If you're still grappling with those extra pounds you gained over the holidays, the thought of baring your belly at the beach may seem slightly terrifying. But the good news is that, even with warm summer months growing nearer by the day, a smart strategy will allow you to lose the extra jiggle in your stomach and don your bikini with pride.
Burn One Pound Per Week
As with any weight loss, your diet matters most for achieving a flatter belly. You only lose fat by burning more calories than you eat, so use an online calculator to find out how many calories you burn daily--the amount varies by weight and activity level. Then, subtract 500 to find the number of calories you need to eat each day to lose one pound per week, which is a healthy goal.
Choosing the Right Foods
When it comes to belly fat, it's not just how much you eat, but which foods you choose. One way to ensure the fat comes from your middle is to pick whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal and buckwheat noodles, instead of refined grains such as white bread, corn flakes and enriched spaghetti.
It's unclear why this works, but a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed two groups of dieters: One group was told to eat only whole grains, while the other group ate only refined grains. Although all of the dieters lost weight, the whole-grain group lost significantly more fat from around the abdomen.
Eating more protein may also help you burn more fat from your belly. In a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers looked at the dietary habits of more than 600 people of many different ethnicities. They found that those who ate the most protein tended to have less abdominal fat, even after accounting for other variables like age and gender.
Meats and cheeses are often high in fat, making them heavy in calories. Therefore, you should choose lean protein sources such as beans, tofu and seafood.
Burning Fat at the Gym
To get your belly truly ready for the beach, you'll also need plenty of exercise. Vigorous cardio activities such as jogging and swimming laps will burn the most calories, and are also shown to burn more belly fat than other types of exercise. Do these for 20 to 30 minutes per day, five days per week for fast results.
Also on the exercise menu: muscle-building activities to get your abs seriously toned. Sit-ups are helpful, but the bicycle maneuver is even better. To do this move, lie on your back with your hands behind your head, and move your legs in the air as if you're pedaling a bike. Meet each knee with the opposite elbow as you go, similar to a twisting crunch.
Following this advice, you'll be able to achieve a flatter stomach in a matter of weeks, helping to build your confidence for the beach. Adopt some of these changes for the rest of the year, and you'll be proud to show your midriff in any season--and be healthier, to boot.
Nina Kate is a certified fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She also studied journalism at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and has contributed to numerous major publications as a freelance writer. Nina thrives on sharing nutrition and fitness knowledge to help readers lead healthy, active lives. Visit her wellness blog at BodyFlourish.com.