When patients arrive in the E.R., I have literally a few seconds to decide what’s wrong and how I can help. Know which vital sign I check first? Their weight. The most important indicator of how people will manage a health crisis is how much belly fat they’re carrying. Why? Because your health risks climb right along with your waist measurement. Not only are high levels of belly fat associated with heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer, but obese patients are also 37 percent more likely to die from injuries sustained in a car accident. Of course, it’s a lot more fun to track what happens when the number on the scale falls—which is exactly what will happen if you take the following five simple prescriptions on how to get a flat stomach to heart. Without that extra flab, you’ll be healthier, more confident, and more energetic. And nothing says “health” better than having a flat, sexy stomach to show off to the world.
Never Go on a Diet
You’ve heard ’em all: the cabbage soup diet, the grapefruit diet, the banana diet. Launch into any of these and you’re bound to lose some weight. Suddenly, you’re not randomly grazing—you’re eating with a plan. The problem is, your brain is a calorie hog, and it takes an immense amount of concentration to stick to a complicated diet. So don’t. Instead, focus on eating great-tasting, belly-filling foods that will keep you satisfied so you won’t be likely to overeat. These foods include whole-grain cereal, oatmeal, green tea, tuna, salmon, apples, walnuts, and lean chicken, beef, and pork.
Next time you’re in a grocery store, pick up any boxed food and read the label. Chances are, it will have a few ingredients you recognize—wheat, sugar, salt—and a whole bunch you don’t. These are the chemical additives that food scientists have cooked up not only to foil the spoilage process but also to mess with your body’s natural taste and appetite regulators. Your tongue is covered with flavor sensors that guide you to seek a variety of sensations and eat a balanced diet. The people who make processed foods have tweaked the formulas for their chips or soup to achieve a balance of sweet and savory, so you’re less likely to grow tired of that food and seek out something new. The solution? Focus on eating foods with only one ingredient. If you think that means you’ll spend more time in the produce, meat, and dairy sections of the store—you’re right. That’s where slim women shop.
Munch More Often
This prescription is all about managing your body’s energy needs over the course of a day so that you’re never too hungry to think straight. If your food supply slacks off, even for a few hours, it’s an invitation to gluttony. An easy fix: Eat every three hours, beginning with breakfast. A study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School determined that people who skip breakfast are four and a half times more likely to be obese than those who make time for it. Be sure that each of your snacks has a good mix of protein, fat, fiber, and carbs. Eating on this schedule will solve the biggest problem people face when it comes to losing weight: being too hungry to keep it up.
Drink Plenty and Drink Smart
Beverages with added sugar account for nearly 450 calories per day in the average American’s diet. That’s more than twice as much as we were drinking 30 years ago, and those calories are in the form of heavily sweetened sodas, coffee and tea drinks, bottled “healthy” smoothies, and sugar-laden fruit drinks. Improve your fluid intake by inaugurating a water schedule: Have a glass of water when you first wake up in the morning, one mid-morning, one before you eat lunch, one mid-afternoon, one before dinner, and one as a nightcap around 8 p.m. If you stick with this plan, you’ll find that you crave soda less. If you’re counting on that Coke for the caffeine, swap it for coffee with milk. Other smart alternatives include low-calorie homemade juice, unsweetened iced tea, and flavored seltzer water (just be sure to skip those that are high in sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or any kind of artificial sweetener).
Cook It Yourself
After a hectic day, it may seem easier to eat out. But by incorporating restaurant meals into our lives, we’re giving up two essential things: money and control. For one thing, plates are much bigger today than they were a few decades ago. Because the plates are bigger, they’re carrying more food. And consider these additional benefits of gathering around the table with your family: People tend to linger longer over a home-cooked meal, which has been linked to consuming fewer calories. And kids who grow up in families that regularly observe the evening meal do better in school, weigh less, and are more likely to stay away from drugs.