Everyone eventually has to deal with a little belly fat — even those of us who naturally had flat stomachs in our younger years. But too much of this type of tissue can have a negative effect on your health. But how much is too much? That depends on several factors, but experts agree that if you’re a woman with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more or a man with a waist measuring 40 inches or more, you’re vulnerable to the dangers of belly fat.
As delicious as sugar may be, too much of it just isn’t good for you. Consuming a lot of added sugar has been linked to an increased amount of body fat, and a 2017 study focused on kids found that eating less sugar could reduce body fat in just days.
Trans fats are artificial fats that are mainly found in processed foods. A 2007 study on animals found a connection between trans fats and increased belly fat. Trans fats have also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and death.
A 2011 study found that 24 people who did abdominal exercises for 6 weeks didn’t lose any belly fat. Another study of 40 women who had overweight found that resistance training of the abdomen did nothing to reduce belly fat.
Excess weight in your midsection can be annoying—not only because it’s so darn tough to ditch, but because it also has an impact on your overall health. Extra belly fat ups your risk of issues such as heart disease and diabetes, and, according to certified strength and condition specialist Michele Olson, PhD, life is filled with sneaky little saboteurs that make putting on the pounds in this area way too easy.
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: Abs are made in the kitchen. Unfortunately, if you regularly eat ultra-processed foods (think chips, store-bought baked goods, and candy), you won’t be able to see yours. “These foods are produced using sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, which in high amounts has been shown to promote visceral fat accumulation in the liver, leading to weight gain, inflammation, and related diseases,” explains Rachel Fine, RD, owner of To The Pointe Nutrition.
Instead, opt for eats that have healthy amounts of soluble fiber such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes, avocado, and citrus fruits. Research reveals that an increase in these foods is linked to a decrease in visceral—aka belly—fat.
Reducing alcohol intake can also help, says Fine. Alcohol contains about seven calories per gram—"just under fat, which equates to nine calories per gram.” And because alcohol is absorbed quickly, “when over-consumed, alcohol metabolism impairs metabolism of other macronutrients, such as carbs and fat, promoting…fat storage rather than breakdown,” she says.
The key to losing belly fat with exercise, though, is making sure your sweat session is intense. You’ll want to be working at 85% of your max heart rate at least, says Olson. “The higher your heart rate, the higher the release of epinephrine into the bloodstream and cells,” she explains. “A positive side effect of epinephrine is that it also activates greater release of abdominal fat into the bloodstream to be used for energy.”
So what type of exercise is best when it comes to burning belly fat? Olson recommends intense weight training, Tabata interval training, sprint-style cardio, and kettlebell exercises. Of course, a little ab work won’t hurt either—especially moves (like dead bug) that target the transverse abdominus, the deep core muscles that act like a girdle for the waist, cinching you in all over.
Falling short on zzz’s is also a surefire way to put your waistline in jeopardy. That’s because sleep deprivation knocks your hunger hormones out of whack, leading to an increase in ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and a decrease in leptin, which signals when you are satiated. What’s more, research has shown that when you aren’t well-rested, you’re also more likely to reach for junk food (hello Ben & Jerry’s!)—and it may even become harder for you to build muscle mass.
“As your body’s perception of stress increases, cortisol, often called the stress hormone, is released from the adrenal glands,” explains Nana Yaw Adu-Sarkodie, MD, a board-certified family physician practicing home-based care in Baltimore. “Normal levels are released when you wake up in the morning or during exercise. Chronic stress can lead to increased cortisol and other stress hormones, leading to increases in sugar in the bloodstream, weight gain, digestive issues, depression, and a host of other health effects.”
A study in Psychosomatic Medicine confirms the link between stress and weight gain, revealing that women who are most vulnerable to the effects of stress are more likely to have excess abdominal fat and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. One reason could be that women tend to eat more, especially sweets, on days they are stressed, according to a study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Which is why it pays to keep your cool. One way to do so: practicing mindfulness. According to a 2011 Journal of Obesity study, women who experienced the greatest reduction in stress by effectively mastering stress-reduction techniques tended to lose the most deep belly fat. So go ahead and take some deep breaths, hit the mat for some anxiety-relieving yoga, or open up one of those guided-meditation apps. Your belly will thank you in the long run.
Still, it’s crucial to keep tabs on your waistline. More visceral fat, or fat surrounding your midsection and the internal organs that reside there, can increase your risk for chronic health conditions including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Recent research also shows that carrying extra belly fat might shrink your brain.
Moreover, losing visceral fat appears to be linked to interleukin-6, a molecule that helps control inflammation in the body, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
More gym time isn’t always better. “People want to lose 10 pounds in a week as they see on TV and will make big sacrifices over a few days to do that. It's hard to maintain those sacrifices over several months, though,” says Anna Larsen, a certified personal trainer and the owner of Fit Body Boot Camp in Idaho Falls, Idaho. “It takes patience to make small steps to work toward the body you want in three or six months.”
So honor your body, meet it where it's at today, and build from there, Chesworth recommends. Each week, aim to get moving five to six times a week, with two days of rest. That said, rest days don't mean you need to lay on the couch all day. "Resting can be active like walking your dog or stretching for 15 minutes,” Banta says.
“Cardio improves heart strength and endurance and can lower blood pressure boost your mood. Strength training helps build and preserve lean muscle mass and boosts metabolism,” Banta says.
Switching up your workouts will also help you steer clear of overuse injuries. “If you use the same muscles too frequently, you risk injuries that will leave you sitting on the sidelines,” Chesworth says. “Sprinkle in a variety of workouts throughout each day and week for a balanced routine.”
“It's easy to overtrain with cardio, which may make you hungrier than your metabolism can keep up with, since you are mostly burning calories you exercise for. If you focus on strength training, instead of pounding out countless miles on the treadmill, you can build muscle that burns fat and uses food to grow,” Larsen says.
She suggests doing a mix of strength work and cardio for a sculpted and toned look. “Every pound of muscle you gain burns around 40 to 50 calories a day, so that can also help to reduce body fat from head to toe,” Larsen adds. Don't forget about yoga, either. It can actually count towards your cardio and strength workout when you incorporate these fat-burning yoga poses.
Trainers recommend doing dynamic stretches before a workout to wake up the entire body, increasing blood flow to the muscle tissues and lubricating the joints. You don't need a lot of time; 10 minutes will do the trick. Start with these pre-workout stretches before a run or these foam roller exercises.
Unchain yourself from the scale. “When you’re aiming to lose belly fat, the biggest indicator of your progress is actually photos, not the scale,” Larsen says. “Take front, back, and side photos every Monday and compare your week one photo to the current week. You may not see the difference in the mirror or scrolling through photos, but if you put them side by side, you will amaze yourself in as little as six weeks.”
Or try Chesworth’s strategy and focus on non-scale victories, like “I can carry the groceries up the stairs without taking a break” or “I feel confident wearing a fitted tank top.”
“A sustainable program complements your lifestyle. We have enough stresses in our lives. If you treat training as you would any other chore, you’ll most likely quit. If you need a hand, find a professional to help you train smart and design a program for you in a way that fits your current calendar,” says Ackeem Emmons, a New York City-based master trainer for the workout app Aaptiv.
If you’re frustrated by weight loss plateaus, “take a walk,” Banta says. It costs zero dollars and “is a great way to get moving, talk through any challenges and get a quick mood boost.”
When you’re overindulging or seeking the sauna instead of the barbell, tailor your environment to nudge you toward healthier choices. Pin a few of go-to fast recipes (Larsen loves foil packet recipes) for those times when you don't feel like eating right, and it seems easier to order takeout. Set a bowl of fruit on the counter for grab-and-go snacks. Keep your yoga mat unrolled in an empty corner to crank out a couple sun salutations each evening.
It's important to perform exercises with proper form to prevent injury and get the most out of your workout, even if that means lowering the intensity. With each movement, employ your breath and engage the muscles that'll help you get through the eccentric and concentric phases, aka the lengthening and shortening of muscles, in each exercise. If you need to take a second to re-adjust, take it. It'll only help you get stronger and improve your technique.
A lower-calorie diet and an increase in exercise lead to more weight loss than either strategy alone, according to a study in Obesity.
Keep an eye on how much you’re eating, enjoy a moderate amount of all food groups and a couple of treats per week. “You’ll end up losing more weight over time than if you tried a restrictive or fad diet,” Larsen says.
You can lose belly fat if you'd like without spending a lot of money or needing special equipment. Part of the process is changing what you eat. This does not mean starving yourself or eating grass, but making a few simple changes to your current diet. Adding more movement into your routine and changing some habits are also important. Again, though, you don't have to get radical and work out eighty hours a week. You just need to make changes in at least a few of the things you do each day if you want to lose belly fat.
Losing belly fat begins at bedtime. Several studies have proved that getting a good night of sleep has a positive impact on your ability to lose weight. Your metabolism is hard at work breaking down food into energy while you sleep. It is also regulating various hormones that affect fat cells and how the body uses them. Not getting enough sleep prevents those processes from working correctly. The average person requires 7 - 8 hours of sleep a night. If you want to lose belly fat, don't skimp on your Zs.
Walking is a great way to lose belly fat without spending a dime. In as little as 30 minutes each day, a brisk walk can help melt away belly fat with very little impact to other parts of the body. That makes walking a great choice for people who don’t want to, or can’t, exercise more strenuously. Having trouble getting motivated? Try walking somewhere you can get a“reward, like to the store where you can treat yourself to a sweet snack - preferably something healthy, but we all have to start somewhere.
Yoga is an excellent activity for getting rid of belly fat. Poses like the plank and downward-facing dog not only keep the body moving and engage specific abdominal muscles, but they also increase strength. Burning more calories than you take in through movement and strengthening the muscles throughout the body are both fat burning activities that target belly fat. A bonus - meditation is a key point of yoga, so your mind is also engaged in the process. Powerful stuff.
Cut a rug if you want to lose some belly fat on the cheap and easy. Dancing is an amazing form of exercise, and it doesn’t require any special equipment. While 30-minute exercise segments are best, shorter bursts of high-energy movements are also helpful when trying to lose fat. Got a song stuck in your head or find yourself alone on the elevator? Go for it - dance like no one’s watching for a fun way to lose belly fat that doesn't cost a penny.
Take advantage of any opportunity you find during the day to work those abdominal muscles. Keep your feet off the floor mat when driving to engage them. Do squats while blow drying your hair or brushing your teeth. Take the stairs whenever possible. Don’t lean against the sink while washing dishes - flex your knees, instead. All of these little moves can be done during your normal activities. Give some thought to ways you can tighten your belly muscles more throughout the day, and you’ll be surprised at how many opportunities you find that help get rid of belly fat.
Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are excellent foods to eat when trying to lose belly fat. They are complex carbohydrates, so your body has to work hard to break down the nutrients inside them. This burns calories and fills you up in a healthy way. Also, your body uses energy from its fat stores to do so, and much of that is stored in the abdomen. You can replace one or two of your current menu items with any of these for an easy way to lose belly fat without making large changes or spending too much on fad foods.
Foods like white bread, refined-grain pasta, and sugary drinks contain simple carbohydrates, so your body doesn’t have to work very hard to process them. Additionally, your body burns those types of carbohydrates to make energy instead of using its fat stores to do so, so those stores just stay put while your body gets a sugar high. Avoid those foods as much as possible to lose belly fat. There are great tasting substitutes out there, so trade out at least one or two the next time you're grocery shopping.
Of water, that is. Water makes you feel fuller faster when you drink a glass before eating a meal. This handy trick is great for fooling the body into thinking it’s full because of food and not zero-calorie water. Drinking water also speeds up your metabolism, causing you to burn more calories. Water also helps the body process waste, which reduces belly bloating. If you are trying to lose belly fat, choose water periodically throughout the day.
We all have a certain amount of fat in our diet. It is unavoidable. The difference is in the types of fat we take in. Monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids are good for us. They take longer to digest, so you feel fuller longer, and they reduce stress, which is a huge factor in gaining belly fat. Saturated fat, like that found in red meats, should be limited. Trans fat, like that found in processed foods, should be avoided entirely.30 Days One Dress Size Challenge rewiews