There’s no real way to lose belly fat instantly, as much as you might want a quick-fix solution.
Belly fat is often difficult to lose because it’s different from other kinds of fat. The part that you can see and pinch is subcutaneous fat, which lies just under the skin. But belly fat also includes visceral fat, which surrounds the internal organs within the abdominal walls.
“Maintaining healthy levels of visceral fat is beneficial to your health,” says Maricris Lapaix, a NASM-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach.
This is because excessive visceral fat is a major contributor to cardiovascular diseases and other health conditions.
Diets and trends that claim to reduce belly fat within days are unrealistic and unhealthy.
In terms of exercise, ab exercises can help tone your stomach, but you’ll still need to lose weight overall to significantly reduce your stomach fat.
Since there’s no way to control where your body loses weight, to lose belly fat, you have to reduce overall body fat.
“The best practices to lose belly fat will be a balance of an active lifestyle, a nutritious diet, and maintaining low stress levels,” says Lapaix.
In order to lose overall body fat, you’ll need to be in a caloric deficit, which means you burn more calories than you consume.
Important: Taking drastic measures to reduce weight can lead to some unhealthy eating behaviors. Before making major changes to your diet or lifestyle, be sure to check in with your primary care doctor or a dietitian for advice and guidance.
Here are some healthy steps to help you start losing belly fat.
A high consumption of beverages like carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks, specialty coffee drinks, and sodas is associated with weight gain because of the excessive added sugar content.
Alcohol is considered a sugary drink too. Heavy drinking, or drinking more than seven times per week, increases the risk of weight gain and obesity. Beer, which is high in calories and carbs, is related to overall weight gain. You may have heard the term “beer belly,” though the idea that beer only puts fat around your waist is largely a myth. However, overall weight gain can result in more belly fat.
Try switching to flavored seltzers or add fruit and herbs to your water. When you’re exercising, replenish your minerals with electrolyte drink packets instead of sugary sports drinks.
Drinking enough water boosts metabolism, which helps you lose weight.
Lemon water, a common favorite, may aid weight loss if you use it to replace sugary drinks. However, it has no proven added weight loss benefits over regular water.
A 2008 study of women with excess weight found that increasing daily water intake to more than 34 ounces per day, over 12 months, resulted in 4.4 pounds of weight loss.
You could drink more water by keeping a water bottle nearby, adding no-calorie, natural flavors to your water, or tracking your consumption with an app like WaterMinder.
Eating lots of fiber aids weight management and promotes weight loss.
Consume more fiber-rich nuts, fruits, and vegetables like:
Protein is also a powerful nutrient when you’re trying to lose weight, since it keeps you feeling full for longer. It also helps you lose weight because a high-protein diet takes more energy for your body to digest, which in turn burns body fat.
Here are some great sources of protein to incorporate into your diet:
Americans often consume excess amounts of refined grains, such as white bread or white rice. To reduce and control body weight, it’s much better to have a diet rich in whole grains.
Diets with high levels of refined sugar are associated with weight gain, so they should be avoided as well. Try to limit fast food, too. According to a 2018 study analyzing 300 university students, the consumption of fast food, such as pizza and fried chicken, is related to obesity — particularly excess belly fat.
“It is important to reduce the consumption of foods high in trans fat, refined carbs, and highly processed foods with added sugars,” says Lapaix.
However, avoiding food groups to burn belly fat is only a temporary solution caused by a caloric deficit, and the real key to keeping belly fat off, in the long run, is to create an individualized balanced diet that you can maintain long-term, she says.
You can’t control where you gain or lose weight.
This is sometimes called “targeting weight loss” (also known as spot reduction), and it isn’t realistic, says Lapaix. For example, abdominal exercises alone aren’t enough to get rid of or reduce belly fat.
“While it is common to hear about workout programs that target specific areas, you cannot pick the areas you’d like to target [for] weight loss,” says Lapaix.
For example, resistance training focuses on developing muscles by lifting weights or using accessories like resistance bands. Whereas the main focus of aerobic training is to burn calories via cardio, like running or jumping rope.
“A mix of resistance and aerobic training will be beneficial to increasing one’s total body strength and help reduce overall body fat,” says Lapaix.
Having more muscle mass (i.e. the percentage of your body that is made of muscle) will increase how many calories your body naturally burns (this is also known as basal metabolic rate, or BMR).
Exercises that engage the whole body and build muscle are the best for reducing belly fat. Try exercises like:
Results aren’t instantaneous, so consistency is key. Additionally, it isn’t a good idea to go from not working out at all to doing really intense workouts, says Lapaix, who recommends gradually adding intensity to your workouts to avoid injury.
Self-monitoring, like keeping a daily food diary, is a great way to keep track of what you’re eating.
Try out a free food diary app like MealLogger, MyNetDiary, iEatBetter, and MyFitnessPal. These apps make it easy to keep track of your meals, nutrients, and calories right from your phone. If you prefer a pen and paper, that works too! You can purchase a simple notebook and manually keep track of what you’re eating each day.
The Center For Disease Control (CDC) has a free food diary template online that you can print out. Websites like MyFoodDiary can help you track your diet right from your computer too.
Everybody’s body is different when it comes to losing belly fat. If what you’ve been trying isn’t working, you could experiment with a new eating plan.
Some people swear by plans like intermittent fasting. Others find that a ketogenic diet works best for their body.
There are different variations of intermittent fasting, all involving a time window when you eat and a time window when you fast. Intermittent fasting shows promise as a treatment for obesity, but more studies need to be done.
The ketogenic diet has shown success at helping some people lose weight quickly. This type of diet focuses on eating foods that are very low in carbohydrates and high in fat. The ketogenic diet may not be right for everyone, so always consult with a physician before making dietary changes.
According to a 2021 review, certain probiotics can aid in fat loss.
Evidence shows that probiotics may play a role in releasing hormones that regulate appetite. Research also shows that probiotics may increase levels of certain proteins that regulate fat.
One small 2013 study found that the Lactobacillus amylovorus and Lactobacillus fermentum strains of probiotics were capable of shifting body composition. In other words, these probiotic strains helped study participants lose 3% to 4% of their body fat over six weeks.
If you want to incorporate more probiotic foods into your diet, try eating more:
You can also take probiotic supplements. There are a ton of supplements on the market, so make sure to look into the brands, ingredients, quality, and reviews.
Probiotic supplements also contain different strains, so you’ll want to research which strain is best for your specific needs. Always talk with your physician before taking any new supplements.
Good gut health is a key factor in regulating appetite and body fat. Our guide to the best probiotic supplements features nutritionist-approved options tested for potency, diversity, and effective delivery.
Not getting enough sleep has been linked to weight gain time and time again.
A 2015 review found that short sleep duration, fewer than six hours, is significantly associated with a larger waistline. A larger waistline is an indicator of belly fat accumulation.
Research also suggests that sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on hunger levels. Sleep can affect hormone levels, increasing the hormone ghrelin, which makes people feel hungry.
You can improve your sleep quality and duration in a few different ways.
According to Lapaix, higher stress levels can also cause body fat retention.
The stress hormone cortisol can lead you to crave comfort foods and overeat. Cortisol can cause higher insulin levels in the body, which causes blood sugar to drop, leading to cravings for sugar and fat. Cortisol has also been shown to decrease metabolism.
There are plenty of ways to reduce stress levels. Some de-stressors include:
Reducing overall body fat will cut down on your belly fat. However, this isn’t a process that happens overnight or even within days of starting your weight loss journey.
“A healthy amount of weight loss is one to two pounds per week,” says Lapaix.
“It is more important to select a sustainable diet and learn what foods work for you long-term versus a ‘quick fix.’ This is what leads to results and maintaining weight loss results,” says Lapaix.
What the research says: A 2019 study showed that losing 6% to 7% of your total body weight can reduce both subcutaneous and visceral fat. This means that if you weigh 180 lbs, it can take you about six to 12 weeks to lose this percentage of your total body weight and reduce belly fat in the process.
However, “there are many factors to consider with body composition, including age, gender, current weight, body fat, and muscle mass, to name a few,” says Lapaix. “These will affect the rate at which someone loses weight, which nutritional plan to follow, and an appropriate activity level for them.”
Combining exercise and a healthy diet is more effective than either of those factors alone.
Belly fat shouldn’t be only a cosmetic concern — an excess of visceral fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and other health conditions.
To reduce belly fat, engage in regular physical activity, eat a healthy diet, and manage your stress levels. You’ll need to reduce overall body fat to reduce belly fat, which can take several weeks for noticeable results.
Taking drastic measures to lose weight isn’t sustainable and will only yield temporary results, says Lapaix. Ineffective diet fixes or suddenly engaging in intense workouts are not sustainable ways to approach weight loss.
“Creating a sustainable lifestyle change with small and gradual changes to nutrition and physical activity will also keep stress levels down. This increases the likelihood of an individual keeping up all parts of their health and wellness journey,” says Lapaix.
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