16 Effective & Proven Ways to Lose Belly Fat

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated - Medically reviewed by Tamanna Sayed (B.Sc. Applied Nutrition)

As we start to get older, it’s harder to stay in shape, particularly around our belly. Various reasons can contribute to this phenomenon, right from slowing metabolism, increasing stress levels to an eventual loss of muscles. However, it’s not impossible to lose belly fat!

We bring you evidence-based ways to lose belly fat that include eliminating fast food, getting regular sleep, staying active, combining workout styles, practicing yoga, and adding foods rich in polyunsaturated fats, vinegar, almonds, beans, cucumbers, avocados, green tea, and dietary fiber. But first, let’s find out what belly fat is.

What is Belly Fat?

Belly fat is slightly different than other fat deposits on the body and is often called visceral fat. Visceral fat is considered the most dangerous form of fat in the body because it is in such close proximity to our vital organs. It is located beneath the abdominal muscles and the subcutaneous layer of fat, making it difficult to see and even harder to get rid of! These larger fat cells release hormones and chemicals that can be dangerous in many ways, leading to an increased risk of various diseases and metabolic imbalances. Visceral fat has been linked with an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.

According to a Harvard Medical Report, as women age, their proportion of fat to the bodyweight tends to go up much more compared to men and even if they may not gain weight, their waistline could grow by inches due to the visceral fat that pushes out against the abdominal wall. In women, visceral fat is associated with breast cancer and gallstones. [1]

A fit woman showing flat tummy and one hand covered with wrestling glove

It takes discipline to get washboard abs! Photo Credit: Shutterstock

You may be more prone to health problems associated with this kind of belly fat if:

  • Your wait measures more than 40 inches if you are a woman.
  • Your waist measures more than 35 inches if you are a man.

Ways to Lose Belly Fat

There have been many quick fixes and fads that have promised the rapid loss of belly fat, but many of them are only a temporary or superficial fix. Here are some of the best ways to lose belly fat.

Eliminate Fast Food

It may be quick and easy to pick up a delicious cheeseburger when you’re running late and have skipped lunch, but it can be a disaster for your diet and belly fat-burning plans. The amount of saturated fats, grease, and unwanted triglycerides found in fast food is precisely what you don’t want if you’re trying to burn visceral fat, so while it might be hard, cutting out fast food has to be near the top of your list. According to the experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine, if you want to lower fat intake, it is best to avoid fast foods and instead, include low-fat dairy products, lean cuts of meat and poultry, and ‘good’ fats like olive oil. Restrict foods that are high in saturated fats in your diet. These include foods of the animal origin (dairy and red meat), cooking oils such as coconut and palm oil, packaged snacks and desserts, fructose-sweetened foods and beverages, processed foods and bakery products. While purchasing any packaged food, read the nutrition labels carefully for the presence of total fat, trans fats and saturated fat present in it. [2] [3]

Eat Cucumbers

This is a very low-calorie food with high nutritional value; packed with dietary fiber, minerals, and essential vitamins, cucumbers can fill you up and optimize your metabolism, helping to speed up weight loss without contributing any unwanted fats to the body. [4]

Consume Polyunsaturated Fats

Eating the right kinds of fats is crucial if you want to cut down on your belly fat. Some fats will only contribute more to visceral fat, such as saturated fats. Lead author Lucinda Summers from the Oxford Centre for Diabetes says in her research report, if you add polyunsaturated fats, like those found in nuts and certain types of fish, you can benefit from their anti-inflammatory potential and help to reduce your visceral fat levels. [5]

Do Yoga

Studies have shown that post-natal and post-menopausal women have seen significant reductions in visceral fat stores when adding yoga to their workout and health regimens. Yoga is a wonderful way to reduce stress and eliminate excess stress hormones from your body, namely cortisol. Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, an eminent psychologist from The Ohio State University [6], carried out a study in which she found yoga fastened an individual’s physiological recovery. Furthermore, it also stated that there’s a direct link between chronic stress, cortisol levels, and belly fat. Thus it is important to clear your mind, calm down, and keep that visceral fat at bay! [7]

Group of young people practising yoga

Yoga is a wonderful way to reduce stress. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Keep Moving

A sedentary lifestyle is highly associated with visceral fat, not only because it usually means a lack of physical exercise, but also because it’s associated with lower metabolic levels, higher intake of unhealthy food, and psychological effects such as stress, anxiety, and guilt. This is according to a research paper published in the Obesity journal. Exercise not only prevents but also helps to reduce the build-up of belly fat besides keeping your physical and mental energy high.

As per a study published in BMC Public Health [8], weight loss of about 6-7 % with diet or with diet and exercise resulted in a reduction of both – the subcutaneous and intraabdominal fat.

Incorporate the following changes to keep those stubborn bulges at bay:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Standing up while working at a desk often at intervals.
  • Park your vehicle at a distance from your destination.
  • Include a 30- minute brisk walk six days a week.
  • Strength training (working out with weights) may also help fight against abdominal fat.
  • Spot exercising such as doing sit-ups can tighten the abdominal muscles.

Opt for steady-state exercises such as cycling, running, or uphill hiking as it plays a crucial role in losing belly fat by burning through your fat stores. It is true that such exercises tend to utilize your glycogen stores for energy first, so you need to do them for a longer period to use up all that stores before it starts digging in your fat reserves. [9]

Few exercises which women can consider to lose belly fat include: [10]

  • Cardiovascular exercises such as walking, running or riding a stationary bicycle. Whatever you choose, be consistent! Aim for 30- 40 minutes a session.
  • Jumping jacks, another great cardiovascular exercise that works on almost every muscle of your body. It yields good results if performed at high intensity. Aim for 20 jumping jacks at least three times a week.
  • HIIT, also known as High-Intensity Interval Training, consists of short bouts of exercises performed with an all-out effort followed by the same exercises as lower intensity. For example, walk at a normal place then alternate between walking and sprinting for one minute throughout the workout.
  • Opt for strength training at a local gym or fitness center. Perform a variety of simple exercises using 5 or 8-pound dumbells to tone muscles and help you lose weight faster. For example, Bicep curls, lunges, and squats, to name a few. Aim for 12 repetitions.
  • Planks will not only help in toning the entire body but will also target belly fat. Begin in a push-up position with your knees and draw your belly inwards towards your spine keeping the back straight. Hold the position for 30 seconds and then gradually do it for a longer time as your stamina increases.

A sedentary lifestyle is highly associated with visceral fat, not only because it usually means a lack of physical exercise, but also because it’s associated with lower metabolic levels, higher intake of unhealthy food, and psychological effects such as stress, anxiety, and guilt. This is according to a research paper published in the Obesity journal. By staying active as much as possible (taking the stairs instead of the elevator, standing up while working, or taking a bike to work), you can keep your physical and mental energy high, preventing the development of belly fat. [11]

Regulate Your Sleep

Research has shown that regulating your sleep scheduled and ensuring that you get more than 5-6 hours per night of sleep can help you reduce your visceral fat stores. However, if you turn around and sleep in two days a week (Saturday and Sunday?), it can add to your visceral fat. According to the Oxford Academic’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, there is a strong independent association between sleep apnea, visceral obesity, insulin resistance, and hypercytokinemia, which may further lead to health complications. Essentially, make a firm sleep schedule, but don’t let your body get too lazy on your days off. Regularity in your Circadian rhythms and metabolic cycles will help keep belly fat in check. [12]

Eat Almonds

Perhaps the best nut to consume if you’re trying to burn belly fat, almonds are full of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are the good kind that we want, and which help to eliminate visceral fat through anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-balancing activities. Also, these nuts have high concentrations of fiber and magnesium, which help build muscle and burn fat. Recent research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that a daily snack of about 1.5 ounces almonds, when eaten as a part of an overall healthy diet not only improved a number of heart disease risk factors but also reduced central adiposity (belly fat). [13] [14]

Combine Workout Styles

While many people think that cardiovascular workouts are the best possible way to burn belly fat, combining your workout styles is a better way to quickly lose belly fat. When you do weight training in between cardio exercising, that high-intensity exercise can cause your metabolism to shoot up, burning more fat more quickly. Alternating workout styles and physical demands on your body can keep your metabolism “on its toes”, operating at a high level, even burning fat when you’re not working out! [15]

Green Tea

Enjoy the evening cup of green tea with a pinch of cinnamon powder that accelerates the body’s metabolism and helps in weight loss. Several studies have shown the beneficial effects of green tea against many diseases. The most common mechanisms through which green tea may prove to be helpful in weight loss include activation of enzymes that suppress the expression of factors involved in lipogenesis and adipogenesis and stimulates those enzymes that are involved in lipolysis i.e. breakdown of fat. However, more human studies are warranted to understand the beneficial anti-obesity effects of green tea and green tea catechins( GTCs). [16]

Consume Avocados

The high fiber content of avocados keeps you full and cuts down on hunger pangs, while the concentration of certain key amino acids can help to optimize body weight and burn unnecessary belly fat. Additionally, avocados are rich in MUFA that also help offer protection against belly fat accumulation and other ailments. [17] [18]

Use Vinegar in your Diet

It might not sound pleasant, but anecdotal evidence says that vinegar can be an effective means of burning belly fat. Drinking a dollop of vinegar can reduce visceral fat, and while the research on this is somewhat limited, it is believed that the acids in vinegar stimulate the production of certain proteins that burn visceral fat. [19]

High Dietary Fiber Intake

Any foods with high concentrations of dietary fiber can help to reduce inflammation throughout the body, balance cholesterol levels, regulate your digestive system, and optimize your nutrient intake, all of which can help improve the metabolism and burn more belly fat. [20]

Cut Out Starch

Starch is a major source of empty calories that can easily be converted into visceral fat. If you’re a big potato eater, put those spuds to the side if you’re trying to burn belly fat. Grab a handful of nuts or leafy greens instead! [21]

Eat Smaller Meals, Slowly & At Regular Intervals

There is enough information on the internet on what and how to eat if you want to burn belly fat, but one that makes sense is the slower and smaller principle. By eating smaller meal portions, and consuming them slowly, you will allow your body time to process what is being ingested before releasing those enzymes that tell the body it’s “full”. Also, smaller portions allow you to eat more meals per day, which keeps your metabolism and digestive system active and engaged for longer, which is great for burning belly fat! [22]

Push Yourself Physically

Pushing yourself past the normal “threshold” is a great way to burn belly fat. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and other authorities, adults should undertake almost two and a half hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week to maintain good health. If you regularly work out, but hardly break a sweat and don’t feel “challenged”, then your body probably won’t respond by gearing up its metabolism and burning those visceral fat cells. However, surprising your body with varied workout styles and intensities, beyond what you normally do, can kick-start your system very quickly. [23] [24]

Disrupt your Diet

Eating the same types of food at the same time of day can cause your body to fall into an unwanted rhythm. Occasionally, you need to stretch your stomach a bit, so to speak, consuming different foods, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, organic compounds, etc. to keep your metabolism flexible and your system dynamic and responsive. That doesn’t mean chowing down on hamburgers as a “cheat day”, but it does mean broadening your culinary horizons! [25]

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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