How to Lose Belly Fat
There are many dangerous and inneffective gimmicks about how to lose belly fat. While there’s no “magic bullet” that will target abdominal fat in particular, this article will explain what causes an expanding waistline and how you can make that spare tire go away.
Part One: Jump-Starting Your Metabolism
Eat breakfast. It might seem counterproductive to eat if you’re trying to lose weight, but studies show that eating breakfast within an hour of waking up keeps your insulin levels steadier and your LDL cholesterol levels lower.
- Eat breakfast around the same time each day. If you tend to sleep in on weekends, eat as soon as you wake up.
- Consider including protein and high-fiber foods (eggs, peanut butter, fresh fruit and vegetables) for breakfast — they take longer to process than refined sugars and complex carbs so you’ll feel full throughout the morning.
- Avoid making sugary cereals, waffles, pancakes, French toast, breakfast pastries or instant oatmeal the sole focus of your breakfast. If you must splurge and eat something with refined sugars, balance it with protein or fiber.
Decompress. Research indicates that the secretion of cortisol (a hormone your body produces during times of stress) is correlated with an increase in belly fat. Some strategies for combating everyday stress:
- Enough sleep. Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep every night to function properly.
- Set aside time to relax. Even if it’s only 15 minutes on your lunch break, find time to simply close your eyes, breathe deeply, and forget your worries.
- Keep your stressors away from your sleeping area. If possible, don’t work or do anything stressful in the bedroom. That the area should be reserved for rest/relaxation, and resolve to leave your worries behind as soon as you step into that room.
Aim to take 10,000 steps a day. In one study where men reduced their daily steps from about 10,000 to less than 1,500 (without changing their diet), their visceral (belly) fat increased by 7% after just 2 weeks.
- Get a pedometer and try to increase the number of daily steps you take.
- Take stairs instead of elevators; walk instead of driving.
- Stand up and walk for 30 steps every 30 minutes. If you have a sedentary job, consider getting a treadmill desk.
Switch out refined grains for whole grains. In a scientific study, people who ate all whole grains (in addition to five servings of fruits and vegetables, three servings of low-fat dairy, and two servings of lean meat, fish, or poultry) lost more belly fat than another group that ate the same diet, but with all refined grains.
- Grains melt fat. A diet rich in whole grains changes the glucose and insulin response in your body to hasten the melting of fat, and visceral fat, that deep layer of fat, is easier for your body to burn than the subcutaneous fat under your skin (the fat that can be seen and grabbed).
- Avoid white grains. For instance, eat brown wheat bread instead of over-processed white bread, and favor wild brown rice over white rice.
Drink plenty of water. Studies suggest that consistently drinking water throughout the day can lead to a more active metabolism, regardless of dieting. Drinking more water also helps your body flush out waste/toxins and improves your overall health.
- Aim to drink an 8-oz. glass of water 8 times per day, or 64 ounces total.
- Carry a water bottle so that you can drink whenever you feel thirsty.
- Know how to tell when you’re sufficiently hydrated. You’ll know you’re drinking enough water when your urine runs almost clear. If it’s still yellow, drink up.
- Significantly reduce alcohol, sugary drinks (like Coke, 7-Up, Pepsi and all the diet drinks), and carbonated beverages. 
Part Two: Exercising for Fat Loss
Exercise in small bursts. Research shows that interval training, or alternating short bursts of energy with brief resting periods, can improve muscle and build endurance more quickly than traditional exercise.
- Sprint. Run as fast and as far as you can for 20 seconds, then slow to a walk until you catch your breath. Repeat for 10 minutes.
- Set a treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike for interval training. Most modern exercise equipment can be set to an interval training mode, which significantly increases the difficulty of the exercise for short periods of time.
- Take quick walks. Fit some exercise into your work day and take 5-minute power walks. Take long strides and keep a brisk pace, or try going up and down stairs.
Skip the crunches — for now. Abdominal crunches and sit-ups should build strong muscles, but you might not see them under belly fat. In fact, crunches might actually make your stomach look bigger as you build up thicker abs. Try these exercises to focus on your core muscles instead:
- Do the bridge. Get into the position for doing a push up/press up. Rest on your elbows and always keep your eyes to the floor. Pull your stomach muscles in tight, imagining them going to your backbone. As you do this, your bottom should be down and your back straight. Hold this position for as long as it feels comfortable. During the holding period, don’t arch your back but keep it as straight as possible. If it feels too hard at first, allow your knees to form a resting platform. Aim to hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat this exercise 3 to 5 times.
- Do squats. Stand with your feet 8-9 inches apart, extend your arms in front of you and squat your hips backward. Do four sets of 15 to 20 squats, working several minutes at a time.
- Stretch the sides of your waist. Stand up straight, with your feet hip-width apart. Put your right hand on your right hip, and lift your left arm straight up, so that your palm faces to the right. Keeping your legs centered, lean to the right and “reach” over with your left arm, stretching your left side. Do 3 to 5 times on each side.
Ramp up the cardio. Aerobic exercises, which get your heart pumping, burn calories quickly and facilitates fat loss all over, including your belly. You can’t “spot-burn” belly fat, but it’s usually the first to burn off when you exercise, regardless of body shape or size.
- Time your miles. Track your progress by timing how long it takes to run a mile. As cardiovascular stamina improves, you’ll notice the time going down.
- Correct shin splints. If you get painful shin splints whenever you run, you’re probably over-pronating (that is, putting the majority of your weight on the outer side of your foot when it comes down). There are shoes designed specifically to help alleviate this.
- Don’t overdo it. When first getting into cardio, aim to workout 3 days a week, then build up to 4 when you’re able. Pushing yourself hard every day doesn’t allow your body enough time to recover and build up muscle, and could lead to injury.
Add resistance training. A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests that combining cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise with resistance training is more effective than cardiovascular training alone in getting rid of abdominal fat You can do resistance training with free weights, exercise machines or resistance bands.
Part Three: Dieting for Fat Loss
Reduce calorie consumption. Unless you restrict calorie intake, you won’t lose belly fat. Try these tips:
- Remember that it takes a 3700-calorie deficit to lose one pound of fat. That is, you have to either burn off 3700 calories through exercise or eat 3700 calories less than you burn in a week.
- Aim to lose a maximum of two pounds per week. Losing any more than that can be unhealthy and leads to a cycle of “crash” dieting, in which you rapidly gain back any lost weight.
- Keep a food diary. Most people tend to underestimate how much they eat. Get an honest assessment of your eating habits by writing down everything you consume for a week. Utilize an online calorie calculator, and figure out roughly how many calories you’re consuming in a day. From there, see what you can afford to cut.
- Try a diet in which you consume 2200 calories (men) or 2000 calories (women) per day. This should cause a deficit sufficient for you to lose one or two pounds per week, depending on your activity level.
Eat good fats. Studies suggest that a diet with a higher ratio of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) — such as avocados, nuts, seeds, soybeans, and chocolate — can prevent the accumulation of belly fat.
- Trans fats (in margarines, crackers, cookies, or anything made with partially hydrogenated oils) seem to result in more fat being deposited in the abdomen. Avoid these as much as possible.
- Add fiber to your diet slowly. If you are currently getting 10 grams of fiber a day, don’t jump to 35 grams of fiber the next day. The natural bacteria in your digestive system requires time to adapt to your new fiber intake.
- Eat the skin on your fruits and vegetables. Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet adds fiber, but only if you eat the skin, as that’s where all the fiber is. Don’t peel those apples before you eat them. With potatoes, leave the skin on (with baked or mashed potatoes) or if you peel them, make snacks of them, such as baked garlic Parmesan peels. Keeping the skin on potatoes when cooking them helps keep more vitamins/minerals in the flesh. (Just don’t eat any parts of skin that are green.)
- Eat more split pea soup. Split peas are a fiber “power food”. Just one cup of them contains 16.3 grams of protein.
Part Four: Measuring Progress
Calculate your waist-to-hip ratio. Your waist-to-hip ratio — or the circumference of your waist divided by the circumference of your hips — can be a good indicator of whether you need to lose belly fat. Here’s how to get it:
- Wrap a soft tape measure around the thinnest part of your waist at the level of your navel. Note the measurement.
- Wrap the tape measure around the widest part of your hips, where you can feel a bony protrusion about 1/3 of the way from the top of the hipbone. Note the measurement.
- Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.
- Know what’s healthy. Women should have a ratio of 0.8 or below; men should be at 0.9 or lower.
Continue taking your measurements as you progress. After incorporating some of the above strategies, keep measuring so you can see your progress.
Weigh yourself at the same time each day. Because body weight fluctuates depending on the time of day, when you last ate or when you last had a bowel movement, standardize the process by weighing yourself at the same time each day. Many people choose to do this the first thing in the morning, before breakfast.
Part Five: Staying Motivated
Join forces with a friend. Trying to lose weight with a partner can help you stay accountable for your actions, as well as giving you an extra incentive to keep exercise appointments. Share your victories together, and discuss solutions to whatever roadblocks you encounter.
Understand risks associated with belly fat. Losing belly fat doesn’t have to be solely a cosmetic goal; understanding the health issues linked with belly fat can help motivate you.
- Belly fat is linked with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Specifically it’s the deepest layer of belly fat —the fat you can’t see or grab — that poses health risks. That’s because these “visceral” fat cells actually produce hormones and other substances that can affect your health (e.g. increased insulin resistance and/or breast cancer risk).
- The fact that “visceral” fat cells are located right next to and in between organs in your abdominal cavity doesn’t help. For example, fat next to the liver drains into it, causing a fatty liver, which is a risk factor for insulin resistance, setting the stage for Type 2 diabetes.
- Doing only sit-ups and crunches can actually cause the appearance of more belly fat, as the abdominal muscles grow in size and shape, they will push out against the fat, making it appear larger and thicker.
- If you’ve gained weight or been pregnant, you may have excess skin in the belly area that won’t disappear no matter how much fat you burn. You will only know how much excess skin there is, though, if you get rid of all the fat first. It is also possible that your skin will tighten up again once you’ve lost the belly fat