There’s loads of advice out there regarding how to lose weight quickly, and often with the least possible effort involved. And while your primary reason for wanting to learn how to lose belly fat may be due to vanity, there are also loads of convincing health reasons for wanting to trim down your waistline as well.
For example, dangerous visceral fat — the type of deep fat that tends to accumulate near your belly, surrounding your vital organs — raises the risk for serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and many others. According to a report published in the Lancet, as of 2005, globally “Excess body weight was the sixth most important risk factor contributing to the overall burden of disease worldwide.” (1) The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2005 approximately 1.6 billion people worldwide were overweight and that at least 400 million adults were obese.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders (NIDDK) seconds this, stating that obesity— which presumably includes carrying extra belly fat — can contribute significantly to the following health problems:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease and stroke
- Metabolic syndrome
- Certain types of cancer
- Sleep apnea
- Gallbladder disease
- Fatty liver disease
- Pregnancy complications
Fortunately, research shows that losing just 10–20 pounds (or around 5–10 percent of your total body weight) — including finding out how to lose belly fat — can make a real difference in terms of lowering your risk for developing these serious diseases.
How & Why Belly Fat Increases for Most People
If you’re like a high percentage of adults, including even many young adults, losing extra fat around your midsection is one of the biggest obstacles along your weight loss journey. Often, it’s referred to as “stubborn fat” because no matter what you do, it doesn’t seem to budge much. It can be maddening!
In fact, you may have experienced periods in the past when you’ve watched the numbers on the scale fall, but still you didn’t see a corresponding fat loss in the belly region like you’d hope for. Or, maybe you’re the type who feels overwhelmed by all the available but conflicting dietary advice out there, and so you haven’t yet started to lose weight or tackle the belly fat problem even though you know you need to for your health.
It’s no secret that obesity rates have been rising for several decades now, and scientific studies continue to draw conclusions about how eating a highly processed diet that’s tied to weight gain is one of the leading contributors to most chronic diseases. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the rate of obesity between 1980 and 2000 doubled among adults and children, and scarily has tripled amongst adolescents. This translates to 60 million obese adults in the U.S. alone — a staggering 30 percent of the total population.
Why are so many people putting on more weight, despite their best efforts to reverse or prevent it? While not all experts entirely agree on what needs to be done in order to correct “the obesity epidemic,” most support the theory that several key factors are to blame for such high rates of unhealthy weight gain. Accumulation of dangerous visceral fat (essentially the belly fat that most want to see disappear the most) and general obesity is said to be a “complex pathological processes reflecting environmental and genetic interactions,” which include:
- Eating more and more processed and packaged foods, with a decrease in fresh plant foods. The most substantial dietary change to happen in the last century include over-consumption of high calorie foods including processed vegetable oils, sugary drinks, fast food and all types of sweet snacks.
- Increased stress levels and busier schedules, which means less time for healthy habits like sleep or exercise; eating more often while distracted; and more comfort/emotional eating.
- For some populations, trouble affording healthy food. It’s been found that individuals from disadvantaged communities seem to have greater risks for obesity than more affluent individuals of the same age.
- Partly because of genetics, including the effects of “fetal and postnatal imprinting,” or passing on likelihood of obesity from mom to baby. Research now shows that a mother’s environment, habits and diet during pregnancy can have lasting consequences on body weight and risk of chronic disease in the offspring. (2)
- Decreases in physical activity, including more people working sedentary jobs and spending less time doing physical activities solely for leisure.
- Potentially changes in toxicity levels in the body and neurobiological processes (such as release of certain hormones) that control food intake.
- Social networks. Study examining the effects of weight gain among friends siblings, and spouses have found that a person’s risk of becoming obese increased by 57 percent if a close friend became obese, 40 percent is a sibling did, and 37 percent if a spouse or partner did. (3)
How Dangerous Belly Fat Accumulates
Visceral fat is also called “organ fat” or “intra-abdominal fat” — and it’s one of the primary reasons why you must learn how to lose belly fat. This stubborn fat lies in close proximity to the vital organs of the body, including the liver, kidneys and other digestive organs, meaning it’s a real health concern. Fat is actually similar to an organ, in that it releases compounds in the blood and alters hormone levels. (4)
When fat is stored close to the vital organs, it’s easier for this fat to get into the bloodstream and circulate through the entire body. This leads to problems such as clogged arteries, hypertension and even problems with metabolic functions in the body. Several hormones are involved in accumulation of belly fat, including insulin, ghrelin, leptin and cortisol. Here are some of the ways that the “modern lifestyle” can cause belly fat to start increasing:
- Insulin is the hormone that’s released when we consume carbohydrates. It helps take glucose (sugar) out of the bloodstream and brings it into cells to be used for energy. However, when too much glucose remains in the blood, it’s stored away for later use as body fat. If insulin is really out of whack, this fat storage can spiral out of control.
- Appetite hormones, including ghrelin and leptin, control how hungry or satisfied we feel before, after and between eating. Eating chemically altered foods (which spike cravings), repeat yo-yo dieting, crash dieting, genetic factors and stress can all interfere with appetite regulation.
- Cortisol is often called “the stress hormone” because we release more of it when we’re emotionally or physically stressed. Although we need cortisol for some essential functions, too much can contribute to fat accumulation around the midsection, increase appetite in some people, interfere with sleep quality and have other negative effects.
It’s clear from hundreds of different studies that effective long-term weight loss that results in decreased visceral/belly fat depends on permanent changes in dietary quality, calorie (energy) intake, lifestyle habits and also physical activity. These changes are how to lose belly fat but aren’t always easy to make initially. However, with time, healthier habits can become much more manageable, plus the effort to sustain them is well worth it in the end!
How to Lose Belly Fat
1. Eating More Fat-Burning Foods
Naturally, the first step in finding out how to reduce belly fat starts with food. Eating real foods from nature, instead of fake foods found in packages or boxes, is one of the best (and easiest) things you can do for yourself and your loved ones. Real foods are the ones that humans have been eating for all of history: vegetables, fruits, seeds, clean meats and fish, legumes, and others grown in healthy, rich soils without any chemicals added.
Fake foods, on the other hand, are what you want to avoid at all costs. These are most of the foods you’ll find at your local supermarket: bagged, boxed, frozen, items loaded with unhealthy additives and preservatives you don’t want to be putting into your body.
- Focus on eating real foods, especially veggies, when you’re learning how to lose belly fat. This will help not only get rid of the unwanted visceral fat but also give your body the vital nutrients it needs to function properly. Believe me, you’ll feel and see the difference when you make the switch from fake foods to healthy real foods.
- Eating real foods will also result in you eating more of a high-fiber diet, beneficial for controlling appetite, digestion, heart health and more. It’s been stated by certain obesity researchers that “Increasing consumption of dietary fiber with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes across the life cycle is a critical step in stemming the epidemic of obesity.” (5) In particular, up your soluble fiber, found in oats, barley, peas, carrots, beans, apples, citrus fruits and psyllium. Soluble fiber will attach to cholesterol particles and remove them from your digestive system, thus lowering your risk of heart disease as well as help you lose fat.
2. Stay Away from Sugar, Liquid Calories and Grains
- Sugar is really bad for you. And you especially want to avoid added sugar when you trying to reduce belly fat – even hidden sources of sugar like sweetened dairy, juices or packaged snacks made with grains.
- Don’t drink your calories! Drink more plain water, herbal tea or fruit with lemon slices.
- Reduce your intake of grains (especially refined kinds). All grains are not bad (especially sprouted or gluten-free grains), but they won’t help you lose weight or recover from a health condition. Instead, focus on vegetables and fruits that are low in sugar and high in fiber (like raspberries in the chart above).
3. Eat Mindfully
Mindful eating means many things, and it’s a surprisingly key part of how to lose belly fat:
- slowing down while you eat so you’re less likely to scarf down too much, too quickly
- being aware of how much food it takes to make you feel satisfied when eating without becoming overly stuffed
- eating while undistracted and avoiding multi-tasking
- facing emotional or comfort eating head on by figuring out better ways to handle stressors in your life
- and eating in a healthy manner first and foremost in order to support your health long-term, rather than just to lose weight quickly. (6)
4. Intermittent Fasting
Want to know how to lose belly fat? For improved fat loss efforts, it’s time to introduce your body to intermittent fasting, which is best approached as a shift in lifestyle and eating patterns, not a diet. There’s no need to count calories or measure grams. Simply focus on extending the duration of time between eating the healthy foods you already eat, with a particular emphasis on healthy fats and proteins.
There are several ways to practice fasting, including: skipping breakfast, eating all you want five days out of the week, severely limiting calories on some days or even not eating anything at all some days, or limiting your eating hours to only 6 or 8 hours a day.
The effects of fasting on hormones are multi-faceted:
- it has a dramatic impact on human growth hormone levels, resulting in greater endurance with faster muscle repair and growth
- it may help slow the aging process
- it can help regulate insulin levels, which is key for those who are diabetic or obese
- it might improve detoxification, it helps the body use glucose (sugar from carbs) more effectively
- and for many it usually helps reduce calorie intake as well. (7)
5. HIIT Workouts
If you want to lose fat, then you must work out. One of the most effective and efficient ways to lose unwanted belly fat, or simply extra weight distributed all over, is burst training or HIIT workouts. High-intensity interval training–style has been shown to be an excellent way to burn fat in a short period of time and help improve the physical performance of athletes of all kinds. (8)
High-intensity interval training combines short, high-intensity bursts of exercise, with slow, recovery phases repeated throughout one short 15–20 minute session. It’s done at 85–100 percent of one’s maximum heart rate rather than 50–70 percent in moderate endurance activity.
Most people don’t realize that loads of cardio/aerobic exercise can actually wear down our joints, increase our stress hormones (including cortisol) and contribute to fatigue or overeating. A better option is to alternate the types and intensities of your workouts, doing some at a harder pace but for shorter duration (like with the Tabata protocol) and others for strength or cardiovascular benefits.
But even if that type of workout isn’t to your liking, it’s key to find some kind of workout you enjoy and that you want to do regularly. I highly recommend weightlifting for fat loss because it’s a proven way to create more muscle; more muscle means your body will burn more calories (increasing your metabolic rate), and those calories will funnel into your muscle stores rather than your fat cells.
Weightlifting doesn’t have to mean heavy weights, either, as a bodyweight workout or yoga can also be all your need to get your fat-burning furnace going.
6. Reducing Stress
Chronic stress experienced over a long period of time is considered not only dangerous — raising your risk for heart disease, diabetes, mental disorders and autoimmune diseases to name a few — but it’s tied to fat gain and poor eating habits.
Stress manifests in the body in multiple ways you can’t always feel:
- increasing levels of “stress hormones” like cortisol
- causing blood sugar levels to rise
- altering your appetite
- getting in the way of normal digestion by changing the gut environment
- and affecting the way your thyroid glands and hormones works. (9)
All of these take a toll on your metabolism and ability to control levels of body fat. If you’re up against large amounts of stress in your life (from work, lack of sleep, relationships, finances, etc.), studies show you can greatly benefit from carving out more time in your busy stress relievers like regular exercise, meditation, spending time outdoors and keeping up with fun hobbies.
7. Getting Enough Sleep
A lack of sleep is often one of the most overlooked factors contributing to belly fat, and experts call getting good sleep an “important part of a obesity prevention approach.” (10) Want to find an easy secret for how to lose belly fat? Getting enough sleep helps regulate your stress hormones, controls your appetite better, gives you more energy for physical exercise, may help reduce cravings for sweets and tends to decrease emotional eating.
8. Trying a Low-Carb or Ketogenic Diet
The fat loss game isn’t always as straightforward as “calories in vs. calories out.” Changing the type of calories you eat can also accelerate weight loss and reduction of belly fat. A ketogenic diet is a strict low-carb diet that is high in filling foods that supply mostly fats and some protein. Reducing carbs helps the body burn stored body fat for energy, usually very quickly.
While this approach for how to lose belly fat is not a good fit for everyone (such as some athletes, those who are underweight, or women who experience hormonal alterations easily), it has been shown to help many struggling with being overweight to drop pounds while not feeling hungry or deprived. (11)
9. Add in Metabolism Boosters
- Cayenne pepper: Hot peppers will increase your heart rate, make you sweat, and boost your metabolic rate at the same time. They are also one the best foods to reduce inflammation in your body. Capsaicin, found in cayenne pepper, can increase calories burned after consumption. A study in the British Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when subjects consumed capsaicin for weight maintenance, fat oxidation (the breakdown of fat) was increased. Capsaicin may also stimulate the production of AMPK, leading to further breakdown of fat. Try adding cayenne pepper to recipes like chicken tenders for an extra fat-burning effect or try a detox drink with cayenne pepper.
- Matcha Green Tea: When it comes to boosting your metabolism and helping with weight loss, science shows that few things are more beneficial than matcha green tea. In one study, drinking the tea for 12 weeks reduced body fat. (12)
- Seaweed called wakame: If you haven’t heard of this seaweed native to Japan yet, you can bet you will soon. In a Japanese study at Hokkaido University led by researcher Kazuo Miyashita, PhD, fucoxanthin found in wakame was shown to promote fat burning within the fat cells in animals. Fucoxanthin fights fat in two ways; first, it encourages the action of protein, UCP1, that causes fat oxidation and is found in the type of fat that surrounds organs. Secondly, fucoxanthin promotes DHA production in the liver. Increased DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid type, can help with decreasing bad cholesterol or LDL.
10. Regularly Perform Abs Workouts (Including Kinds Suitable for Beginners)
Even most personal trainers and athletes agree that the quality of your diet is the No. 1 factor to address in order to lose belly fat. Once you improve your eating habits, ab workouts and core exercises are like the icing on the cake. Doing about 2–4 ab workouts weekly can strengthen and define your midsection while you also work on losing body fat all over through improving your diet, sleep and stress.
A strong core also helps with balance and stability, improves your posture, and can help eliminate back pain that may be due to carrying extra weight. (13) Some of the best core exercises include V-ups, planks of all kinds, flutter kicks or scissor kicks, burpees, Russian twists and reverse crunches.
11. Working Out On an Empty Stomach
While it’s not the best idea for everyone, such as those who eat dinner early or who feel weak and dizzy when exercising with nothing in their stomach — working out on an empty stomach does seem to have some benefits. It may help improve your body’s response to insulin, keep your calorie intake lower overall, improve performance and boost the amount of body fat you burn for energy during workouts.(14, 15) Yes, it can boost your efforts in learning how to lose belly fat.
However, there’s also the risk of burning through muscle instead of stored glucose, which is the last thing you want to happen when you’re committing to regular strength-building workouts. Everyone is different at the end of the day, but research suggests working out on an empty stomach might work for short distances, such as walking to lose weight, but not as well before longer or tougher workouts.
My “Lose the Belly Fat” Plan
- Get less calories from grains, sugars, beverages and refined carbohydrates. Eat more vegetables, berries, grapefruit, nuts, seeds, organic meat and raw dairy.
- Reduce your portion sizes, stop eating when you’re full, don’t eat while distracted, and practice other mindful eating habits.
- Sleep 7–9 hours per night. Manage stress and get enough rest or “play” to reduce cortisol.
- Exercise at least several times per week, doing a mix of high-intensity interval training and strength training (including bodyweight exercises targeting the core/abs).
- The combination of eating better foods and exercising more often may create a healthy calorie deficit, allowing your body to start burning your fat storage (body fat) rather than excessive calories (dietary fuel).
- Try adding some fat-burning foods like cayenne, seaweed and matcha green tea to your diet.
It’s nice to think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to losing belly fat that works for everyone, but this simply isn’t the case. There are many variables at play when it comes to losing belly fat: genetics, how fit you otherwise are, what type of exercise you’re doing, your medical history, hormones, age, gender and so on.
Regardless of the exact type of exercise regime and diet you choose in order to lose weight, several things are important for everyone:
- stay hydrated before, during and after your workouts
- be careful if you’re trying to create a calorie deficit, as you can get dangerously close to a starvation mode if you cut your calories too much
- manage stress in your life in whatever way that works for you
- pay attention to how different habits affect your energy levels
- keep track of what makes you feel happiest and least likely to feel fatigued
- consider emotional triggers that make you crave junk food throughout the day
- track your sleep
- and speak with a professional if you notice warning signs of more serious health problems.
- Losing belly fat is not only something to strive for in order to look better, it also has health benefits including reducing your risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and more.
- Several key factors are to blame for such high rates of unhealthy weight gain around the belly (visceral fat), obesity and becoming overweight, including less activity, eating more processed foods, dining out more, lack of sleep, toxicity and increased stress.
- Some healthy and effective ways for how to lose belly fat include eating more fresh plant foods, cooking more, getting enough sleep and several times per week doing HIIT workouts.