Unlike women, who tend to distribute extra pounds all over, men hoard all of theirs in one spot: the belly, producing unattractive love handles and the potential for cardiovascular disease and other health ailments. Unfortunately, getting rid of love handles and belly fat isn’t as easy as it is to get them in the first place. It takes a concerted effort around the clock, not just during a one-hour daily workout. But, there is some good news: a lot of small lifestyle changes can make those love handles disappear—if you recognize the facts of the matter.
Pete Williams is a NASM certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.
1. Gym before run
The first thing many sedentary guys do to lose weight is start running, or more specifically, jogging. This not only is an inefficient way to lose weight, it’s also a recipe for injury. Your inflexible, locked-down, overweight body is going to subject your joints to relentless abuse if you start pounding the pavement. Do some walking, but focus your efforts on building core strength and lean mass, which will burn calories more effectively than running. You can add running in later on if that’s something you’re interested in doing for other reasons.
2. Get intense
Another reason jogging isn’t effective in burning fat is that most guys do it in a slow, steady state. What other aspect of life do you strive to do something at a mediocre rate for longer and longer time periods? Instead, aim for 20 minutes of high-intensity activity. Take a group cycling class and follow the instructor; don’t just zone out. Or, head out to a track or grassy field and alternate between two minutes of walking and two minutes of running at 80-90 percent effort for 20 minutes.
3. Actually consider sleeping 8 hours
If you stay up late, you’re probably watching TV, wasting time online, and eating junk. All of which contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle that’s broadening your waistline. Not only that, it’s difficult to build muscle and burn fat without adequate sleep (seven hours a night, preferably eight.) Sleep is when most of your hormones, such as growth hormone and testosterone, are released. Fatigue, on the other hand, undermines your ability to eat right and train hard, thus raising your level of body fat.
4. Eat more water
Nope, not a typo. If you have trouble drinking more water, consider eating more. Water-rich foods like high-fiber fruits and green veggies will fill you up and keep you from overeating. Men often mistake thirst for hunger. As a result, they wolf down a few hundred calories when a glass of zero-calorie water or an apple would have provided the same relief. Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up and with every meal. If you’re drinking soda or sports drinks, replace them with water and the pounds will disappear.
5. Grab your nuts
No, not those nuts. Nuts (think: almonds, walnuts…) are a convenient source of protein and fiber, and they stick with you longer than many snacks, helping control blood sugar and appetite. A handful of nuts every day may also lower the risk of heart ailments. Almonds, cashews, and pecans are all great choices. Keep a pouch of nuts handy for those mid-morning and mid-afternoon cravings.
6. No beer
Unless you want Homer Simpson’s body, it’s time to stop drinking like him. It’s called a beer belly for a reason; calorie-dense beer not only packs on the pounds but disrupts REM sleep, increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and decreases protein synthesis for muscle fiber repair. Alcohol also diminishes water-soluble vitamins required for hormones to do their work and decreases the body’s ability to recover.
7. Forget whole wheat (for now)
You know not to eat cookies, chips, pizza, and sweets. But bread, pasta, and rice can pack on the pounds just as effectively. Sure, you can search for 100 percent whole-wheat versions of bread and pasta, but save that for when you’ve lost the gut. By then, you will have established the habit of eating mostly lean cuts of meat and fish and plenty of green veggies.
8. Have a (modest) cheat day
You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule: eat clean 80 percent of the time and whatever you want the other 20 percent. This is not for you. Losing the love handles takes a deeper level of commitment. Give yourself one weekly cheat day, which translates to one-seventh or 14 percent of the week. Even then, this cheat day should not be a 5,000-calorie booze, chips, and pizza bender but rather a modest relaxation of your diet. Have a favorite meal, desert or cocktail, but don’t go overboard.
9. Make fitness your lifestyle
Once you’ve established a new pattern of eating and training while minimizing alcohol, the love handles will disappear and it will be easier to keep them off. Try it for 30 days but don’t look at it as a temporary fix. Instead, see it as a lifestyle overhaul. Good habits, like bad habits, become ingrained and soon you’ll be eating, drinking (water), and sleeping to keep the love handles and belly fat off for good.