Being overweight isn’t always an indication of poor health, but carrying significant amounts of excess abdominal fat raises the risk of developing serious disorders like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. (1)
It’s possible to pack around a few extra pounds without negatively impacting overall health (2); there are also people of normal weight who have the type of metabolic problems usually associated with obesity. (3)
Central or abdominal obesity is defined as having a waist measurement larger than 40 inches for men (102 centimeters) or 35 inches for women (88 centimeters). (4)
Simply wrapping a tape measure around the waist won’t provide the definitive answer to whether or not a person is carrying dangerous amounts of belly fat, but it’s a starting point; obviously large-framed individuals or those with more muscle can have a larger midsection and still be healthy.
If you’re overweight and carrying extra around the middle, check out these strategies for trimming belly fat:
- Eliminate Sugar
Eating added sugar is a fast and efficient way to damage metabolic health. (5)
Table sugar is half fructose and half glucose; the glucose can be utilized by any cell in the body, but fructose is different. The liver is the only organ capable of metabolizing significant amounts of fructose (6), and overloading it with fructose is a recipe for fat production and storage. (7)
Studies show the fat resulting from excess fructose in the diet tends to accumulate around the waist. (8)
High levels of belly fat and liver fat can lead to a range of metabolic health problems, including insulin resistance. (9)
Liquid sugar in the form of sweetened drinks is the worst. Calories ingested in liquid aren’t perceived by the brain in the same way as calories from solid foods, and this usually leads to greater total calorie intake. (10, 11)
One study showed that children allowed to consume sweetened drinks were 60% more likely to become obese. (12)
Sugary soft drinks aren’t the only problem; drinking sweetened coffee or tea will have the same effect, and fruit juice, sports drinks or any sweet liquid can be problematic.
There’s no need to stop eating whole fruit; the fiber slows down assimilation of sugar, but dropping sweet drinks and cutting sugar consumption will make a world of difference in your waistline.
- Get Plenty of Protein
Including adequate and even generous amounts of protein in your diet is the most effective way to lose weight. (13)
Studies show eating protein helps reduce cravings by more than half, leading to an average reduction of calorie intake amounting to 441 calories. It can also boost metabolism so you’ll burn up to a hundred more calories each day. (14, 15, 16)
People who consume plenty of good quality protein tend to have less fat around the belly. (19)
A European trial spanning five years indicated eating animal protein is especially effective for keeping abdominal fat levels low. This study also showed using refined vegetable oils and carbohydrates led to greater amounts of belly fat, while vegetable and fruit consumption resulted in lower amounts. (20)
Studies tracking protein’s effects on weight loss show best results when subjects take between 25% and 30% calories from protein-rich foods, so it’s smart to include unprocessed fish, seafood, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products in your weight loss plan.
- Restrict Carbohydrates
Numerous studies show cutting carbs results in lower appetite and effective weight loss. (21)
When data from more than 20 randomized, controlled trials was analyzed, the consensus was clear: people following a low-carb diet lose twice to three times the weight as people eating low-fat diets. (22, 23, 24)
Low-carb dieters lose weight even when they eat as much as they want, while low-fat dieters often experience hunger and cravings.
In most cases, eliminating refined carbohydrates such as those found in baked goods and pasta makes a huge difference. If you want to drop weight super-fast, trim carb count to 50 grams daily; this puts your body in a state of ketosis so it burns mostly fat for fuel. Appetite drops as well.
Low-carb diets have a range of other beneficial health effects as well. (27)
- Eat Fiber-Rich Foods
Dietary fiber has long been associated with weight loss, but it’s important to note some types of fiber can be more effective in reducing belly fat than others.
One study showed subjects getting 14 grams more fiber daily lost nearly five pounds over a four-month period with no other changes to dietary habits. (30)
Another study conducted over five years indicated getting 10 grams of soluble fiber a day allowed participants to cut belly fat by nearly 4%. (31)
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to increase fiber content in your diet, as well as plant foods like legumes; oats are a high-fiber grain you can also include.
- Exercise Aerobically
Don’t waste energy doing abdominal crunches; a six-week study tracked changes in abdominal fat and waist circumference when subjects targeted abs with intense training. There was no difference in size or fat deposits. (34, 35)
If you’re not a runner, try brisk walking; you can also swim, bike, hike, or use cardio machines. Find something you enjoy that elevates your heart rate and do it regularly. Continuing to exercise after you’ve lost the weight will also help prevent regaining it. (36)
The benefits of exercise extend to other aspects of overall health; your risk of developing metabolic disorders drops dramatically when you exercise consistently. (37)
The Bottom Line
We all know what we put into our mouths is important, and one of the most common reasons why people don’t lose weight is they’re not being realistic about what they’re eating.
It’s easy to miscalculate portions or even forget exactly what we ate, and some people find record-keeping helpful when they get serious about weight loss. It’s not necessary to sentence yourself to a lifetime of detailed journaling, but it can be an effective tool if you’re feeling stuck or frustrated.
This can be especially helpful in keeping protein intake at 25% to 30% of calories, as well as making certain fiber intake is in recommended ranges.
Summary: Get rid of belly fat by eliminating sugar, cutting carbs, eating plenty of fiber and protein, and moving your body; not only will you like what you see in the mirror, but your overall health will improve drastically.