Your days the last few months might have been filled with quarantini cocktails and homemade banana bread, but that might now, you’ve started to think about your belly. Perhaps you’ve decided it’s time to shed those shelter-in-place pounds you might’ve packed on.
So, we asked a top expert, registered dietitian Ilana Muhlstein, for advice, as she’s a nutritionist who lost 100 pounds herself and has helped more than 200,000 people achieve leaner, stronger, healthier bodies from her insight. She shared 15 of her best flat-belly secrets so you can start melting belly fat before all the beaches open up again. And don’t forget to check out her new book You Can Drop It! How I Dropped 100 Pounds Enjoying Carbs, Cocktails & Chocolate—And You Can Too! for more helpful tips that will transform your life.
As soon as you wake up, drink two glasses of water. Make it a ritual. Think about it: You’ve been sleeping for 7 or 8 hours and your body needs water. You’ll find that drinking two glasses first thing in the morning is easy to do, too. So why the H2O first thing? Well, water helps keep you full so you can make better food choices throughout the day instead of allowing hunger to influence what you eat. Try to drink 16 ounces of water before every meal too, as studies have shown that people who drink water before breakfast, lunch, and dinner experienced a reduction in body weight and body fat, and they also reported appetite suppression.
Ever wonder how some food critics stay thin when their job is, well, eating? They nibble. They taste. They don’t devour the whole meal. And if they aren’t enjoying what they’re tasting, they stop eating it. So, act like a food critic!
“If you’re not enjoying a bite of sugary or fatty food, stop eating it,” says Muhlstein. “Toss it. It’s not worth the calories.”
Save those occasional indulgences for when it’s over-the-top delicious. “There’s no wiggle room for eating sweets ‘just because.”‘
Words have a powerful influence on our thoughts. So, simply choosing a more positive way to say basically the same thing can have a tremendous impact on the outcome, says Muhlstein. She suggests giving this a shot: Instead of saying “I have to eat healthier,” switch out “have to” with “get to.” “I get to eat healthier.” Say each sentence out loud. Doesn’t “I get to eat healthier” sound so much more upbeat and exciting? Life and weight loss become so much easier when you use the right words to change your attitude, she says.
When you recognize the power of vegetables to fill you up and crush your hunger, you will have mastered one of the key secrets to losing weight and feeling better every day.
“Whenever you fill your plate, think ‘veggies most’ and the more weight you will lose,” says Muhlstein. “Veggies are packed with fiber, so they make you feel full and satisfied.”
Protein satisfies hunger quickly, which is why it’s an important weight-loss macronutrient. It helps to understand how satisfied you are and how you feel if you eat trackable proteins, says Muhlstein.
“Was it two eggs or three eggs that helped me stay full and satisfied?” she says. “This is in contrast to ground beef that can leave you guessing. For example, you can write ‘two chicken thighs’ on your tracker and have a better understanding about how much protein you’ve eaten and how you feel afterward.”
A special type of fiber may be the key to reducing abdominal fat and it’s called soluble fiber. Check this out: Researchers reporting in the journal Obesity followed more than 1,000 people for five years and found that each 10-gram increase in soluble fiber consumption stripped away belly fat accumulation by 3.7 percent. While you’re filling your plate with veggies, focus on Brussels sprouts, a top source of soluble fiber, providing 2 grams per 1/2 cup, says Muhlstein. Other good sources of the soluble fiber are asparagus, apricots, flax seeds, and oranges.
“It is so important to remember that you are beautiful no matter what size you happen to be,” says Muhlstein. “My mom taught me to love myself and my body every step of the way. This allowed me to embrace my weight loss journey and achieve my health from a place of self-love and positivity. You can do that, too!”
Think about it: Having wine every night is like adding a couple hunks of bread to your meal. “I’ve never met a client who is successful at dropping weight and having a cocktail or two every night,” says Muhlstein. “If you want to drink wine with every dinner, and not gain weight, then you really need to be extra mindful of food choices that evening.”
Everything tastes special when eaten with a fresh, crisp slice of cucumber. Try the super healthy snacks with Muhlstein’s go-to toppings: cream cheese sprinkled with EBB (Everything But the Bagel seasoning); smoked salmon; hummus and basil; feta and tomato, Dijon mustard and hard-boiled egg; and chili, lime and salt.
Yes, carrots taste sweet. Yes, carrots are higher in sugar than some other vegetables, but they are very nutritious, and they have only about 50 calories per cup.
“I’ve never seen a client gain weight from eating carrots,” says Muhlstein. “Avoiding carrots will likely lead to more weight gain than eating lots and lots of them.” A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that advising people to eat big volumes of low-calorie foods like veggies was a more successful weight-loss strategy than advising people to restrict their portions and focus on eating less.
Single-serving size treats can help you satisfy your cravings in a responsible way. One square of deliciously good quality chocolate can be more satisfying than a whole bar of inferior chocolate. Muhlstein likes to take that one square and dip it into a vanilla chamomile tea “so it gets a little melty. That way the tea fills me up, and I still get my chocolate fix.”
If you’re starting to (safely) see some friends, here are some tricks that’ll help you avoid unconsciously overeating when there’s lots of food around: Hold a water glass in one hand and a plate of vegetables in the other. Pretty simple, but it works. Or even turn your back to the dessert table! Fill up on vegetables and protein first and then see if you’re still hungry for those calorie-dense options. You can even grab a friend and start chatting. Engage and enjoy the people and the party food will be less tempting.
How exactly? Well, by eating more beans and legumes, which are rich sources of “resistant starch.” This kind of starch is harder for the body to break down, meaning it helps keep us fuller longer, can lower our blood sugar response to eating it, and it can encourage our body to burn more calories to break it down.
“The high fiber content also can help reduce fat storage in the body and improve elimination, which is very helpful for enhancing a positive metabolic system,” says Muhlstein.
Have you ever felt bad after sneaking into the freezer for a couple of spoonfuls of ice cream? Sure, we’ve all done that. And the guilt feels terrible, doesn’t it? We don’t deserve to beat ourselves up for having ice cream! So don’t.
“I always tell my clients, ‘You’re only cheating yourself if you’re not enjoying it,'” says Muhlstein. If you find you are eating ice cream or another treat, and you’re enjoying it, OK, enjoy it. If you find yourself feeling bad, then stop. Think about it. Track it. The trick is to develop your mindfulness muscles, she says. In time, you’ll gain a more level-headed view of your relationship with food you really enjoy.
You know all about stress-induced cravings, right? You have a tough day at work and suddenly, you’re searching the pantry for something crunchy and salty that leaves your fingers orange. And you’re not even hungry! Try this: Take a walk outside. Fresh air and beautiful scenery can instantly change your current state of mind and point of focus. It’s raining out? Then take a nice hot shower. It’ll have the same calming effect that will take your mind off of the chips and ice cream.