Spoiler: The secret to flatter abs isn't 1,000 crunches or starving yourself


Habits for Flatter Abs

Whether the goal is to trim down for bikini season or just feel healthier in your own skin, it can be frustrating when you hit a road block. Fortunately, we've found small tweaks you can change in your daily routine to help push you past that flat-abs plateau. (Also try these sneaky tips for toning your abs during any workout.)

Learn to Relax

There are four times more cortisol receptors (basically tiny stress-hormone magnets) in belly fat compared with subcutaneous fat (the fat that sits just beneath your skin), according to a study in Psychosomatic Medicine. This means if you stress out a lot, fat goes to your belly faster than anywhere else. Stress affects your body in other negative ways too, so stay happy and calm, exercise, meditate, and hang with people who make you smile. (Take these steps if you feel a freak-out coming on.)

Check Your Macros

50/30/20: The breakdown of carbs, protein, and fat as a percentage of total daily calories that can help you best manage hunger, satiety, and keep belly fat and weight under control, says Diana Lipson-Burge, R.D.N., a dietitian in Hermosa Beach, California. For example, if your base metabolism (calories your body burns daily at rest) plus activity works out to 1,800 calories a day, that breaks down to 900 calories of healthy carbs like vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grain; 540 calories of protein from sources like nuts and lean meats; and 360 calories of fats, such as the fat in olive oil, soybean oil, salmon, and walnuts. (Meal prepping can help you hit these numbers; here are some meal prep tips for beginners.)

Build Some Muscle

A study of more than 10,000 people in the journal Obesity found that those who added 25 minutes of weight training to their routines during a 12-year period gained fewer inches around their waists than those who bumped up their aerobic exercise by the same amount. If you're new to lifting, use this 4-week training plan to get you started.

Focus On Fiber

A study in the journal Obesity found that for every 10-gram increase in daily soluble fiber intake (that's the kind that slows digestion and helps you feel full), the rate at which deep belly fat accumulated fell by 4 percent over five years. (Eating fiber can also aid in a deeper sleep throughout the night.) Add those 10 extra grams with half an avocado, 3/4 cup of black beans, 3/4 cup of oat bran, and a red apple. (Or add these high fiber recipes into your repertoire.)

Know When You're Hungry

On a hunger scale (where 1 is ravenous and 10 is too stuffed to move), stop eating when you're at a 7 to avoid gaining weight, says Lipson-Burge. "It's a point where you'll be hungry again in three to four hours." Having 400 to 500 calories at each meal should keep you satiated and prevent overeating at your next meal. "After four more bites, you'd be at an 8, Lipson-Burge explains. If you stop eating at an 8 (instead of 7) two or more times a week, you might be consuming more calories than you need to get down to your natural body weight. (If you struggle with putting the fork down, learn how to stop binge eating with these tips.)

Sleep It Off

Getting six to seven hours of shut-eye a night can help keep you from adding excess pounds to your middle, according to a study in the journal Sleep. People who slept for five or fewer hours or eight or more hours had higher amounts of abdominal fat (as well as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes). It gets worse for short sleepers: They put on almost twice as many inches around their waist over five years as the longer snoozers. Researchers speculate "extreme" sleep patterns (too much or too little) alter hunger and other hormones and may upset your daily calorie balance by leading you to eat more and exercise less because of fatigue or just being awake fewer hours. (If you're usually a night owl, stock up on these snacks to help you fall asleep faster.)

And P.S. Know That Lipo Isn't Magic

Liposuction will remove absolutely zero visceral fat, says Andrew Larson, M.D., a bariatric surgeon in West Palm Beach, Florida. "Liposuction removes subcutaneous fat," he says. "Only diet and exercise can help you shrink the amount of fat deep inside that surrounds your organs." (Even if you're short on time, try to squeeze in a quickie workout like this 7-minute abs routine.)

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This article originally appeared on Shape.com