It's not possible to burn fat on just one area of your body, but lowering your overall body fat levels will slim down your stomach, waist, legs and thighs -- in addition to your back, arms and face. To get the slim, toned appearance you seek, you'll need to pair a balanced diet with a workout program that promotes muscle growth. You shouldn't expect a major change in your physique overnight, but stick to your diet program for gradual weight loss that delivers long-lasting results.
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Cut Calories to Lose Weight
The key to losing weight is cutting your calorie intake. Each pound of fat corresponds to 3,500 calories, so you'll need to burn 500 to 1,000 more calories than you eat every day, on average, to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week.
Use an online calorie burner calculator tool, or consult a nutrition professional to estimate the number of calories you need to maintain your weight -- it varies widely based on your size, body composition, gender and age, so it's best to get a personalized estimate. Once you know roughly how many calories you need, create your 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit by cutting your calorie intake or upping your calorie burn. For example, burning 500 calories a day through exercise and eating 500 fewer calories per day makes a 1,000-calorie deficit to lose 2 pounds weekly; eating 300 fewer calories and burning 200 extra calories makes a 500-calorie deficit to lose 1 pound per week.
While it's tempting to cut as many calories as possible for the fastest weight loss, you shouldn't eat fewer than 1,200 calories daily, according to West Virginia University. Any less than that, and you likely won't get all the nutrients you need, and your body might go into "starvation mode" and hold on to body fat. If your 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit takes you under 1,200 calories, follow a 1,200-calorie diet and burn the rest through exercise.
Choose Filling Weight Loss Foods
The foods you eat can affect how you feel when you're following a weight loss diet. A single fast food meal, for example, won't fill you up for very long, but it will take up a significant chunk of your daily calorie intake; a plate of veggies has almost no calories but is full of fiber that will help fill your stomach.
Choose foods high in fiber and protein to keep you feeling full. Both of these nutrients help slow down digestion to keep your stomach full for longer after you eat, and they help control your blood sugar to avoid crashes, which could otherwise leave you hungry. Whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruit all up your fiber intake. Nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs, white-meat poultry and low-fat dairy offer protein, which also helps you feel full.
Try starting your day with a two-egg omelet filled with spinach, tomatoes and green peppers; snacking on an apple or a handful of raspberries. For lunch, enjoy a kale salad with a half-cup of chickpeas and a few chunks of tuna, and eat an ounce of almonds as an afternoon snack. For dinner, eat grilled salmon with steamed mixed vegetables, a glass of nonfat milk and a piece of fruit.
Cut Weight Gain Triggers
You'll also slim down your midsection and lower body by cutting common weight gain triggers. That includes the obvious high-calorie fatty fare, like burgers, greasy pizza and fries, but also a few "healthy" foods. For example, potatoes, including baked potatoes, which have some nutritional value like iron and potassium, are one of the worst foods for weight gain, reports a 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Red and processed meat is also one of the top foods associated with weight gain, so it's best to limit your red meat intake and stick to lean cuts, like 97 percent lean ground beef.
Watch out for "healthy" baked goods like store-bought fruit and bran muffins. While some muffins may have some nutritional benefits, they're usually made with fat and added sugar, and they're loaded with calories. Limit your juice intake as well. Juice has more nutrients than soda, but it's still high in calories and sugar, which makes it less-than-ideal for weight loss.
Tone Your Legs, Stomach, Waist & Thighs
Complement the results from your diet with strength training to build muscle in your midsection and legs. Muscle tissue has weight loss benefits -- pound for pound, it burns more calories than fat -- and also helps give you a lean, toned appearance.
Do two to three strength training sessions per week that include moves to strengthen your lower body and core. Weighted squats, deadlifts and lunges target the muscles in your legs, and they also strengthen your midsection because your core works hard to stabilize your body while you do them. To work your stomach and waist, include planks -- and side planks -- into your routine, or catch a Pilates class for an hour of core training.
Make your toning workouts efficient by combining moves that work your lower body with ones that work your waistline. Try using a dumbbell or the cable machine at your gym to perform a squat with a wood chop, or perform lunges with a twist to tone your sides. Because these moves work so many muscles, you'll also burn more calories through your workout -- and burn more fat -- than through traditional crunches and sit-ups. While sit-ups and crunches work your abs, they don't burn many calories, so you'll still have a layer of fat over your newly toned abdominal muscles; they won't be visible.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- West Virginia University: Characteristics of Safe and Effective Weight Loss Plans
- North Carolina State University: How to Lose Weight and Maintain Energy
- University of Michigan Health Service: Weight Reduction
- New England Journal of Medicine: Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men
- Harvard School of Public Health: Sugary Drinks
- Baylor College of Medicine: Adult Energy Needs and BMI Calculator