eating a clean, balanced diet will help in fat loss around the abdominal muscles and help them to show through.”
Truth: “The locations where your body tends to store fat is predetermined by your genes, but it does not mean that you will be overweight in those areas,” says Bella.
For example, someone who is apple-shaped tends to store more fat in the abdominal region, but if they follow the proper diet and exercise regime, they can prevent weight gain. Check out these 17 Weight Loss Tips Based on Your Body Type!
Truth: The word “seed” can make something sound automatically healthy, but that’s not the case when it comes to certain oils.
“Processed and industrial seed oil like corn, cottonseed, soybean oil, and peanut oil can negatively affect our ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats,” says Malone. “This can lead to chronic inflammation, which is a contributor to resistant weight loss, and they can contain GMOs that harm the gut microbiome.” Opt for healthy oils like flaxseed oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and hemp seed oil.
Truth: You actually need to eat some fat.
“Fat triggers the feeling of satiety to prevent you from overeating, stabilizes blood sugar—preventing fat-storing insulin to spike—and allows you to absorb important fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K,” says Malone. It’s also important to note that when food manufacturers take out fat, they need to compensate for a loss in flavor. They often do so by adding in copious amounts of salt, sugar, or both. Speaking of, be sure you’re staying away from The 36 Saltiest Restaurant Meals.
Truth: Some experts recommend their clients stay away from low or nonfat dairy products.
“Unless your milk is organic and coming from pasture-raised/grass-fed cows, [producers] will likely be giving synthetic growth hormones, steroids, antibiotics, and genetically modified corn to those animals to drastically increase their weight gain,” says Malone. “Also, when it’s pasteurized, you lose many beneficial nutrients and enzymes that help with digestion.”
Truth: There are a solid 35 Things You Don’t Know About Caffeine and one is probably how caffeine can confuse your cortisol production. (Cortisol, FYI, tells your body to hang onto fat.)
In moderation, caffeine can be a great thing. Not only can caffeine give you an energy boost, it has been shown to help with sports performance. That said, it can also have the opposite effect and end up wearing you out. “This is especially true if you are already worn down and under stress; it can perpetuate an imbalance of hormones, namely cortisol, that contribute to fat storage, especially around the middle,” says Malone.
Truth: The problem with juices and smoothies is that it’s easy to consume very large amounts of sugar and calories without noticing.
As if the calorie and sugar counts aren’t enough reason to ditch the juice cleanse, many juices don’t have the fiber that makes fresh produce so wonderful for you. After all, fiber helps keep you full for longer periods of time and mitigates blood-sugar spikes. “A juice can contain more than one serving of fruit, which adds up to a lot of sugar. But without any fiber, you won’t feel full or have the benefits of stabilizing your blood glucose levels and losing fat,” says Bella.
Truth: Sleep is better than no sleep, but studies show that the quality of sleep you get is super important, too.
Whether you have sleep apnea—meaning you’re never really getting a restful sleep—or simply can’t turn off your brain at night, it’s not enough to just be in your bed for eight hours. “Sleeping well through the night, without a restless mind or randomly waking up, is key to making sure you wake up refreshed and less stressed,” says Bella who recommends avoiding caffeine for at least six hours before bed and keeping all electronic devices out of the bedroom since they emit unnatural blue light keeping you up at night. “Drinking alcohol before bedtime will make it easier for you to fall asleep, but increase the number of nighttime arousals.”
Truth: Green tea is great but it’s not a magic potion; you still have to alter other parts of your diet and life.
Drinking green tea is a great, especially if it’s in place of juices and sodas, but while studies have shown that drinking around three cups of it a day may help increase your metabolism, that’s definitely not enough to melt off belly fat. Bella says it’s important that people be aware that drinking green tea is only truly effective if it’s consumed as a supplement to a healthy diet and exercise plan. To make the most of the benefits from tea, pick up The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse. Test panelists lost up to 10 pounds in one week!
Truth: Food is food whether you have it at 1 a.m. or 1 p.m.
More important than the time of day is the quality and quantity of the food you consume. “Listen to your body,” says Bella. “The total number of calories matters and most people tend to continuously snack throughout the night as the inhibitions go down.”
But if you really need to stay up late and work on a deadline and are truly hungry, then you should eat; just make sure you’re not eating out of boredom or because you’re thirsty. A good rule is to ask yourself if you’d eat an apple. If you wouldn’t eat an apple, odds are you’re just having a craving and aren’t actually hungry.
Truth: Although studies have favored some diets over others, there is no one particular diet that will automatically help you blast away belly fat.
The most important thing is to focus on eating plenty of fresh produce, lean protein, healthy fats, and limiting the amounts of refined carbohydrates and saturated fats you’re consuming. Equally important is staying within your calorie limits; these are the 30 Healthy Foods You’re Better Off Eating in Moderation that you’ll want to keep in mind!
Truth: We often read that eating more frequent, smaller meals will melt off belly fat, but that’s not necessarily true.
“You don’t need to eat small meals every two hours,” says Bella. “You can more effectively increase your metabolism by eating three balanced meals and one snack per day.” Not only will you feel more satisfied and fuller longer by eating a full meal, but you’ll still keeping your blood sugar levels stable and won’t risk overeating to the same degree as you might if you graze on foods throughout the day. For more insights into your metabolism, don’t miss these 31 Ways You Messed Up Your Metabolism Today.
Truth: If you drastically cut back on the number of calories—instead of improving the quality of your calories—you’ll likely do damage to your metabolism and miss out on long-term success.
Yes, calorie counting can be one way to lose weight. But experts consistently say that your body will go into starvation mode and slow down metabolism so as to hang onto the calories it gets when it finally gets them. “Not eating enough is actually detrimental to your metabolism,” says Bella. “It can slow it down, making it harder for you to lose weight and maintain it.” Keep your metabolism up by eating balanced and carefully planned out meals that focus on high-quality, fresh ingredients.
Truth: There are some amazing fat-burning foods, but no cure-alls.
There are always trends that give certain buzz foods seemingly magic powers. And as of late, you might have read splashy headlines touting the benefits of tart cherries. “Unfortunately, eating tart cherries alone will not help you lose fat around the belly. You need to eat an overall healthy diet that is within your calorie range,” says Bella. That said, she notes that tart cherries are good for you in other ways, just like other fruits they are high in fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, meaning they’re a great addition to your diet (instead of candy, for example).
Truth: “Drinking apple cider vinegar alone will not melt away belly fat,” says Bella.
“Some studies have shown that vinegar, in general, can help improve insulin sensitivity,” Bella continues. “But it is best to pair this regime with a healthy diet and exercise to see optimal results.”
Truth: Genes play a part on your shape, but using your genes as a blanket excuse for your shape isn’t doing you any favors.
“When your gut bacteria (aka microbiome) is out of balance with more bad bacteria, then good
(aka dysbiosis), fat storage is promoted,” says Malone. This dysbiosis can be from many factors including lack of sleep, not enough exercise or too much stress, but a diet high in processed foods, refined sugar and foods you don’t tolerate are the most influential factors. Malone points to new research that has shown that those with more diversity of microbes in their gut microbiome, had lower visceral fat (the fat around your organs in your abdominal area that is associated with metabolic disease).
Our point? While you can’t change your genes, your microbiome makeup is actually very malleable. Improve your gut health and get your carbs from vegetables, eat fermented foods, get some probiotics in your life, and try an elimination diet to help pinpoint your food sensitivities.
Truth: While citric acid is a natural occurring acid in fruits and vegetables, it doesn’t emulsify stored fat.
A common myth is that citric acid in fruits like cranberries emulsifies your belly fat. The truth, according to Bella, is that it’s involved in the TCA cycle, which generates energy through oxidation of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. This also means that any cream that purports to blast belly fat or to melt away cellulite with acid-rich cranberries won’t actually deliver. That said, while citric acid-rich fruits won’t blast fat on their own, eat them instead of processed sweets and salty snacks and you’re bound to see some results.
Truth: Cinnamon helps blood sugar control but is not connected to calorie burning.
Cinnamon and herbs and spices, in general, are a great way to add flavor to your foods without packing on calories; that doesn’t mean they’re a cure-all. “It’s a common myth that consuming a teaspoon of ground cinnamon every day helps you lose fat quickly,” says Bella. “The truth is that while studies show that cinnamon may play a role in blood sugar control, cinnamon is not connected to greater calorie burn. Additionally, you would need to consume a lot more than just a teaspoon of cinnamon in order to get the small benefits.”
Truth: “Oftentimes, the weight loss experienced by people avoiding gluten is from the overall cut in calories from avoiding all carbohydrates in general,” explains Bella.
The food industry plays on the fact that many people falsely assume that ‘gluten-free’ is code for healthy, so they disguise highly processed foods as good-for-you snacks. It’s very common for people who go on gluten-free diets to gain belly fat because they’re replacing whole grain, gluten-containing complex carbohydrates with processed, refined gluten-free products.
Truth: It’s probably just that you’re drinking water in the first place.
It would be impossible to count the number of people who swear by starting their day with hot water and lemon. And while it’s certainly a healthy way to start your morning, there’s a lack of scientific evidence that supports any claims that it melts away fat. “The average American does not drink enough water in general. Therefore, drinking a glass of lemon water in the morning on an empty stomach may just help in hydration and suppressing appetite, leading to overall less calorie consumption,” says Bella.
Truth: There is no evidence that shows darker fruits burn more fat.
“All fruit contain phytonutrients, so it’s important to eat a variety of colors to ensure you’re getting as many nutrients as possible,” says Bella. “But there isn’t evidence showing that darker fruits burn fat. Rather, try having berries which are high in fiber for a satisfying and slow-digesting option.”
Truth: BMI is useful in helping someone understand that they are overweight or obese, but that’s about all it’s good for. It’s not an accurate way to determine overall health.
We might think that fat is fat, but the location of it also has health implications. “Although BMI is a good estimate of overweight or obesity status, having fat in the belly region is more detrimental to your health than being slightly overweight without much belly fat,” says Bella. “Even if your BMI is normal, central obesity can be a risk factor for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”
Truth: 100 calories from two processed, preservative-packed cookies are not equal to 100 calories from an apple.
Who do you think is healthier: someone who eats 1,200 calories worth of candies and chocolates or someone who eats 2,000 calories worth of vegetables and lean protein? Clearly, it’s not just about the number of calories, but also about the quality of those calories. “Although keeping your calories in check is key for overall weight loss, healthy food sources are key to losing belly fat and gaining lean muscle mass,” says Bella. “Studies show that if you compare two people who consume the same amount of calories worth of saturated fat and unsaturated healthy fats, the person who consumes more saturated fat will have more belly fat.” It’s one of the 40 Habits That Make You Sick and Overweight!