Reviewed by Helen Kollias, PhD
Basics | Advice | Food | Exercises | Psychology | Supplements | pregnancy
Before we tell you how to lose belly fat, here's what we'd like to say:
There's nothing wrong with belly fat.
In fact, in many cultures it is desirable to have a little more squeezing.
Certainly, at various points in history, a lush roundness was the look. (Google "Renoir's Bathers" or "Rubens' File".)
Yet in modern popular culture – despite some advances in celebrating different body shapes – we still predominantly glorify the six-pack and itty-hourglass waist.
(Not that there's anything wrong with these shapes.)
In any case, many of our customers come to us to lose belly fat.
That is why we treat the topic.
Fair warning: this story is different from what you would normally find in a magazine on the internet. That's because we're going to give you practical, realistic, and comprehensive answers.
(And these answers may not be what you expected.)
Treat yourself to a look at the navel and explore this topic with us.
Why belly fat is important in the first place
You may have noticed: Regardless of body fat, people are shaped differently.
And it turns out where we keep fatty substances.
Visceral fat vs. subcutaneous fat
If you cut someone's stomach open (gross) you would find fat in two places.
▶ The padding just below the surface of the skin: This type of fat, called either subcutaneous fat or peripheral fat, is relatively harmless.1,2
▶ Deep in the abdomen, often near vital organs such as the liver, stomach and intestines: called visceral or central fat, this contributes to chronic inflammation, the formation of arterial plaque and blood clots.3 It is also associated with an increased risk of metabolic disorders including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.4,5
Generally, when someone has more subcutaneous fat, they also have more visceral fat – but not always. Occasionally, a person may appear quite lean, with little subcutaneous fat but still a higher amount of visceral fat.
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Okay, but why do I have belly fat?
As you've probably heard, fat storage is related to hormones, genetics, and certain medical conditions.
Things that can increase visceral fat are:
- Higher body fat percentage: Although genetics and hormones determine fat distribution, people with higher body fat are more likely to have higher amounts of belly fat.
- Be a man: Compared to pre-menopausal women, men are more likely to wear extra fat around their midsection. This is because their visceral fat stores appear to absorb a greater proportion of dietary fat
- Being postmenopausal: Mainly due to hormonal shifts, women tend to experience a shift in body fat distribution after menopause with a decrease in leg fat and an increase in abdominal fat
- Aging: As the fat cells get older, they secrete more inflammatory factors and are also redistributed from subcutaneous stores to visceral depots. 8
- Chronically high cortisol levels: Visceral fat absorbs and breaks down excess cortisol
- Certain gene variants: Several genes have been linked to body fat distribution. (If you're into that sort of thing, the genes are: TBX15, HOXC13, RSPO3, CPEB4, and LRP5.) While all humans carry these genes, certain versions of these genes predispose a person to carrying fat to their hips and around their midsection Legs.10,11
There is nothing we can do about our age, gender, or genes. (We are sorry). But we are in control of a few other things.
And that's exactly what we're going to get into.
Post Pregnancy "Belly Fat": It May Not Be What You Think
Immediately after giving birth, women lose about 13 pounds (bye baby, placenta and other tissues).
After that, more weight loss may slowly occur as the uterus returns to its normal shape and fluid levels return to normal
However, many women find that their bodies, especially their belly, look different – even as they return to their pre-pregnancy weight.
This is likely because her abdominal tissue has stretched to accommodate her fetus. Now it's fluffier and doesn't compress tissue and fat like it used to.
Persistent diastasis recti – a separation of the abdominal muscles – can also make the abdomen look rounder.
(If diastasis is a problem, see a pelvic physiotherapist. They can assess the level of diastasis, provide safe ways to move your body, possibly repair part of the abdominal separation, and improve symptoms.)
While strengthening your core core muscles (like the transverse abdomen) can help both problems, it does take time.
With so many other changes in your life (remember your sleep?) This message can be difficult to swallow.
At the same time, your body just did a really amazing thing.
So there is nothing wrong with wanting to work on your body after you are pregnant, but make sure you approach this work with love, compassion, and a hell of a high five.
How to Lose Belly Fat in 6 Steps
If there's one trick to incredible results, it's this: the ability to practice basic (sometimes boring) health behaviors over and over again.
Listen to us
What we're about to share is likely to trigger your inner voice "I already know". You might roll your eyes and think there's nothing new here. Nothing "cutting edge" or "sparkling".
However, if you follow these steps, you will see results.
Results You Can Actually Maintain.
And hey, that would be pretty exciting.
1. Know why you want to change your tummy.
This will help you set clear goals and stay motivated.
You may be thinking, "This is easy. I'm here because I want to lose belly fat! Step 1 is now complete!"
Just there, partner. Let's get specific:
- Did your doctor tell you to lose weight for health reasons?
- Are you pretty healthy but feel like your pants are tightening and you just want to know what's going on?
- Do you want to be totally shredded with abs visible?
Whatever your reasons, you are welcome here.
However, if you've made a decision to lose weight for health reasons, let's go a little deeper because at some point, getting a leaner midsection isn't healthier.
Yes, larger midsections – over 94 cm (37 in) for men and over 80 cm (31 in) for women – correlate with: 13,14,15,16
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- All-cause mortality
And yet, many people fall well within these waist parameters – and feel pretty fit and healthy too – but they are dissatisfied with their bellies.
(By the way, many people fall beyond these parameters and are also healthy – and happy with their shape.)
While there is nothing wrong with wanting to change your body for aesthetic reasons, it is worth considering:
Sometimes we look for other ways to feel better and more fulfilled when we go through difficult things – a divorce, dealing with a sick parent, losing a job. How "to be torn apart".
And a flat (or flat) stomach can't fix these problems.
In fact, getting hyper-slim sometimes creates new problems and stress.
(Learn about the tradeoffs: the cost of getting lean.)
Because of this, many customers have made it a point to learn to accept their softer sides rather than fight them.
Some have done this by learning to see their bodies through the eyes of a loved one – such as a toddler snuggling up to "stomach" because it's so squishy and comfortable. Or they have learned to value their bodies for what they can do.
So, know your reasons why you want to change.
And whether this change is worth the effort.
2. Accept (albeit reluctantly) that there is no trick to reducing belly fat on the spot.
We all want the easy way out of stubborn problems.
Especially when life (laundry, sick relatives, rebellious teenagers, injuries, and the smell in the heating duct) feels challenging enough.
Also, there is no shortage of books with titles like The Belly Shrinking Diet or magazines promoting "4 Exercises That Will Get You Abs In 4 Weeks" so that we can believe that reducing spots is not only possible, but easy.
But just like you can't lose fat just from your left triceps, you can't lose it just from your stomach either.
The loss of fat in the abdomen is associated with the overall loss of fat that is usually associated with changes in diet and exercise.
Why are we telling you this? Because the sooner you give up on what doesn't work, the sooner you can move on with what works.
Note: We exclude surgical and pharmaceutical treatments from our belly fat loss strategies. To date, these are the only reliable methods to "selectively reduce" fat from the stomach. Liposuction and body contouring can surgically remove fat from the abdomen, and hormone replacement therapy can change the distribution of fat throughout the body
Can You Lose Belly Fat Fast?
How fast you can lose belly fat depends on how fast you can lose fat all over your body.
To lose an inch of fat around your waist, our analysis of over 1,000 customers suggests that it takes about 4 to 5 pounds of weight loss.
With consistent effort, our customers have generally lost between 0.8 and 2 pounds a week.
That means that within a month or so of reasonably consistent changes in healthy habits, people can lose up to an inch of their waistline.
To learn more about how consistent you need to be to get results, read: What REALLY It Takes to Lose Fat, Get Healthy, and Change Your Body.
3. Eat a diet that focuses on minimally processed foods.
While there are no foods that magically shrink your tummy (celery juice, get out of here), highly processed, very tasty foods can easily ruin efforts to slim down.
They are just easy to overeat.
(Need More Convincing? Read: Manufactured Delicacy: Why You Can't Stop Overeating.)
Meanwhile, minimally processed foods – like lean proteins, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds – are more satisfying.
In particular, while coaching more than 100,000 clients, we've found that most people have an easier time losing fat when they consume:
- 1-2 fists of vegetables per meal, which means you can consume fewer calories
- 1-2 palms of appetite-regulating protein-rich foods (chicken, yogurt, tofu or eggs) per meal
- Mostly fiber-rich whole grains, fruits and legumes instead of refined foods
Certain amounts vary from person to person.
Now you're probably thinking, "This isn't that helpful, PN."
You're right, but we have a solution for that: our free nutrition calculator below. Hit the Get Started button, answer a few questions, and you'll instantly get the calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fats you need to reach your goals (along with a nutrition plan that shows you what to do).
How much should you eat Let's find out.
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If you want to know how to improve your food choices, check out this handy infographic, "What should I eat ?!" Our three step guide to choosing the best foods for your body.
Trans fats and belly fat
Trans fats, an ingredient commonly found in processed foods, can actually cause belly fat:
In one study, rats were given either a diet high in saturated fat or a diet high in trans fat. At eight weeks, high trans fat rats had significantly more visceral fat than high saturated fat rats. 18
(And the only reason we don't have a similar human study is because the negative health effects of trans fats are so undeniable that such a study would be unethical.19,20,21)
Trans fats are often listed as “partially hydrogenated oil” on ingredient labels and are found in many shelf-stable baked goods, crackers, and biscuits. So try to reduce or eliminate these foods.
4. Eat slowly until you are 80 percent full.
You might assume that people need a rigorous food tracking method to lose fat, but we just haven't found out.
This is especially true as they learn to listen and respond to their inner feelings of hunger and fullness, a skill known as inner appetite regulation.
By relaxing, eating slowly, and adjusting their thoughts, feelings, and physical senses, most people can make phenomenal progress.
This is really a ninja skill when it comes to weight management.
To learn how this habit can transform your relationship with food and your body, see: Slow Eating: The Challenge That Can Blow You Away.)
5. Find the movement that you like.
You can't burn belly fat with abdominal exercises or vibrating hip belts.
(Shakes fist on infomercials.)
And while you may have read that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to promote visceral fat loss 22, there is one important caveat:
Exercise only works if you do it consistently and over the long term. 23
In other words, doing some exercise until you fling won't flatten your stomach. Neither will be two. Or three. Or seven. Or fifteen.
It takes session after session after session – week after week, month after month – to see and maintain results.
So, if you love HIIT workouts more than ice cream, great. Go on.
However, if the idea of sprints and burpees makes you want to hide in your closet because of the idea of sprints and burpees, you know you have options – many, many, many options.
To lose belly fat, ideally, combine some form of strength training with some form of cardio.
But ultimately, you want to exercise in a way that is doable, pain-free, and enjoyable – because that is the exercise you will be doing on a regular basis.
Can Diet Supplements Reduce Belly Fat?
On a regular basis, a new supplement promises remarkable results.
But do any of them actually work?
Below we examine what research has to say about the effectiveness of five diet supplements that are widely advertised for fat loss:
|connection||Will it help||Results|
|Phosphatidylserine (PS)||Unlikely||PS has been suggested to help reduce stress and, with it, visceral fat. However, there is little support for PS decreasing either the stress response or belly fat|
|Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)||Unlikely||There is no reliable evidence that CLA helps with site-specific or overall weight loss.25|
|Green tea extract||Maybe, but minimally||There is some evidence that green tea extract improves weight loss.26 However, the support that it specifically targets belly fat is minimal and only in non-lean individuals.27|
|caffeine||Unlikely||There is moderate evidence that caffeine suppresses appetite, which leads to weight loss, and temporarily increases metabolism. However, weight loss is not specific to belly fat.28,29|
|Capsaicin||Unlikely||There is evidence that the capsaicin can temporarily increase the metabolic rate. However, this does not mean loss of belly fat. 28|
If you have just read this list and felt a huge disappointment, we do not blame you.
Through clever marketing campaigns and dramatic anecdotal success stories, we're constantly being sold on the miracle pill.
Unfortunately, it just doesn't exist.
The good news:
Now that you know this, you can stop wasting your money and empower yourself to practice the daily diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits that work.
6. Approach all of this with self-compassion rather than criticism.
Self-compassion is an attitude of generosity, honesty, and kindness to yourself. It helps you see yourself clearly and then take steps to help yourself.
But being nice to yourself to lose belly fat? Well it sounds like a lot of shit doesn't it?
It is not:
Research shows that self-compassion is linked to healthier eating and more consistent exercise habits30,31 – as well as lower rates of anxiety and depression, less perceived stress, and greater overall wellbeing.32,33,34
Conversely, self-criticism is linked to unhealthy eating habits and a higher rate of anxiety and depression.35,36
(Ok, good. Not hooey.)
What does self-compassion look like in practice?
There are three main elements:
Mindfulness: In this case, you are aware of what you are doing, thinking, feeling and experiencing, but you are not judging yourself for it.
Example: "I feel bad about my stomach. And I realize that I am also frustrated and impatient to change …"
Shared humanity: Realizing that you are not alone – that everyone will go through what you are dealing with at some point.
Example: "That's okay. So many people struggle with aspects of their appearance."
Self-goodness: Being generous and decent to yourself.
Example: “Take a deep breath. This body carried me through a lot. Maybe now I can do something small to take care of it. "
(For more compassionate strategies, see How Can I Deal With This NOW?)
Welcome to the journey
We've just shown you six ways to reduce belly fat.
But they're just the beginning.
A healthy body is the result of many habits that support all dimensions of your life. It includes your relationships, your mental wellbeing, your emotional health, your surroundings, and your spiritual life. At Precision Nutrition, we call this deep health. It's a whole-person approach that addresses all dimensions of life – not just the physical.
(To learn more about deep health, read: The Secret To Deep Health Coaching That Converts Short-Term Fitness Goals Into Life-Changing Results.)
You don't want to have torn abs, but you feel awful inside, right? That is why your deep health journey can result in changing your surroundings, exploring your values and identity, and receiving a lot of support from family, friends, doctors and maybe a coach (if you have access to this type of service) . .
Finally, you should know that there are some things about your body that you may not be able to change (thanks to aging, hormonal changes, and other life adventures).
So, while we encourage you to pursue your best body and life with all the enthusiasm you have … well, we will still like you if you choose not to change at all.
Click here to view the resources referenced in this article.
1. Karastergiou, Kalypso, Steven R. Smith, Andrew S. Greenberg, and Susan K. Fried. 2012. "Sex Differences in Human Adipose Tissues – The Biology of the Pear Shape." Biology of Sex Differences.
2. Björntorp, S. 1996. "The Android Woman – A Risky Condition." Journal of Internal Medicine 239 (2): 105-10.
3. Trayhurn, Paul. 2005. "Adipose Tissue in Obesity – An Inflammatory Problem." Endocrinology 146 (3): 1003-5.
4. Lee, Mi-Jeong, Yuanyuan Wu, and Susan K. Fried. 2013. "Heterogeneity of Adipose Tissue: Implication of Depot Differences in Adipose Tissue for Complications in Obesity." Molecular Aspects of Medicine 34 (1): 1–11.
5. Karpe, Fredrik, and Katherine E. Pinnick. 2014. "Upper and Lower Body Adipose Tissue Biology – Link to Whole Body Phenotypes." Nature Reviews. Endocrinology 11 (2): 90-100.
6. Nauli, Andromeda M., and Sahar Matin. 2019. "Why Do Men Accumulate Visceral Belly Fat?" Frontiers in Physiology 10 (December): 1486.
7. Ambikairajah, Ananthan, Erin Walsh, Hossein Tabatabaei-Jafari and Nicolas Cherbuin. 2019. "Changes in Fat Mass During Menopause: A Meta-Analysis." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 221 (5): 393–409.e50.
8th Sepe, Anna, Tamara Tchkonia, Thomas Thomou, Mauro Zamboni and James L. Kirkland. 2011. "Aging and Regional Differences in Fat Cell Precursors – A Mini-Review." Gerontology 57 (1): 66-75.
9. Drapeau, V., F. Therrien, D. Richard, and A. Tremblay. 2003. "Is Visceral Obesity a Physiological Adaptation to Stress?" Panminerva Medica 45 (3): 189-95.
10. Schleinitz, Dorit, Yvonne Böttcher, Matthias Blüher and Peter Kovacs. 2014. "The Genetics of Fat Distribution." Diabetologia 57 (7): 1276-86.
11. Loh, Nellie Y., Matt J. Neville, Kyriakoula Marinou, Sarah A. Hardcastle, Barbara A. Fielding, Emma L. Duncan, Mark I. McCarthy et al. 2015. "LRP5 regulates the fat distribution in the human body by modulating the biology of the fat precursors in a dose- and depot-specific manner." Cell Metabolism 21 (2): 262–73.
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13. Lean, M.E., T.S. Han and C.E. Morrison. 1995. "Waist circumference as a measure of the need for weight management." BMJ 311 (6998): 158-61.
14. Ross, Robert, Ian J. Neeland, Shizuya Yamashita, Iris Shai, Jaap Seidell, Paolo Magni, Raul D. Santos et al. 2020. "Waist Circumference as an Important Sign in Clinical Practice: A Consensus Statement by the IAS and ICCR Working Group on Visceral Obesity." Nature Reviews. Endocrinology 16 (3): 177-89.
15. Ntlholang, Ontefetse, Kevin McCarroll, Eamon Laird, Anne M. Molloy, Mary Ward, Helene McNulty, Leane Hoey et al. 2018. "The Relationship Between Obesity and Cognitive Functioning in a Large Resident Population: Data from the Trinity Ulster Department of Agriculture (TUDA) Age Cohort Study." The British Journal of Nutrition 120 (5): 517-27.
16. Alberti, K.G.M., Robert H. Eckel, Scott M. Grundy, Paul Z. Zimmet, James I. Cleeman, Karen A. Donato, Jean-Charles Fruchart et al. 2009. “Harmonization of Metabolic Syndrome: A Joint Interim Declaration by the Task Force of the International Diabetes Federation on Epidemiology and Prevention; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; American Heart Association; World Heart Federation; International Atherosclerosis Society; And the International Association for the Study of Obesity. "Circulation 120 (16): 1640-45.
17. Salpeter, S.R., J.M.E. Walsh, T.M. Ormiston, E. Greyber, N.S. Buckley and E.E. Saltpetre. 2006. "Meta-Analysis: Effect of Hormone Replacement Therapy on Components of Metabolic Syndrome in Postmenopausal Women." Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism 8 (5): 538-54.
18. Dorfman, Suzanne E., Didier Laurent, John S. Gounarides, Xue Li, Tara L. Mullarkey, Erik C. Rocheford, Farid Sari-Sarraf, Erica A. Hirsch, Thomas E. Hughes, and S. Renee Commerford. 2009. "Metabolic Implications of Dietary Trans Fats." Obesity 17 (6): 1200-1207.
19. Oteng, Antwi-Boasiako and Sander Kersten. 2020. "Mechanisms of Action of Trans Fatty Acids." Advances in Diet 11 (3): 697-708.
20. Souza, Russell J. de, Andrew Mente, Adriana Maroleanu, Adrian I. Cozma, Vanessa Ha, Teruko Kishibe, Elizabeth Uleryk et al. 2015. “Intake of saturated and trans-unsaturated fatty acids and the risk of mortality, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes of all causes: Systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.” BMJ 351 (August): h3978.
21. Dhaka, Vandana, Neelam Gulia, Kulveer Singh Ahlawat and Bhupender Singh Khatkar. 2011. "Trans Fat Sources, Health Risks, and Alternative Approach – A Review." Journal of Food Science and Technology 48 (5): 534–41.
22. Dupuit, Marine, Florie Maillard, Bruno Pereira, Marcelo Luis Marquezi, Antonio Herbert Lancha Jr. and Nathalie Boisseau. 2020. "Influence of high-intensity interval training on body composition in women before and after menopause: A meta-analysis." Experimental Physiology 105 (9): 1470–90.
23. Wu, T., X. Gao, M. Chen, and R. M. van Dam. 2009. "Long-Term Effectiveness of Diet Plus Exercise Interventions Compared to Diet-Only Interventions for Weight Loss: A Meta-Analysis." Obesity Reviews.
24. Kingsley, Michael I, Daniel Wadsworth, Liam P. Kilduff, Jane McEneny, and David Benton. 2005. "Effects of Phosphatidylserine on Oxidative Stress After Intermittent Running." Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise 37 (8): 1300–1306.
25. Gaullier, Jean-Michel, Johan Halse, Hans Olav Høivik, Kjetil Høye, Christian Syvertsen, Minna Nurminiemi, Cecilie Hassfeld, Alexandra Einehand, Marianne O & # 39; Shea and Ola Gudmundsen. 2007. “A six-month supplementation with conjugated linoleic acid leads to a regional decrease in fat mass in overweight and obese.” The British Journal of Nutrition 97 (3): 550–60.
26. Hsu, Chung-Hua, Tung-Hu Tsai, Yung-Hsi Kao, Kung-Chang Hwang, Ting-Yu Tseng, and Pesus Chou. 2008. "Effect of Green Tea Extract on Obese Women: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial." Clinical Nutrition 27 (3): 363–70.
27. Chen, I-Ju, Chia-Yu Liu, Jung-Peng Chiu, and Chung-Hua Hsu. 2016. "Therapeutic Effects of High Dose Green Tea Extract on Weight Loss: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial." Clinical Nutrition 35 (3): 592-99.
28. Watanabe, Mikiko, Renata Risi, Davide Masi, Alessandra Caputi, Angela Balena, Giovanni Rossini, Dario Tuccinardi et al. 2020. "Current Evidence to Propose Various Diet Supplements for Weight Loss: A Comprehensive Review." Nutrients 12 (9).
29. Tabrizi, Reza, Parvane Saneei, Kamran B. Lankarani, Maryam Akbari, Fariba Kolahdooz, Ahmad Esmaillzadeh, Somayyeh Nadi-Ravandi, Majid Mazoochi and Zatollah Asemi. 2019. "The Effects of Caffeine Intake on Weight Loss: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials." Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 59 (16): 2688-96.
30. Dunne, Sara, David Sheffield, and Joseph Chilcot. 2018. "Executive Summary: Self-Compassion, Physical Health, and the Mediating Role of Health Enhancing Behaviors." Journal of Health Psychology 23 (7): 993-99.
31. Sirois, Fuschia M., Ryan Kitner, and Jameson K. Hirsch. 2015. “Self-Compassion, Affect, and Healthy Behavior.” Health Psychology: Department of Health Psychology Official Journal, American Psychological Association 34 (6): 661-69.
32. Allen, Ashley Batts, and Mark R. Leary. 2010. "Self-Compassion, Stress, and Coping." Compass for Social and Personality Psychology 4 (2): 107–18.
33. Neff, Kristin D., Kristin L. Kirkpatrick, and Stephanie S. Rude. 2007. "Self-Compassion and Adaptive Psychological Functioning." Journal of Research in Personality 41 (1): 139-54.
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