If you’re only getting a minimal amount of sleep each night, that leaves more time for you to snack and make otherwise unhealthy decisions that could affect your weight loss. Although it will vary from person to person on how much sleep you actually need to be most effective (and therefore make progress toward your weight loss goals), the ideal number is typically 7 or 8 hours, says Dr. Cheskin. (Struggling to get that shut-eye? This doctor-approved breathing exercise will help you fall asleep fast.)
When it comes to food, there is evidence that men and women’s brains are wired differently. In a study published in the January 2009 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, even though women said they weren’t hungry when asked to smell, taste, and observe treats such as pizza, cinnamon buns and chocolate cake, brain scans showed activity in the regions that control the drive to eat (not the case for men).
The study began with 609 relatively healthy overweight and obese people, and 481 completed the whole year. For the first month, everyone did what they usually did. Then, for the next eight weeks, the low-fat group reduced their total fat intake to 20 grams per day, and the low-carb group reduced their total carbohydrate intake to 20 grams per day. These are incredibly restricted amounts, considering that there are 26 grams of carbs in the yogurt drink I’m enjoying as I write this, and 21 grams of fat in my half of the dark chocolate bar my husband and I split for dessert last night.
Most people think of cardio as a weight loss all-star, but you don’t need to spend all day on the treadmill to slim down. In fact, you might want to concentrate your efforts in the weight room. Muscle is metabolically active tissue, which means that it burns calories even when you’re not lifting; your body burns calories just to maintain muscle, so the more of it you have, the more calories you torch. You lose muscle mass naturally as you age, a process known as sarcopenia, which is why losing weight tends to get tougher the older you get. One study found that just ten weeks of resistance training increased resting metabolic rate (the number of calories your body burns when you’re not doing anything) by 7 percent. Check out this simple strength training routine that challenges your entire body.
Losing belly fat shouldn’t mean strict dieting or deprivation. “People often think that you have to eat certain foods or avoid certain foods [to lose weight] and in reality, it comes down to eating more of a balanced diet that is portion- and calorie-controlled,” says Zeratsky. “This allows your body to have enough energy to do what it wants to do while managing weight.”
One easy way to find out if you’re carrying too much abdominal fat is to wrap a measuring tape around your body at the top of your hipbones. If your number is more than 35 inches, it may be time to take action. The good news: Getting rid of belly fat is simpler than you might think. With the right plan, it’s actually easier to lose than stubborn lower-body fat or the seemingly impossible to tone back-of-the-arm flab. Stick to these diet and exercise guidelines, and you’ll be slimmer — and healthier — by summer.
When a client is looking to shed fat, registered dietitian and personal train Jim White will often suggest that they keep a food journal. “This really makes a person more aware of what and how much they’re eating and prevents mindless munching,” says White. “Food diaries also help people identify areas where they can make changes that will help them lose weight and inches. Food diaries can also help people discover patterns that lead to overeating.”
Break out the lemon wedges: Regular fish eaters tend to have lower levels of the hormone leptin — good because high levels of leptin have been linked to low metabolism and obesity, says Louis Aronne, M.D., an obesity specialist at the New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. Try to consume three to four servings of a fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna or mackerel, each week.
Salt, in moderation, is a good thing—the mineral is necessary for a healthy heart and brain. But too much salt and you’ll retain water, bloating up like a water balloon. Cutting salt is one of the primary ways to drop extra water weight (one reason you may see a big weight loss when starting a new diet!). Move the salt shaker off your table so you’ll get out of the habit of routinely salting all your food. Then if you taste your food and still really want salt you can still stand up and get some. For more weight loss benefits, add these fat-burning foods to your plate to help you lose weight.