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Stubborn abdominal fat is like an unwanted guest you just can't get rid of, and kicking it to the curb can be the mother of all exercise and health challenges. But some methods are more promising than others. Here are 8 tactics to rid yourself of stomach fat.
1. Exercise and eat right
No kidding, right? Yet so many of us sabotage this no-brainer of a gut-busting plan. Study after study proves that eating a well-balanced diet heavy in fruits, veggies and whole grains and low in fat and refined sugars, plus exercising regularly, will help you shed not only subcutaneous fat (the surface fat that makes love handles), but also the deeper visceral fat, which builds up around abdominal organs and can raise your chance of suffering high cholesterol, heart disease, or type 2 diabetes. And regular exercise not only helps you slim down your whole body, it actually shrinks the size of fat cells in your stomach.
2. Get down to your healthy weight
Losing that gut isn't easy, but you can improve your contours (and lower your risk of heart disease and cancer) by lowering your overall body mass index. A healthy adult BMI is roughly 19 to 25. You can do as many crunches as you want, but if you're overweight, your abs will be hidden under a padding of fat. (By the same token, you can be naturally slim but still carry a paunch if you don't exercise or eat right. Bottom line: think of Tactic #1 as the Golden Gut-busting Rule.)
3. Don't be a stress case
Scientists are studying the link between stress and belly fat. Heightened cortisol levels in blood, resulting from stress, seem to react with the body's insulin to create visceral abdominal fat -- and, in a double whammy, to also drive us toward fatty, sugary foods. Reducing stress may make it easier to say no to barbecue chips or chocolate truffles that go straight to the waistline. Try yoga as a way of cutting stress. Bonus: it'll tone you, too. And if your daily commute is a cause of stress, wear an iPod or read a funny book to help you chill out on public transportation; if you drive, consider ways to reduce your commuting time.
4. Stop boozing, quit smoking
Think cigarettes keep you thin? Think again. Both smoking and alcohol raise the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body. See Tactic #3 for a refresher on what that means for your gut.
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5. Hire a personal trainer
Embarking on a fitness regime is more likely to be successful if you invest in some one-on-one workouts with a personal trainer. She can devise a regimen that will give you the right amount of cardio plus strength training to help you tone up, and target trouble spots most effectively. And the faster you see results, the more likely you are to stay motivated -- and active.
6. Skip the Thai, meet for sushi instead
A recent Japanese study found that fucoxanthin, a compound in brown seaweed, shrank abdominal fat in lab animals, and encouraged a five to 10 per cent weight loss. Human studies are next, but the scientists are excited. And you should be too, if you love Japanese food. Order that miso soup or seaweed salad. Not only do these low-fat appetizers contain seaweed, they'll fill you up so you won't pig out on that caloriepaloooza known as tempura.
7. Avoid trans fats like the plague
Yes, we already mentioned a low-fat diet in Tactic #1, but trans-fatty acids, found in many convenience foods, deserve their own mention. Trans fats are linked to cardiovascular disease, and, as if that weren't enough, they literally go straight to your belly. A recent study found that not only do trans fats create excess visceral fat in the abdomen, they actually cause fat from other parts of the body to redistribute there.
8. Don't believe late-night infomercials
A study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that expensive ab-targeting home-exercise equipment is no better than (and in some cases, is worse than) good, old-fashioned exercises. Skip the gimmicks and work these three ab moves into your workout: the bicycle manouver, reverse crunches and pull-ups done in a captain's chair (an old school Rocky Balboa-style gym staple you'll probably never find a lineup for at your club). Go to the ACE's website for how-tos on these simple moves.
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