There are a lot of factors that go into your physical appearance. Genes, family history, and your age are part of it. But those you cannot control. What factors you can control are diet and lifestyle. In some ways, how to lose fat is simple: consume fewer calories than you burn. But unfortunately, not all weight, exercise, or calories are precisely the same. And where you need to downsize matters.
If you have abdominal fat, this is some of the most challenging weight to get rid of. It can be stubborn and hang on longer than other body fat. But the good news is, you can do it. It will take consistency, dedication, and patience, along with a bit of extra knowledge. That extra bit of knowledge is what this article is all about, science-backed information on how to lose belly fat, and what will help keep it off.
There are excellent reasons to shed those extra pounds – beyond being able to button your jeans. There are two varieties of belly fat, and one of them is very dangerous. Getting rid of it will do more than reduce your waistline; it can change your life.
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Table of Contents
- What Is Belly Fat?
- What Causes Belly Fat?
- 7 Steps to Lose Belly Fat According to Science
- 1. Eat a Healthy Diet
- 2. Lift Weights
- 3. Do Cardio
- 4. Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
- 5. Drink More Water
- 6. Reduce stress
- 7. Get Quality Sleep
- Final Words
What Is Belly Fat?
Before we take a deep dive into how to lose belly fat, we need to know what it is. The extra pounds you carry around your waist is not just a few extra cheeseburgers sitting in your stomach. There are two different kinds of fat that you can have in your stomach area. We are going to look at both of these, and why one is far more dangerous than the other.
According to Merriam-Webster, subcutaneous is defined as being, living, occurring or administered under the skin. So subcutaneous fat is the extra fat that can be anywhere on your body right under your skin. If you can pinch it with your fingers, that’s subcutaneous. It’s what keeps you from having that sharp definition in your muscles. Though it may not be desirable, this first kind of fat doesn’t have the same health problems as the second.
Visceral fat is stored deep in your abdominal cavity and surrounds your liver, stomach, kidneys, and intestines. It is linked to health problems such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, and problems breathing. According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of fat is also associated with an increased risk of premature death – even when people have a healthy physique based on standard body mass index (BMI) measurements. (2)
If early death isn’t reason enough to want to shed those pounds, here is one more: fat around your belly is metabolically active and raises your inflammation levels. It doesn’t just affect the organs of your digestive tract; it interferes with your hormones whose job it is to regulate your appetite, mood, and brain function.
Have we got your attention now? Good, then let’s talk about what causes it to begin with – that will give you some hints on how to lose belly fat.
What Causes Belly Fat?
- Unhealthy Diet
- Sedentary Lifestyle
- Too much stress
- Lack of sleep
7 Steps to Lose Belly Fat According to Science
Here’s some good news. Researchers have spent a lot of time looking at how to help people with a reduction in their waist circumference. We know what works. And fortunately, the same things that can help you change your body shape also come with a variety of health benefits.
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
The first step is to look at your calorie intake. You will need a meal plan that focuses on whole, plant-based foods. It would be best if you had a diet high in vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains. And you will need to cut back on sugar and unhealthy fats.
Here are some science-based tips for making healthy food choices:
Add More Fiber
Fiber is an essential nutrient for weight management because fiber takes a long time to digest, so it helps keep your blood sugar levels down. Your body is always trying to keep blood sugar levels stable. When you eat foods high in sugar, your blood sugar spikes, when it drops, your body sends hunger signals, which can lead to overeating. (3)
Fiber also contributes to feelings of fullness and helps remove waste from the body. Fiber has even been shown to impact belly fat loss directly. A 2011 study found a 10-gram increase in the intake of soluble fiber decreased waist size gain by 3.7% over five years (4).
Add high fiber foods to your diet to get an adequate intake of soluble fiber. Best soluble fiber-rich foods include:
- Brightly colored vegetables
- Leafy greens
- Raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries
- Beans, Lentils, and Legumes
Include Healthy Fats
Healthy fats, or monounsaturated fats, can reduce blood cholesterol and insulin levels. Sources of monounsaturated fats are:
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Peanut Oil
These healthier fats will help you fight weight gain and will have positive health effects on your body. However, they are very calorie-dense, so use them sparingly. A tablespoon per meal is about right for your eating plan.
Up Your Intake of Omega-3s
Getting more Omega 3 fatty acids into your body will revolutionize the way your body looks, feels, and acts. Diets high in Omega 3s have reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and other severe health conditions. (5) Plus, some studies show they are an essential part of any weight loss diet. (6)
Here’s what upping your amount of Omega 3s will do for you . . .
- Improve your insulin sensitivity
- Help your burn calories
- Speed up your metabolism
- Lower your body’s production of cortisol
- Give you more energy
- Help to build muscle mass
Omega 3 fatty acids are in oily fish, and eating 2-3 servings of fish per week is recommended. Add salmon, sardines, or anchovies to a leafy green salad for an obesity-fighting meal your physician will approve of.
Choose Lean Protein
Eating protein does more for you than helping you build muscle; it also assists in reducing fat gain (7). That’s because protein is very filling. Proteins also decrease your appetite and have the highest thermogenic effect of all the macronutrients. Your digestive system burns more calories processing it than fats or carbs.
Combined with strength training, protein also can help reduce belly fat. That’s because muscle burns five times as many calories as body fat. So, the more muscular you are, the leaner you will be!
What’s the right amount of protein intake? 3-4 oz of lean meat is recommended per serving for weight maintenance.
Foods to Avoid
Want to see a better number on that tape measure? We provided advice on what to eat, now let’s talk about everything you should avoid.
- Processed foods: You probably know to avoid cookies, bread, candies, and sweets. But almost all food products created by manufacturers are something to avoid. They have little nutrition but have high amounts of sugar, unhealthy fats, preservatives, and ingredients designed to increase our waists. Switch from premade foods to home cooking whenever possible.
- Sauces and dressings: Like processed foods, commercially made sauces and dressing are high in sugars, salt, and artificial ingredients. It is best to strike them off your menu. Use calorie-free herbs and spices instead.
- Inflammatory foods: This could be types of sugar or any food that doesn’t agree with you. For example, many people have digestive issues after eating dairy. This results in your body feeling stressed, which can cause it to store extra fat in your cells.
- Sugary drinks: Did you know that some sodas have more sugar than candy? Juices can be the same, and they don’t have any of the fiber that eating fruit can provide. Low-calorie versions are no better; people who drink them still tend to be overweight. Reducing your sugar intake (even fake sugar) is key to achieving your goals. Need a pick me up in the afternoon? Try unsweetened green tea instead.
2. Lift Weights
Want a secret ingredient to transform your looks and put your belly fat burning efforts into hyper-drive? Okay, it’s not a secret, but it is still hugely under-appreciated. Most people associate lifting weights with building muscles. Sure, they’ll do that. But they’ll help you fit in your pants(4).
Weight training releases hormones, such as testosterone and human growth hormone, that promote fat loss. Plus, recent studies show that, if done smartly, lifting weights can burn a ton of calories.
Utterly new to exercising and fitness? You can start by average two days a week of physical activity with or without weights. It’ll help you build the strength you need for strength training and HIIT.
3. Do Cardio
In addition to strength training, you also need aerobic exercise. For the best results, perform cardio activities 3X per week. This doesn’t mean a ton of sit ups. Do you know what burns the most belly fat – cardio or weights? The answer is a combination of both. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) combines intense bursts of exercises with short periods of rest. You don’t even need a gym! Combine a light dumbbell with intense movement, and you have a powerful exercise program.
4. Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
It’s no surprise that overindulging in alcohol can lead to a ‘beer gut’ (8). If you’re serious about getting rid of belly fat, you need to cut back on the booze. Limit yourself to one drink per day, including on the weekends!
Seven calories per gram may not sound like much, but one or two G&Ts later, and they soon add up. And because the breakdown of alcohol is prioritized, its energy quickly tops up glycogen supplies with the remainder being stored as fat around your midsection.
There is another reason to cut alcohol. Drinking reduces your inhibitions. When you are in drinking, it is easy to order unhealthy meals and massively increase your carb intake.
5. Drink More Water
It is very easy to mistake hunger for thirst, which is why staying hydrated is an essential part of a healthy plan to decrease belly fat. But drinking water can also help to boost your metabolism. In one study, participants saw a 30% increase in their metabolism by merely drinking 16 ounces of water daily (9).
Carry a water bottle with you at all times. Sip from it regularly to keep yourself full. If you usually have a soda, water is an excellent substitution to help you to satisfy your thirst.
Having a glass of water before each meal is also a useful eating habit to get rid of belly fat.
6. Reduce stress
There have been fantastic studies showing that lowering stress can reduce your belly fat. How? When you are less stressed, you produce less cortisol, the stress hormone. The studies seem to show that there is a link between levels of perceived stress, cortisol levels, and extra fat around the belly (10).
If nothing else, consider this. When your mind is stressed, you are more likely to consume unhealthy beverages and foods that lead to fat storage. After all, no one cries into a bowl of kale.
7. Get Quality Sleep
Too little sleep is linked with several health risks. One five-year study found that adults under age 40 who slept five hours or less a night gained significantly more fat around their abdomen. But too much isn’t right, either — young adults who slept more than eight hours also added belly fat. (This relationship wasn’t found in people over age 40.) Evidence shows that our bodies need a balance of quality rest for optimal health.
These seven tips are backed by research and medical advice. Your goal is to lose weight, get rid of belly fat, and keep it off. The best way to do that is to make gradual, sustainable changes, one at a time. Rather than jumping in with all 17 of our tips in the first week, work through them gradually. That way, you’ll be able to trim the belly fat and keep it off for good.
Start with a diet that includes lean proteins and healthy carbohydrates and fats. Then eliminate sugar, alcohol, and processed foods. Once you have that down, add in workouts, and start tracking your stress levels. If you have problems sleeping, talk to your doctor for help. It will only be a matter of time before you remove that layer of stored belly fat.
- “Definition of SUBCUTANEOUS.” Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America’s Most-trusted Online Dictionary, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/subcutaneous.
- “Belly Fat in Women: Get Rid of It — for Good!” Mayo Clinic, 14 June 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/belly-fat/art-20045809.
- “Why Fiber Is So Good for You.” UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/why_fiber_is_so_good_for_you/.
- Hairson, Kristen G., et al. “Lifestyle Factors and 5-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: The IRAS Family Study.” PubMed Central (PMC), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3856431/.
- Jung, Un Ju, et al. “N-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: Mechanisms Underlying Beneficial Effects.” PubMed,
- “Why Fiber Is So Good for You.” UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/why_fiber_is_so_good_for_you/.
- Batterham, Rachel L, et al. “Critical Role for Peptide YY in Protein-Mediated Satiation and Body-Weight Regulation.” Cell Metabolism, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16950139.
- Schröder, Helmut, et al. “Relationship of Abdominal Obesity with Alcohol Consumption at Population Scale.” European Journal of Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2007,
- Boschmann, Michael, et al. “Water-Induced Thermogenesis.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2003, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14671205.
- “Impact of a Stress Management Program on Weight Loss, Mental Health, and Lifestyle in Adults with Obesity: a Randomized Controlled Trial.” PubMed Central (PMC), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6296480/#:~:text=In%20turn%2C%20decreased%20levels%20of,intervention%20group%20in%20our%20study.