With guys, weight gain—and loss—is all about the gut.
Men are genetically predisposed to carry any excess weight in their abdomens, says Brian Quebbemann, M.D., a bariatric surgeon with the Chapman Medical Center in California and president of The N.E.W. Program. Unfortunately, unlike fat in your butt, neck, and thighs, abdominal fat isn’t limited to subcutaneous, just-below-the-skin fat. Belly fat exists all the way down to and around your organs. “This visceral fat is directly correlated with multiple medical problems including diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, and a shorter life expectancy,” he says.
Add all of that to the simple fact that guts just aren’t sexy and, yeah, you have plenty of reason to get rid of yours for good. Luckily, all of these science-approved tips don’t just fight fat—they fight belly fat.
“Abdominal fat is more metabolically active than peripheral body fat,” Quebbemann says. “That means that when you exercise, you’ll disproportionately lose more abdominal than peripheral fat.” And while any exercise will help you lose weight, strength training reduces body fat better than steady-state cardio, according to 2015 research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Eat The Right Fats
Saturated fat, bad. Unsaturated fat, good. In one 2014 Diabetes study, when people ate an extra 750 calories from fat every day for seven weeks, those who loaded up on saturated fat gained more visceral fat while those who ate polyunsaturated fat gained less fat and more lean muscle.
Fiber does more than get things moving. In one 2012 Obesity study, people who simply increased their daily intake of soluble fiber by 10 grams reduced their visceral fat by 3.7 percent over the course of five years. To get more soluble fiber, Quebbemann suggests reaching for fruit, beans, and oats.
Get More Sleep
Less sleep, more belly. Sleeping five hours or less per night increases people’s visceral fat levels, according research from Wake Forest University. One reason: Because skipping out on sleep results in higher levels of fat-promoting stress hormones such as cortisol, he says.
When it comes to alcohol, there’s a definite sweet spot. According to research from the University at Buffalo, people who drink less than once a week—but more than four drinks at a time—have larger beer guts than guys who drink more often, but less during each sitting. It turns out, in moderation (aim for no more than two drinks per day), alcohol consumption may actually be linked to less inflammation and smaller stomachs.
Eat More Protein
Apart from keeping your blood sugar levels stable and your stomach feeling full, protein may alter how your body stores fat. In one 2014 study of high-calorie diets, those who got their excess calories from protein stored 45 percent of them as muscle, while those on low-protein diets stored 95 percent of the excess calories as fat.
Replace Refined Grains With Whole Ones
“Sugar and refined carbohydrates push up your blood sugar, subsequently increasing your insulin secretions and forcing calories to be deposited as fat,” Quebbemann says. “The first place this fat is deposited in men is in the belly.” Hence why a recent American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that guys who eat refined grains have more visceral fat and larger waistlines than those who eat whole ones.
Ditch Diet Soda
If you haven’t gotten the memo by now, no soda is safe. In fact, drinking two diet sodas a day is linked to a five-fold increase in people’s waist measurements, per research from the University of Texas. While researchers aren’t exactly sure why, previous research suggests that artificial sweeteners may trick the body into overeating, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Eat More C
Vitamin C can do more than fend off colds. According to research published in The Journal of Nutrition, people who get the most C have the smallest waists. It may because it reduces inflammation in the body. But don’t limit yourself to oranges. Red bell peppers, spinach, and strawberries all have a good amount of the nutrient.
Green tea shouldn’t get all of the glory. In a 2014 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, polyphenols from green, black, and oolong teas may reduce inflammation as well as fat accumulation around the stomach.