Are your jeans feeling tighter? You may want to lose those extra few pounds to feel more confident, but belly fat can also be dangerous. Belly fat settles around your internal organs and can increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. Here are some ways to get rid of that fat around the middle.

Get an extra hour of sleep each night

Studies have shown that a lack of sleep may cause us to eat 300-400 more calories the next day. In order to keep energy levels high we tend to choose sugary or starchy quick fixes. Just one extra hour of sleep each night can increase leptin, the hormone which suppresses appetite.

Spend less time on social media

Always checking Facebook and scanning your Instagram feed constantly throughout the day? A large study found that if participants had a friend who became obese, it then increased their own chance of becoming obese by 57 per cent. Scientists suspect that this is because social networking can influence what people perceive as normal. For example, if you see your friends getting heavier, then you may be more inclined to feel that is OK if you do too.

Nutritionist Cassandra Barns looks further into how social media could be encouraging us to pack on the pounds: ‘I’d say that an addiction to social media could well increase the likelihood of weight gain. Anyone who’s spending a lot of time on Facebook or Instagram is likely to be less active, and online connections, even for those who have a lot of online friends, are much less satisfying and fulfilling than real human contact. This could increase the tendency to comfort eat, to boost levels of ‘feel-good’ chemicals such as serotonin that are lacking as a consequence’.

Get to know your food labels

Do you scan the shelves and select ‘gluten-free,’ ‘sugar-free’ or ‘low fat,’ in the hope that it can help shift those stubborn pounds? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what could be increasing our fat around the middle. If a food or drink is described as ‘low sugar’, ‘slim line’ or ‘diet’, it will usually contain an artificial sweetener. These sweeteners have been linked to mood swings and depression, and it has been found that people who regularly use artificial sweeteners tend to gain weight because they can slow down the digestive process and increase appetite.

Have more probiotics

Our stomach is made up of good and bad bacteria, called gut flora, which has a controlling influence over many important body functions, including metabolism and fat reduction. However, our lifestyle habits (taking antibiotics, diet high in sugar, stress, alcohol) damage our gut bacteria. A healthy gut is made by limiting the bad bacteria and encouraging good bacteria. ‘Feed the good bacteria with fibrous foods and plenty of probiotics, which you can find in fermented foods (Kombucha tea, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir and apple cider vinegar are all examples of probiotic-rich superfoods that balance your gut flora) or include a supplement in your diet.

ShapeLine from Pro-Ven Probiotics (£29.95) is the first probiotic with proven weight loss and wellness benefits. This probiotic provided weight loss of between 3 and 7lbs, reduction in waist circumference of 1-2 cm and a reduction in BMI by one to four per cent. The results are even more impressive as participants were not placed on a calorie-controlled diet and made no changes to lifestyle or exercise regimes, indicating that all of the weight reduction benefits were as a result of the probiotic.

Take control of your eating habits

Emotional eating never resolves the underlying issue and leads to guilt and shame. Always have a list of non-food related self-soothing activities to hand. By having a relaxing bath, taking a walk or watching your favourite programme, you can lift your mood in a natural and healthy way. Another key to prevent comfort eating, of course, a healthy diet based on whole foods and avoiding processed and junk foods. This is the best way to give our body the nutrients it needs and keep our blood sugar on an even keel, helping to prevent cravings for more food and the tendency to overeat.

Don’t skip protein

If your diet is lacking in protein then you may be more inclined to go back for seconds. Including protein in your meal helps slow down digestion, leaving you feeling more satisfied and fuller for longer. This in turn can help with weight loss, as you’re less likely to have as many calories. To ensure you’re getting your daily dose of protein try a plant-based protein powder. They are easy to digest and can be kept low-calorie. They can be used to make smoothies or shakes, and also added to savoury foods such as stews and soups. Try Natures Plus Sunflower Protein (£22.50).

Don’t eliminate fat from your diet

Fat is an essential part of our diet and should not be avoided. We need to eat the right kind of fats: oily fish, nuts, seeds and seed oils in order to obtain essential omega 3 and 6 fats which are necessary for our health. What we should be avoiding are the processed fats found in junk food and bakery products.

Cut back on snacking

If you feel like you are constantly grazing throughout the day, then you are likely to be adding unnecessary calories to your diet. Processed foods can be highly addictive, so don’t have them in the house. If you want to snack, try a handful of almonds. Almonds are rich in protein and healthy fats, giving you the energy boost you need whilst balancing blood sugar. This is exactly what we need to prevent sugar cravings.

Try not to eat in front of the TV

Do you eat your meals in front of a screen? You can eat up to 70 per cent more if distracted by watching the TV or in a cinema. Research has shown that eating lunch in front of your computer makes it harder to remember what you have eaten and then you don’t feel as full. As a result, you will then be looking for something else to eat. In one study, computer users then ate twice as many biscuits half an hour later than the non-computer users eating lunch!

Don’t rush your meals

Mealtimes shouldn’t be a race to the finish line. Take your time to chew and put your fork down between each bite. Remember it takes time for our bodies to register we are full, the slower we eat the less likely we are to go back for seconds.