Nobody likes to be badgered. If you need one more reason to kick a bad habit, whether it’s slumping, smoking, or stashing away loads of clutter, let a trimmer tummy be your motivator. Belly-fat fixes, like sitting up straight, eating more veggies, and getting a better handle on stress can help reduce visceral fat—the dangerous kind that surrounds your organs and raises your risk of cardiovascular disease. Break these 10 habits to score a flatter stomach and silence nagging friends, family, and coworkers once and for all.
Skimping on Sleep
Adequate rest can help you shed pounds, but sacrificing slumber for late-night TV may explain why your body clings to stubborn belly fat. During a 6-year Canadian study, those who slept only 5 to 6 hours each night experienced a 58% higher increase in waist circumference and a 124% higher increase in body fat percentage than those who slept 7 to 8 hours a night. “Sleep deprivation lowers leptin, a protein that suppresses appetite and tells the brain when the stomach is full,” says Glassman.
Not Drinking Enough Water
Fill up your belly to make it flatter. That may sound counterintuitive, but when you hydrate with good old H2O, it works. “Drinking water helps maintain your body’s fluid balance and guard against water retention,” says Glassman, “and can relieve constipation, which causes bloat.” Sipping water is also a way to ward off mindless snacking, a classic belly-fat culprit: “When you are hydrated you are less likely to eat when you are actually just thirsty,” says Glassman.
Keeping a Messy House
If you let dust bunnies take shelter under your sofa, you’re missing out on an at-home belly-flattening workout. The rotational movements associated with vacuuming and sweeping work your core muscles, and common household cleaning tasks burn serious calories. A 150-pound person burns about 85 calories during 30 minutes of dusting. Mopping or vacuuming will zap about 119 calories every 30 minutes and sweeping your porch or sidewalk will blast 136 calories in half an hour.
Doing Weights-Only Workouts
You can spend hours pumping iron, but without some cardio to burn the fat that’s stored around abdominal muscles you can’t show off your hard work. If you’re worried that running or cycling will turn your gym session into an all-morning or all-evening affair, try interval training. When Australian researchers assigned 45 young women to either 20-minute cycling intervals or 40 minutes of continuous cycling at moderate intensity three times per week, the interval group lost 5.5 pounds, on average, with significant reductions in belly, leg, and butt fat. Steady-state exercisers did not lose fat—on average, the women gained 1 pound after 15 weeks.
Doing Cardio-Only Workouts
Sure, cardio melts fat, but if you’re skipping core-strengthening resistance workouts, your abs may be in hiding. Bring ‘em out by alternating aerobic activity withstrength-training sessions. Korean researchers divided 30 obese women into three groups: those who performed 60 minutes of cardio 6 days a week, those who completed three strength-training and three cardio workouts per week, and a control group. Women in the combined aerobic and resistance training group lost more belly fat and gained more muscle than women in the cardio-only group during the 24-week study.
Having Poor Posture
Sitting or standing up straight isn’t just about manners or form. Proper posture helps keep core muscles—your abs, hips, and lower back—strong and your belly looking less paunchy. Australian researchers studied the postures of 20 adults as they sat hunched in a chair or stood with their backs arched and their bellies hanging out. Then they examined the same study participants as they stood or sat up straight. The scientists found that back and belly muscles were slack while slouching but contracted once the study participants straightened up.
Perhaps you’ve turned up your nose at turnips—and beets, kale, and cauliflower—since you were a kid. But if you want a taut tummy, now’s the time to chow down. “Veggies are a crucial source of fiber,” says Glassman. “Fiber helps to aid in digestion and relieve constipation, which promotes a flat belly.” Plus, packing your meals with foods like beans, bran, berries, and broccoli helps fend off hunger. “Fiber also helps promote fullness, guarding you from making poor food choices and overeating, which can help you get lean overall,” Glassman says.
Frequent freak-outs spell more than wrinkles and a few grays. Stressful situations can also show up on your waistline. “Evidence has shown that a high level of cortisol, the hormone that is released in response to stress, has been linked to the abnormal accumulation of abdominal fat,” says Glassman. In one study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, Yale researchers found that otherwise slender women who carried excess belly fat secreted more cortisol when asked to perform stressful tasks compared with women who carried more fat around their hips.
Sipping a glass of red wine during dinner can help fight belly fat, but go overboard and you could end up with a beer belly. “Alcohol delays your liver’s ability to metabolize fat and also suppresses the hormone testosterone, which is the primary metabolic hormone,” says Keri Glassman, RD, founder of Nutritious Life, a New York City–based nutrition practice. “Studies show that lower levels of testosterone are directly linked to higher levels of belly fat. And, of course, alcohol does have calories, and many people overeat when drinking is involved,” she says.
Lighting up may keep smokers slimmer than nonsmokers overall, but cigarette smoking impacts where your body stores its fat. In anObesity Research study of 21,828 middle-aged adults, British scientists found that smokers had lower BMIs compared with nonsmokers, but their waist-to-hip ratios were greater. Additional studies suggest that an apple-shaped body—carrying more weight around the waist—puts you at a greater risk for obesity, fertility complications, and cardiovascular disease than a pear-shaped body, when weight is concentrated in the hips.