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How to Lose Belly Fat: 13 Steps and Why It’s Important
May 26, 2023
There’s loads of advice out there regarding how to lose weight quickly, some good, some bad. 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.
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. You’re more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes and other issues if you gain weight around your midsection.
In fact, excess weight is a major risk factor for chronic diseases worldwide. Fortunately, research shows that losing just 10–20 pounds (or around 5 percent to 10 percent of your total body weight) can make a real difference in preserving your health into older age.
The Problem with Belly Fat
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. For many, losing extra fat around the midsection is one of the biggest obstacles to trimming down, and it can be particularly challenging to lose weight after age 40.
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 40 percent of the world’s population is overweight. Obesity and being overweight can contribute to health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, metabolic syndrome, certain types of cancer, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, fatty liver disease and even pregnancy complications.
Obesity is said to be a “complex pathological processes,” as it can involve environmental, genetic and emotional factors. Several hormones are involved in accumulation of belly fat, including insulin, ghrelin, leptin and cortisol. These impact 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.
Visceral belly fat is especially dangerous. Visceral fat is also called “organ fat” or “intra-abdominal 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 genuine health concern.
Fat is actually similar to an organ, in that it releases compounds in the blood and alters hormone levels. When fat is stored close to the vital organs, it’s easier for it to get into the bloodstream. This can contribute to cardiometabolic problems, such as clogged arteries and hypertension.
Studies even show that visceral fat can trigger inflammatory responses that make people more susceptible to severe illnesses, including infections and viruses.
Causes of Belly Fat
Experts believe that some of the main reasons people tend to accumulate weight around their midsections include:
1. Processed Foods
Today, people eat far too much of both processed foods and ultra-processed foods, plus less fresh plant foods. The most substantial dietary change to happen in the last century include overconsumption of high-calorie foods, including processed vegetable oils, sugary drinks, fast food and all types of sweet snacks.
A 2021 JAMA study found that ultra-processed foods now account for two-thirds (67 percent) of calories on average in the diets of American children and teens. Research published in 2022 shows ultra-processed foods are linked with cancer and early death — and could even raise the risk of cognitive decline.
2. Higher Stress Levels
Today the average person faces increased stress levels as well as busier schedules. This equates to less time for healthy habits like sleep or exercise, eating more often while distracted, and more comfort/emotional eating.
3. More Difficulty Affording Food
With inflation affecting most countries across the globe, food has never been more expensive. For some populations, many people now have trouble affording healthy food in particular. It’s been found that individuals from disadvantaged communities seem to have greater risks for obesity than more affluent individuals of the same age.
Research now shows that genetic components of obesity account for 40 percent to 50 percent of the variability in body weight status. There are around 250 genes associated with obesity. Some studies also suggest 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.
5. Sedentary Living
In the past two decades, there’s been a decrease in physical activity, including more people spending too much time sitting at work while spending less time doing physical activities solely for leisure. According to studies, a sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity are among the leading modifiable risk factors worldwide for cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.
6. Social Networks
Research examining the effects of weight gain among friends, siblings and spouses has 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.
How to Lose Belly Fat
So how do you lose belly fat (and back fat) and maintain a normal body mass index? Here are suggestions for trimming down in a healthy manner:
1. Eat More Fat-Burning Foods
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 your well-being. Think:
- clean meats (not processed meats) and fish (best fish to eat)
- others grown in healthy, rich soils without any chemicals added
Ultra-processed foods, on the other hand, are what you want to avoid at all costs, considering they’re linked to obesity and literally can cause fat gain. 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 put into your body.
What are five foods that burn belly fat? Among the best fat-burning foods are leafy greens, other vegetables like cruciferous veggies, high-protein sources like meat and fish, berries, and healthy fats, such as olive oil or nuts.
2. Increase Fiber Intake
Eat more high-fiber foods, which is beneficial for controlling appetite, digestion, heart health and more. It’s been found that higher consumption of fiber can help prevent obesity.
In particular, up your intake of soluble fiber, found in oats, barley, peas, carrots, beans, apples, citrus fruits and psyllium. Soluble fiber attaches to cholesterol particles and removes them from your digestive system, thus lowering your risk of heart disease as well as helping you lose fat.
3. Stay Away from Sugar, Liquid Calories and Grains
You probably already know that sugar is really bad for you. You especially want to avoid added sugar when trying to lose weight, including hidden sources of sugar like sweetened dairy, juices or packaged snacks made with grains.
It’s best to keep these foods out of your home entirely for the best results, and follow these tips:
- Don’t drink your calories! Drink more plain water, herbal tea, sparkling water with lemon slices and other healthy drinks. Avoid soda, sports drinks, sweetened teas and most juices.
- 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.
4. Eat More Protein
Most people consume lower levels of protein, including less than 20 percent of their diet. Studies show that eating more protein foods has a number of health benefits. It helps you maintain and lose weight, stabilizes your blood sugar levels, improves your ability to learn and concentrate, reduces brain fog, and supports your muscles and bones.
Upping your protein consumption may also decrease levels of ghrelin, the hormone that is responsible for stimulating feelings of hunger.
You can eat high-protein foods as part of a balanced diet, or you may opt to follow a high-protein diet that is heavily populated by high-protein foods and supplements. Good options include grass-fed beef, organic chicken breast, wild-caught cod and salmon, high-protein plant foods and protein powders.
How much protein do you need? For those who want to lose body and belly fat, it’s recommended to consume about 0.7 grams to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. In this case, if you weigh 160 pounds, then multiply that figure by 0.75. At this weight, you’ll want to consume close to 100 to maybe 120 grams total daily. So if you eat four meals a day, aim to consume 25 to 30 grams worth of high-protein foods.
5. Track Your Calories and Your Macros
It can’t be understated that a reasonable daily calorie intake is also needed to lose belly fat. Many studies suggest that calories in/calories out (such as in the CICO diet) matters.
Evidence also shows that tracking your food can be an amazing tool to help manage your goals. It works by bringing awareness to your eating routine. Over time, you can learn about your food to the point where you may not have to journal.
To get there, learn to count your calories, such as by using a calorie counting app like FitnessPal. Meanwhile, with that app, also count your macros to make sure you getting a good balance of carbs, fat and protein.
5. Eat Mindfully
Mindful eating means many things, and it’s a surprisingly key part of achieving a healthy weight. Here are some mindful eating tips:
- Slow down while you eat so you’re less likely to scarf down too much too quickly.
- Become aware of how much food it takes to make you feel satisfied when eating (reaching so-called satiety) without becoming overly stuffed.
- Eat while undistracted, and avoid multitasking.
- Face emotional discomfort head on instead of eating due to stress or sadness.
6. Intermittent Fasting
For improved fat loss efforts, you may consider intermittent fasting, which is best approached as a shift in lifestyle and eating patterns, not a diet. While the science is now mixed on how effective it is, for many it’s an effective strategy.
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.
The most common method is 16/8 fasting (also often referred to as time-restricted feeding). You fast for 16 hours every day and limit your eating to eight hours. Most often, key component of 16/8 intermittent fasting is skipping breakfast. This approach involves not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast the next morning.
7. Try a Low-Carb or Ketogenic Diet
How can you reduce belly fat in seven days? You may want to try the ketogenic diet, a strict low-carb diet that’s high in fat. This approach helps the body burn stored body fat for energy, usually very quickly.
While this approach isn’t 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 drop pounds while not feeling hungry or deprived.
If this sounds too extreme for you, carb cycling is another option. This approach alternates days of low-carb eating with days of higher carb consumption to help keep cravings and fatigue in check. The standard low-carb diet is also practiced by many who seek to lose weight over a shorter period of time.
8. Add in Metabolism Boosters
Did you know that spicy foods can increase your heart rate, make you sweat and boost your metabolic rate at the same time? They are also some the best foods to reduce inflammation in your body and excellent metabolism boosters.
Try adding the following to your diet:
- Cayenne pepper: 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: In one study, drinking matcha tea improved fat oxidation.
- 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, wakame was shown to promote fat burning within the fat cells in animals. It may also help with reducing high cholesterol.
9. HIIT Workouts
How do you lose belly fat faster? Focus not just on your diet but also your fitness.
Which exercise is best for belly fat? One of the most effective and efficient ways to lose unwanted belly fat, or simply extra weight distributed all over, is doing HIIT workouts.
High-intensity interval training has been shown to be an excellent way to burn fat in a short period of time. One systematic review found that interval training led to 28 percent greater reductions in total absolute fat mass compared to moderate-intensity continuous training.
HIIT can help improve physical performance, support your metabolism and build muscle in just 30 to 40 minutes per day. It combines short, high-intensity bursts of exercise with slow, recovery phases.
It’s beneficial even if done for a short 15- to 20-minute session. The key is you work out at 85 percent to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate rather than 50 percent to 70 percent.
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. It’s also suggested by experts to use weightlifting for fat loss — a proven way to create more muscle, which supports a healthy metabolic rate.
Weightlifting doesn’t have to mean heavy weights, either, as a bodyweight workout or yoga exercises done at home can also be a great way to incorporate fitness into your routine.
10. Reduce 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 associated with to fat gain and poor eating habits.
Stress manifests in the body in multiple ways you can’t always feel, including:
- Increasing levels of “stress hormones” like cortisol.
- Causing blood sugar levels to rise.
- Altering your appetite.
- Interfering with normal digestion by changing the gut environment.
- Affecting the way your endocrine glands and hormones works.
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 to relax. Natural stress relievers include regular exercise, meditation, spending time outdoors (try forest bathing) and keeping up with fun hobbies.
11. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is an important modulator of neuroendocrine functions and glucose metabolism. Therefore, sleep deprivation and insomnia are overlooked factors contributing to weight gain and obesity. In fact, experts consider getting good sleep an important part of an obesity prevention approach.
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.
12. Regularly Perform Abs Workouts
The quality of your diet is the No. 1 factor to address in order to lose weight all over. Once you improve your eating habits, ab workouts and core exercises are like the icing on the cake.
Doing about two to four core workouts weekly can strengthen and define your midsection. A strong core also helps with balance and stability, improves your posture, and can help relieve back pain that may be due to carrying extra weight.
Some of the best core exercises include V-ups, planks of all kinds, flutter kicks or scissor kicks, burpees, Russian twists, and reverse crunches.
13. Work 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 stomaches — working out on an empty stomach does seem to feature 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. 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 shorter workouts, such as walking to lose weight, but not as well before longer or tougher workouts.
There are many variables at play when it comes to maintaining a healthy body composition, and they can include:
- one’s level of fitness
- what type of exercise you’re doing
- your medical history
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.
- Get enough quality sleep.
- 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 obesity and becoming overweight. These include eating more processed foods, dining out more, lack of sleep, lack of exercise/poor fitness habits, exposure to harmful chemicals and increased stress.
- Some healthy and effective ways for how to lose belly fat and to reach a healthy weight include eating more fresh plant foods, cooking more, getting enough sleep and doing HIIT workouts several times per week.