The secret to getting and maintaining a flat belly comes down to adopting a few key habits and sticking with them. Luckily, none of these changes are major—but put together, they can have a huge impact.
They don't eat their oatmeal plain
Or their cereal. Or their yoghurt. Adding a handful of fruit goes a long way toward promoting a slimmer midsection (not to mention amping up flavour). Research published in the BMJ suggests that flavonoids—particularly ones called anthocyanins, which lend fruits like blueberries, strawberries, and cherries their dark hue—may promote weight loss. For every 10 mg of anthocyanins people consumed per day, they weighed 100 grams less, researchers found. That might not sound like a lot, but it can add up fast.
They talk to themselves
It may sound corny, but it's effective. "Asking yourself one simple question on a daily basis is very powerful," says Robby D'Angelo, who co-authored The Struggle Is Real. "And the question is, 'Will this choice get me closer to or further away from my goals?' " This is especially helpful when you're debating whether to go for a post-dinner walk or relax on the couch. Take it one step further by writing down your next goal—like fitting into a dress you bought to wear to a wedding this spring—on a business card to keep in your wallet.
They see walking as more than a mode of transportation
That is, they actively focus on getting enough steps in. And making it a priority works, even when it comes to reducing belly fat: moderately active people reduce their rate of abdominal fat accumulation by 7%, compared with those who move less, according to a study published in Obesity. Donna Mero, who lost 50kg between 2012 and 2013 and kept it off, found creative ways to work more steps into her day. "Sometimes it was weird things like walking the mall before I went shopping," she says.
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They always keep a water bottle handy
Swap your usual soft drink for a glass of and you're sure to see results around your waistline: a study in the Journal of Nutrition showed that soda drinkers had 10% more visceral fat—the dangerous belly fat that lurks around organs—than those who avoided the fizzy stuff. In a study in the International Journal of Obesity, people who drank more water gained less weight. Meanwhile, every cup of sugar-sweetened beverages or fruit juice added to the number on the scale. "Drink at least 250ml of water first thing in the morning to rehydrate yourself, and keep a reusable water bottle with you during the day," says Dr Nicole Avena, an assistant professor of pharmacology and systems therapeutics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
They practice mindfulness
In a study published in the journal Appetite, mindful people were more likely to lose weight over the next 12 months than those in a control group. So tune in while you eat. "Turn off the TV, put away the laptop, put down the tablet reader, and simply focus on enjoying your meal as you eat it," says study author Dr Ashley Mason, a postdoctoral researcher at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California. "Try eating one meal without distraction—mindfully—each day, and note how you feel afterwards."