THE BLOG
10/15/2014 11:56 am ET Updated Dec 15, 2014

10 Strange Tricks to Lose Belly Fat

Steve Cole via Getty Images

Good, I got your attention. I'm sorry I had to use such a low tactic to get you to click this article, but this type of marketing unfortunately works. The reason it was used was to attract confused readers who are looking for ideas on how to lead a healthy life. I plan to help with that, so please stick with me.

I changed my life through healthy living and have made it my life goal to help other people improve their health also. I wrote this article to help you to begin to improve your health too, without the lies and quick fixes that come with claims like the title above.

And just to clarify, no, there are no 10 tricks to help you lose belly fat incredibly fast. You are not able to tell your body to lose fat from specific areas and lifestyle changes should be life-long approaches, not incredibly fast miracle cures.

Listed below are 10 practical concepts to help you make long-term sustainable health improvements. You should start small by selecting only one or two of the ideas to begin with. If you are looking for more personalized tips on healthy eating, please visit your local registered dietitian. This advice does not cover everything you need to know about health living, but these steps will help to start you off on the right path.

1. Don't Judge Your Health By A Number On A Scale
Weight can be a fickle thing. It can fluctuate by fluid intake, time of day and the food you consume. So as you begin to take steps to improve your health, please do not judge your success just by the number on the scale.

Do know your weight and follow it over time, but avoid fretting about your weight on a daily basis. Trust me, this was a hard thing for me to overcome too.

No doubt excess weight does increase your risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, especially when it is stored around your waist. But weight is not the only factor for health. All too often we judge if we are successful with improving our health if we meet some unrealistic weight loss goal totally contrived and arbitrarily decided upon.

As a society, we judge other people on if they are healthy or not by how they look. Additionally, anyone can lose weight for a period of time through many different ways, including unhealthy diets like only eating Twinkies, McDonald's or potatoes. It is important to understand that maintenance and adaptation of long-term healthy habits are what actually make a difference in your health.

Sadly, when people begin to start healthy habits, at a glance, we cannot see that a person has lowered their blood pressure, improved control of their type 2 diabetes or eaten three servings of vegetables that day.

As Scientific American writer Patrick Mustain wrote,

If we were to shift the conversation towards a culture of health-one that values healthy eating and regular physical activity as ends unto themselves, we may be happily surprised to find that not only are we living longer, happier lives, with less disease and fewer health costs, but also, we may need to drop a collective pant size or two. Or not. Either way, we're better off.

2. Emphasize Food, Not Nutrients With Your Diet
Instead of focusing on individual nutrients in your diet, emphasize specific foods to start. A focus solely on individual nutrients can lead us into trouble. Food companies like to take advantage of that by making products that cater to these focuses like low fat, high fiber and sugar free, which lead us to think that these food products are healthy even though they are just tweaked junk food.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy has developed a pretty good explanation regarding food we should be eating more and less of. To breakdown his thoughts, let's just say we have two food groups: an eat more of group and an eat less of group. He explained that we all should be eating more whole fruits, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fish, whole grains, vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil, eggs, plain yogurt, and poultry.

Additionally, we should be consuming less refined grains like bagels, flour tortillas, pasta, cereals, muffins, and grain based deserts. Also, we should consume less pizza, sugary drinks, potatoes, processed meats, and alcohol.

The only items that are nutrient specific he recommends to limit are salt and industrial trans fats. You can avoid these two nutrients by looking on ingredient lists for partially or hydrogenated fat and keeping sodium below 2,300 milligrams a day.

If you are eating food in the eat more group, you usually do not have to worry about these last two nutrient specific recommendations since these foods do not have large amounts of sodium or trans fats.

You also do not have to eat all of the items in the eat more of group. You can vary your diet and decide to include specific items for taste preferences or environmental reasons. A great place to start is just replacing snacks with items like whole fruit and nuts, which don't usually require cooking and are convenient.

Reflect on your diet and see what category you had more food from each week. If you have a large percentage from the eat more of category and very few from the eat less of category, your health will be greatly improved.

3. Food Is More Than The Calories It Contains
Calories do matter and in America we currently do not have a short supply of them. When you are beginning the process of improving your diet, it is helpful to gauge the amount of calories you are supposed to be eating. Using a food diary app to track your calories would be a great thing to begin with.

But please don't just judge a food item just on its calorie content. As Dr. Mozaffarian has stated, "For risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, the quality of the diet is just as important, if not more important, than energy balance."

For example, one avocado has 234 calories compared to only 143 calories in a 12 oz can of Coke. Does this make the soda healthier than an avocado? Of course not. Food companies like to use this line of thinking all the time when they reformulate a product to become "healthier" since the calories are lowered.

Know how many calories you are consuming, but really focus on eating healthy food from the eat more of category instead of just calories.

4. Create A Health Haven at Home
If you have junk food at your house, you are going to consume more of it. Make your house a haven for only healthy food for most weeks of the year. Junk food is made to be consumed in large quantities and it is very hard to practice moderation on a food that does not trigger satiety until the package is already gone. Back in the day, Cheetos were a prime example of this for me.

You can eat unhealthy almost anywhere you go, so it is important to make sure your house is a default for healthy eating. Stock the pantry and refrigerator full of healthy food you enjoy and items you can prepare easily.

Director of the Cornell Food and Brand lab, Brian Wansink, also has great tips to make health the default in different environments. He recommends leaving fresh fruit out on the counter, telling your waiter or waitress no on a breadbasket and upgrading your breakfast potatoes or fries to the fruit cup or salad.

5. Upgrade Your Beverage
We love our beverages here in America and I definitely fall in that group. These beverages for the most part are not helping with our efforts to be healthy. They harm our dental health and offer no benefit besides energy in the form of calories.

An easy first step to improve your health is upgrading your drink. One of the first steps I did to improve my health was stop drinking sugary beverages. Start drinking more unsweetened beverages like tap water, seltzer water, unsweetened tea, unsweetened coffee and water flavored with whole fruit or cucumbers. Reduce consumption of items like soda, fruit juices, energy drinks, coffee beverages, alcohol and sports drinks.

As someone from Wisconsin, I do enjoy a good craft beer and my college friends sure can attest to that. You should be aware of how many alcoholic beverages you consume for many reasons. Alcohol is one of our top five sources of calories for adults here in America.

A good rule of thumb is to limit consumption as much as possible. Drinking alcohol can also lead to you to make impulsive unhealthy food choices (again something my college friends can attest to). Contrary to popular belief, dietitians do eat unhealthy from time to time and enjoy it.

I don't drink diet soda and although studies are showing some interesting data on the potential increase risk of diabetes from consumption, I would still recommend it instead of sweetened types any day of the week. For the most part, claims about diet sodas are overblown.

6. Never Abolish A Food From Your Life
A sure way to fail at eating healthy is to aim for perfectionism. No doubt you heard about people giving up a specific food; 10-day sugar detox or no refined grains for a year. Please never set a deadline on being healthy.

I also dislike the idea of moderation since it is so vague. Instead, I like to use the idea of always, sometimes and rarely food designations. Think of always as green, sometimes as a yellow and rarely as a red on a stoplight. For example, an always food item would be any food from the eat more of group, such as whole grains, vegetables and whole fruit. A sometimes food would be a decadent cheese or butter and rarely would be soda or ice cream.

7. Avoid Getting To The Point of Being Hungry
I feel privileged to say this comment and I know some people do not have the resources to avoid this problem. But in regards to healthy eating, getting to the point of being hungry can lead to bad decision-making. When you are hungry it is hard to make a rational decision about food. Especially when you have so many junk food prompts around.

Plan ahead and pack healthy snacks like nuts, string cheese and whole fruit to deal with hunger. A specific time I like to focus on is around three in the afternoon. This is time the time of day when most people slip up.

8. Incorporate Exercise Into Your Daily Life
Instead of thinking of exercise just as running, going to yoga or playing basketball, start incorporating it into your regular day activities. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), defined as activities you do throughout your day not related to exercise, can improve health. Incorporating a standing desk at work, taking the stairs, parking far away at the grocery store or if possible, walking or biking to work are all great steps to take. With just switching to a standing desk at work, you could potentially burn 500-1000 more calories each day. By no means stop doing activities like running or yoga if you have the time and enjoy them. If your life is busy and you do not have the resources to do so, you can stay healthy by having active design in your day-to-day activities.

9. Buy Healthy Convenient Foods
Just like with exercise, scratch cooking can be a wonderful act to do. There are literally millions of healthy recipes for you to choose from online. You can make scratch cooking as easy or as fancy as you would like.

Unfortunately we do have busy lives and sometimes we cannot perform this wonderful act. So please do not feel guilty if you are not able to cook all of your meals.

Although they are harder to find, stores are now carrying healthier processed foods. I like to use items like frozen pre-roasted sweet potatoes, pre-cut butternut squash and already baked kale chips. You can use salad bars for quick dinners and already cut vegetables for quick stir-fry side dishes. Even frozen meals are becoming healthier, containing items like wild Alaskan salmon and actual whole grains. These products are more expensive than doing it yourself, but they will save you time, labor and make healthy food more convenient.

10. Practice Intuitive Eating and Enjoy Your Life
All people value their health to some degree and health is one of the top priorities for households, especially those with young children. No one hopes to suffer a heart attack, require weekly dialysis as the result of diabetes, or to be too physically unfit to play with his or her children and grandchildren. Our current food environment makes it far too easy to "prioritize immediate gratification over potential long-term negative results".

Be aware of the when, how often, and where you are consuming food. All too often, unhealthy food is part of our everyday life. In America our number one source of calories each day are from desserts.

When you go to a bookstore, gas station, hospital, hardware store, sporting goods store, or toy store you have prompts for purchasing junk food. So before you purchase unhealthy food, think about the reasons you are doing so. Are you celebrating a particular event? Are you enjoying this treat with loved ones? Are you eating this treat on the go? Are you savoring the treat as you consume it?

My argument is to make sure a treat is actually a treat, a rare special occasion that is shared with people you care about. A sure sign of an impulse junk food purchase is regret after consuming it. These are celebratory foods so act accordingly.

In the end, life is also more than just nutrition and healthy living. If you are feeling deprived, please change your protocol. The great thing about healthy living is that it can be tailored to your preferences. If you don't like kale, you don't have to eat it. If you enjoy eating healthy all the time and do not feel you are missing out, you can do that, too.

The idea is to find a lifestyle you actually enjoy sticking to, not one that banishes your favorites food or forces you to do an exercise you hate. At first it might be challenging to shift your tastes buds to foods that love you back or find an exercise that is enjoyable. However, food can be both delicious and nutritious. Exercise can be fun and can be incorporated into your life. Change takes time.

Do not ruin the experience of life by worrying all the time about eating unhealthy or not exercising. Healthy living is not a 5K race but a marathon -- being healthy is about long-term habits.

Again, do not shoot for perfectionism with your lifestyle. As much as I would like to have Brad Pitt abs from Fight Club or Gerald Butler pecs from 300, I know that is not going to happen and I'm fine with that. An important part of healthy living is being realistic and living life, too.