If you're one of the 32 percent of Americans who want to lose belly fat for good, but have no idea what actually works anymore, you're not alone. A recent survey found that 76 percent of people didn't follow a diet or workout plan last year because, well, there seems to be a fad diet popping up every day and nobody knows what's what. So let's cut through the clutter — these are the 23 out-of-the-box strategies that are guaranteed to give you results. Pick the ones that work best for your lifestyle and say hello to your skinny jeans once more.
1. HAVE HAWAIIAN SPIRULINA EVERY DAY.
Consider this specially-bred strain of seaweed the protein-packed answer to your prayers. Eating just a little of it each day (seriously, you only need three grams — or one heaping teaspoon — to get your fill, says nutritionist Tali Pines, R.D.) will give you a hefty dose of important antioxidants like beta-carotene and echinenone, both of which help curb cravings and fight illness. Bonus: the levels of beta-carotene found in Hawaiian spirulina suppress cholesterol levels (great news for your heart), and the high levels of iron improve weakness and fatigue so you have enough mojo for your next workout. Get your fix by popping a daily supplement, adding it to your morning smoothie, or simply stirring a spoonful of the powdered version (which is the most easily digestible, according to Pines) into a glass of water.
2. MEDITATE. NO, SERIOUSLY.
We know: the idea of sitting with your eyes closed for anything more than, oh, three minutes isn't always realistic. But researchers say the practice helps create mindfulness, which is key to breaking destructive habits like overeating. When overweight women meditated for six weeks, they decreased their frequency of binge-eating episodes (like, meaning to eat just a handful of tortilla chips but devouring whole bag) by over 50 percent. Tiffany Cruikshank, author of Meditate Your Weight, agrees, saying that "meditation can help rewire how your brain responds to stress." And you don't have to sit in a dark room and chant. Just schedule a meditation appointment in your calendar; then find a comfortable position to sit in (not your bed — you're way more likely to fall asleep). Set a timer on your phone, close your eyes, and focus on nothing but your breath. Do it for as long as you can — starting with three to five minutes is totally fine, and it's completely normal for your mind to wander — and gradually add more time. As you advance, download the Mindfulness App or Meditation Studio for guided sessions.
3. FIX A FIGHT WITH YOUR HUSBAND.
Yes, all couples fight. But it's the ones that know how to work through their disagreements that have better marriages…and better bodies. "Research has shown that cortisol, the hormone that's released during stressful activity, is linked to fat storage. And poor communication between couples is the most common type of stress that you tend to experience," says Gina Guddet, couples counselor and co-author of Love Metabolism. "I see it all the time: one partner says something that makes the other feel disrespected, the other responds defensively and, before you know it, stress levels are through the roof." As soon as you start that fight, Guddat says your body responds with the flight-or-fight mechanism, so it hangs onto fat. To counteract that, she says to nip the argument in the bud as soon as possible. If it can't be resolved quickly, take a "time out" so both of you can literally leave the room to cool off for at least 20 minutes. Doing so allows your heart rate and blood pressure to return to normal, helping your cortisol levels drop so your body shifts out of that fat-storing situation.
4. THINK ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE FOOD. A LOT.
We all have an Achilles heel: the one food or meal that we can't seem to help digging into. But Mark Mincolla, Ph.D., nutrition expert and author of The Whole Health Diet, recommends taking the time to visualize that food multiple times throughout the day, as research shows doing so makes you actually want it less. When that theory was put to the test, scientists found that those who repeatedly imagined their guilty-pleasure foods reduced their calorie consumption of that food by as much as 50 percent. And it wasn't because they found it to be less desirable — if you love pizza, you love pizza — but rather because they just didn't feel like eating it when given the option because they had already thought about it so much. Reverse psychology, much?
5. GLUG, GLUG, GLUG.
Yes, that is the sound of you drinking water. A lot of it. "People confuse thirst for hunger," says Pamela Salzman, a certified holistic health expert and cooking instructor. "Instead of automatically reaching for another snack, have a glass of water first. Most of the time that'll do the trick, but if not, then you're in the clear to grab something more filling." But not all waters are created equal. Mineral waters, while great for helping you hit your daily calcium and magnesium needs, are often high in sodium — a common culprit of bloat. And coconut water gives you some potassium…but for 45 calories per cup (and there's usually more than one cup in a container). It's a better bet to reach for standard purified water — and eat a banana if you want the nutrient boost — or grab alkaline water, which can help prevent your bones from getting weaker.
6. CRUNCHES GOTTA GO.
You hate 'em anyway, so…you're welcome. Experts say that isolated abdominal exercises, like crunches, are a waste of time (kind of like these moves). "It's better to try ones that strengthen your core while burning more total calories," says Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and author of Diastasis Recti: The Whole Body Solution to Abdominal Weakness and Separation. Because if you're only strengthening the muscles on the top layer of your stomach — which is all a crunch targets — your stomach may end up looking thicker. Instead, try hanging from a tree branch the next time you take the kids to the park, and keep your stomach tight while you dangle. Or play with the kids, daring them to roll like a log without using their arms or legs, and see who gets across the living room fastest. Not only will you get in a mini workout, but you'll also have fun bonding time with them, too.
7. FORGET LOW-ANYTHING.
"America has been trying to follow a low-calorie, low-fat diet for 40 years, and where has that gotten us? To being one of the heaviest countries in the world," says David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., obesity expert and author of Always Hungry. Think about it: "The problem is when you cut back on calories like that, your body tries to fight back with increased hunger and a slower metabolism because it thinks it's going into starvation mode," he says. Meanwhile, you eventually eat again to satiate the hunger pangs, and likely eat more because, well, you're insanely hungry. But your metabolism is still operating on that low level, so calories don't get burned fast enough and they get stored as fat. Ludwig says this cycle continues until you feed your body regularly (he suggests at least three meals and two snacks in between) with real food made from real ingredients. That matters more than the calories it's made up of, so repeat after us: I will always choose an all-natural version of something over food that's labeled low-calorie or fat-free.
8. ACTUALLY PLAN YOUR DINNERS FOR THE WEEK.
You know that friend who casually chats about the healthy meals she whips up for her fam like it's NBD? She's planning ahead, and you should be, too. "When you plan an entire week of dinner in advance, you're way less likely to go off course and indulge in foods that aren't good for you," says Salzman. (Her weekly dinner planner is a favorite for Elizabeth Berkley when she needs food-spo.) Science backs her up, as those who spend more time prepping food at home eat at least eight servings of fruit and 13 servings of veggies each week, while those who don't tend to eat only six servings of fruit and just under 11 servings of vegetables. So get into a routine and, after weekly grocery shopping, kick the kids out for playtime with Dad so you can knock out as much work ahead of time as possible — cleaning and slicing veggies, portioning out chicken breasts for each meal, etc. Come dinnertime, there'll be barely any work before food is on the table.
9. PAY EXTRA ATTENTION TO LABELS.
By now you know to swap out regular yogurt for the Greek stuff and white bread for whole-wheat. But if you don't look closely, a product labeled "Greek" or "whole-wheat" may not be what it seems. A typical one-cup serving of plain Greek yogurt (like Fage 0%) provides 23 grams of protein and 9 grams of sugar, making it a smart choice. But another version of what looks like the same product can have over 18 grams of sugar. Not good, as the American Heart Association suggests women only eat 30 grams in an entire day. The same trickery goes for whole-wheat bread packages — some companies are loading it with high-fructose corn syrup, an unnatural additive that's 20 times sweeter than sugar and not recognized by the brain. Studies show that eating the stuff confuses your body's hormones so you don't realize when you're full, essentially forcing you to overeat when you thought you were making a healthy choice.
10. EAT MORE VEGGIES.
Yeah, yeah — it's what you've been told since you were a kid. But according to registered dietitian Lindsay Martin of Hilton Head Health, going for veggies loaded with dietary fiber — like carrots, peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts — will keep you full, promote a healthy digestive system, and keep your metabolism in check.
11. LAY OFF THE NUTS.
It's easy to down a handful of nuts, but pump your brakes: "A common diet tip you hear all the time is to snack on nuts when you're hungry," says Adam Rosante, personal trainer and author of The 30-Second Body. "They're filling and packed with protein and fiber, and because they're so tiny it's easy to gobble down handful after handful. But you should enjoy them in moderation because the majority of their macronutrient profile is fat, and eating them mindlessly is an easy way to go overboard on your calories." To get your fix and avoid the belly fat, Rosante recommends going for a thumb-sized portion twice a day.
12. EAT CHOCOLATE FOR DESSERT
Who wouldn't want an excuse to snack on some dark chocolate? Unlike milk chocolate, dark chocolate — which is full of inflammation-reducing flavonoids — has been found to help get rid of belly fat. But don't go overboard: Grab a bar that's at least 70% cacao and only have a couple pieces a day.
13. EAT FERMENTED FOODS
It's never been a better time to jump on the kimchi and kombucha bandwagon. Gut bacteria has been a hot topic lately, and in a recent study, researchers found it plays a major role in your body mass index (BMI). Luckily, it's easy adding the good bacteria — AKA probiotics — into your diet to help get rid of belly fat: Fermented foods (think: tempeh, miso, and kefir) are more popular than ever, and you can pick them up at any grocery store.