It's not just what you eat or how much you exercise that matters; it's the timing of each component that is the true secret to weight loss success. Research shows that our bodies' inner eat-and-sleep clocks have been thrown completely out of whack, thanks to all-day food cues and too much nighttime artificial light. The result: You're caught in a "fat cycle": a constant flow of hunger hormones that makes you prone to cravings. By tuning in to your body's natural eat/sleep schedule, you can finally say good-bye to your belly. Follow this hour-by-hour slim-down schedule to control hunger hormones, banish cravings, and get a trim and toned belly--fast!
6 to 8 AM: Get moving.
Within a half hour of rising and before you eat breakfast, do 20 minutes of cardio. Research has found that exercising before breakfast may help you burn fat more efficiently. If you can get outside, even better. Early morning sunlight helps your body naturally reset itself to a healthier sleep/wake cycle (regular indoor lights don't have the same effect).
6:55 to 8:55 AM: Drink up.
Before every meal, drink two 8-ounce glasses of water. Research shows that people who drank this amount lost 5 pounds more than nonguzzlers.
7 to 9 AM: Eat breakfast.
The alarm clock also wakes up ghrelin, the "feed me" hormone made in your stomach. Ignore ghrelin and your body will produce even more, eventually making you ravenous. To suppress ghrelin's effect, eat a mix of complex carbs and protein, such as eggs and whole grain toast, within an hour of waking.
10 to 11 AM: Munch midmorning.
Ghrelin begins to rise again a couple of hours before lunch. It turns off when you chow down, particularly on carbs and protein, so have a small combo snack, like blueberries and Greek-style yogurt.
'Dance Walk' Your Way to Fitness
12 to 1 PM: Have your midday meal.
Galanin, another hunger hormone that makes you crave fat, rises around lunchtime. However, dietary fat causes you to produce more galanin, which then tells you to eat more fat. Instead, fill up with complex carbs and protein, such as chicken-vegetable soup or black bean chili.
2 to 3 PM: Take a nap.
Instead of hitting the vending machines, find a quiet place to grab a few Zzzs. (Hint: Your parked car is the perfect impromptu sleep pod!) Just set an alarm--15 to 20 minutes will energize your body without affecting your ability to sleep at night.
3:30 PM: Last call for caffeine.
Need a boost? This is your last chance to have a cup of joe. Drinking coffee after 4 PM disturbs circadian rhythms and can keep you from falling asleep at night.
4 to 8 PM: Trim and tone.
Now's the time to do your strength training, plus any additional cardio. This is when your body temperature is highest, so you're primed for peak performance. In one study, subjects who worked out in the late afternoon or early evening built 22% more muscle than morning exercisers.
5 to 7 PM: Time to dine.
To ensure you don't wake up hungry in the middle of the night, add a serving of healthy fats, such as flaxseed or fish oil, to your meal. If you're a wine drinker, pour a glass now. Drinking later can delay dream (REM) sleep, waking you frequently during the night.
9 to 9:30 PM: Have a presleep snack.
Enjoy a carb-based bedtime snack, such as a serving of low-fat frozen yogurt. Nighttime carbs create tryptophan, which helps your brain produce serotonin. This feel-good chemical triggers your body to make melatonin, the sleep hormone.
9 to 10:30 PM: Power down.
Step away from digital devices, including the TV. They emit a blue spectrum of light that's even more disruptive to sleep than regular bulbs. Do something calming--read, take a bath--in dim light so you're ready to nod off when you hit the sheets.
9:30 to 11 PM: Go to sleep.
Crawl under the covers at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, even on weekends. Having a regular sleep-and-wake schedule helps you fall asleep faster over time.
Not only can constant exposure to light disrupt sleep patterns, it also puts you at risk of weight gain. Mice exposed to regular light/dark cycles--16 hours of bright light and 8 hours of darkness--gained 50% less weight than mice that were exposed to more light. Not clocking enough dark minutes daily also suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin. The catch: Your body produces this sandman hormone only when it's dark. Any light--whether it's from the TV or the bathroom down the hall--will slow or stop its flow. Here, three smart ways to guarantee your body gets the darkness it needs.
1. Install room-darkening shades or curtains to ensure your bedroom stays as dark as possible during nighttime hours.
2. Wear a sleep mask to keep out unwelcome light.
3. Block blue light. The blue spectrum of light is primarily responsible for shutting down melatonin production; replace regular bulbs in your bedroom and bathroom with low-blue bulbs to cut your exposure (find them at lowbluelights.com).