Seeking that perfectly flat, chiseled stomach? You're not alone in feeling frustrated: Sixty-two percent of women say the body part they're most self-conscious about is their belly.
But there is good news. In addition to ab workouts, the latest research is full of new culinary strategies for shrinking your stomach.
Take a look at the answers to the most frequently asked questions about how to achieve a flat stomach following food advice provided by the editors of Women's Health.
1. Will eating smaller meals curb my hunger? Contrary to what you've heard, the five-small-meals-a-day mantra doesn't work for everyone. The new thinking? You'll eat healthiest if you eat your way--meaning, if you prefer substantial meals fewer times a day, there's no reason to force yourself to do the opposite, says nutritionist Alan Aragon.
2. How do I know which fats are OK to eat? It's been scientifically proven: Eating fat helps you become slim, says Aragon. In fact, the Institute of Medicine recommends that fatty foods make up 20 to 35 percent of your total calories. However, you have to include the right fats--primarily monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) like nuts, avocados and healthy oils.
3. Is counting calories the only way to guarantee a flat stomach? What matters most for shedding belly fat boils down to calories in versus calories out. However, if worrying about Every. Single. Calorie. is stressing you out, put away the calculator. Instead, fill your plate with whole, energy-dense foods, such as lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
4. Aren't protein shakes just for bodybuilders? Don't be fooled by labels. Anyone, jock or not, can benefit from the belly-flattening power of protein powder. Opt for whey protein over soy: According to a study in The Journal of Nutrition, participants whose diets included whey protein for 23 weeks had less body fat and a smaller waist than those who consumed soy protein.
5. Do carbs cause tummy fat? Despite what nearly every diet plan in the late '90s led you to believe, carbs are not your enemy. Yes, if you overeat them, you'll gain--just as with any other food. But when it comes to weight loss, your total calorie balance is what matters.
6. I'm losing pounds but not inches. What's wrong? This usually means you're not strength training or eating enough protein, says Aragon. Pick up some weights, and add six ounces of lean meat to your post-workout meal or mix two scoops of protein powder into a smoothie or yogurt.
7. Can I have dairy and still lose my belly? Absolutely. In fact, cutting back on the amount of dairy you eat can signal your body to make more fat cells, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. When you don't have enough calcium in your body, it tries to hold on to what's there. This triggers the release of a compound called calcitriol, which increases the production of fat cells.
8. Do artificial sweeteners really pack on pounds? There's no direct link between consuming these sweeteners and gaining weight. Still, some research indicates that by providing you with the taste of a high-calorie meal without delivering the calories your brain expects, diet foods made with artificial sweeteners and preservatives can actually leave you craving more food, which causes you to overeat.
9. Will taking supplements help reveal my abs? Most fat-loss pills are a waste of money, and many carry scary risks, says Aragon. The truth is, the fat loss caused by any supplement is minor, he says. The best and only real way to uncover your abs--permanently--is to focus on what you eat and how you exercise.
10. I always gorge after a workout. Bad habit? This is actually the best time to have your largest meal of the day--as long as it's a reasonable size and not a full-on feast. That's because you've just reduced your body's fuel reserves, and food can help aid your recovery.
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