This is your no-nonsense guide to getting rid of stubborn belly fat.
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:
1. 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.
2. 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)
Protein not only helps you lose the weight, it decreases your chances of gaining it back. (17, 18)
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.
3. 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.
Water weight flushed almost immediately on low-carb diets can help with motivation, and this approach also targets belly fat. (25, 26)
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)
4. 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.
Viscous fibers bind water and form a gel that sits in the gut, slowing digestion all the way through the system and making you feel full longer. (28, 29)
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.
Related: 19 foods high in fiber
5. Exercise Aerobically
Everyone knows exercise is important for good health, but when it comes to losing belly fat, aerobic exercise has proven particularly helpful. (32, 33)
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)
6. Eat Less Trans Fat
Trans fats are created by pumping hydrogen into unsaturated fats. They are not found in nature and are typically only a problem when you consume processed foods. Usually, they are found in things like margarine and spreads.
Many producers have stopped using these fats because they are linked to a huge variety of health problems. They have been connected with heart disease, insulin resistance, abdominal fat gain, and inflammation (38, 39, 40).
Because trans fats have been associated with abdominal fat gain, they might be the reason that you still have your stubborn belly fat. A study on monkeys found that though who ate a high trans-fat diet had 33% more abdominal fat than those who ate monosaturated fat (41). While this study was done on monkeys, it took place over a 6-year period and likely shows a process that would be common amongst humans as well.
Your best bet to avoiding this substance is to read ingredient labels for everything you purchase. They are often listed as partially hydrogenated fats, so keep an eye out for them as well. Even a little bit can be harmful, so try to avoid them completely if possible. Select more natural, unprocessed products like real butter instead of spreads.
7. Avoid Alcohol
In small amounts, alcohol is completely harmless and might even have some health benefits. However, drinking too much of it has been linked to gaining belly fat.
Some studies have found that those who are heavy drinkers are much more likely to develop obesity, with fat storage taking place particularly around their waist. This was an observational study, so they compared people’s drinking habits with their current weight (42).
If you’re having difficulty getting rid of your belly fat, it may be because of your alcohol consumption. Lowering your intake will help lower your caloric intake and avoid the connection between belly fat and alcohol.
So how much is too much? One study looked at the alcohol consumption of more than 2,000 people and their weight. They found that those who drank less than one drink a day had less belly fat than those who drank more frequently (43). If you want to lose your stubborn belly fat, you may want to stay below one drink a day.
8. Reduce Your Stress
We all have stress in our lives, but too much stress can cause all sorts of health problems, including weight gain. When you are stressed, your adrenal glands produce cortisol. This makes your cells hold onto their fat – just in case you need it later.
High cortisol levels have been linked to increased hunger and abdominal fat storage by multiple studies (44, 45). Furthermore, another study found that women who had significant abdominal fat stores were more likely to produce higher amounts of cortisol when stressed (46).
You may want to look into stress-regulating practices like yoga and mindfulness while you work on losing your belly fat. This will not only lower your cortisol levels but also make your life more enjoyable overall.
9. Consider Your Cooking Oil Carefully
Not all cooking oils are made equally. Many processed vegetable oils contain tons of omega-6s, which are linked to a variety of health problems. Instead, you want to consume plenty of omega-3s, which are usually found in animal sources.
There are a few vegetable oils that are good choices, though, like coconut oil. In fact, coconut oil is one of the healthiest oils you can choose. It is made of medium-chain fats, which may boost your metabolism and decrease the amount of fat your body stores. Some studies have even shown that it can reduce your abdominal fat stores (47, 48, 49).
However, that does not mean you should add extra fat to your diet by eating coconut oil – or any healthy oil for that matter. Instead, replace the unhealthy, processed oils you’re using with a healthier option. Remember, these oils still contain calories, so use them sparingly.
10. Don’t Drink Your Calories
In today’s modern world, beverages high in calories and sugar are common. These liquids do not fill you up the way food does, which can cause you to consume tons of extra calories that you wouldn’t otherwise (53).
Sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and juices are the worst offenders since they are loaded with carbohydrates and sugars. Studies have shown that these drinks increase the amount of fat in your liver. One study even found a significant abdominal fat gain in those who consumed high fructose beverages over just a 10-week period (50, 51, 52).
Furthermore, these sugary beverages are linked with a variety of other health problems as well. It is in your best interest to skip them altogether and drink water instead. If you feel you must add flavor to your drinks, there are plenty of flavored water recipes you can try.
11. Keep Track of Your Diet
People are actually very bad at figuring out how many calories they’ve eaten. The large majority of people will say they’ve eaten less than they really have, which can obviously complicate weight loss. The easiest way around this problem is to track your diet and consume fewer calories than your body needs (53).
Many studies have emphasized the importance of tracking your diet – whether it is through an app or a food diary. Not only does this allow you to stay on top of your calorie consumption, but it also helps you ensure that you are eating a balanced diet (55).
12. Get Enough Sleep
Sadly, most people in today’s world do not get enough sleep, which is essential to your health. Sleep affects all sorts of different things, including weight.
Studies have found that those who don’t get enough sleep are usually heavier than those who do (56). One particular study followed more than 68,000 women over a 16-year period. Those who sleep for less than 5 hours per night were significantly more likely to be overweight than those who slept 7 or more hours per night (57).
To enjoy the maximum amount of weight loss, you should make sure you sleep at least 7 hours a night. The amount of sleep you need depends on genetics and the quality of your sleep, so feel free to adjust the length of time you’re in bed until you find a suitable number of hours for you.
13. Avoid Fruit Juices
Many people believe fruit juices are healthy because they provide vitamin and minerals. However, these sugary beverages are just as bad as sodas in most cases. Drinking large amounts of fruit juice has been linked to significant weight gain (58).
You should preferably drink water. Flavoring your water with fruit is completely acceptable – just don’t sweeten it.
14. Eat Fish
Fish are a great addition to any diet, especially those that are fatty. They are rich in high-quality protein and have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which are extremely good for you (59).
Fatty fish is also great for reducing fatty liver disease and reducing abdominal fat (60, 61).
You really can’t eat too much fish, but you should aim for at least 3 servings a week. If you like fish, feel free to eat it regularly though.
15. Try Intermittent Fasting
In recent years, intermittent fasting has grown in popularity. Basically, this is where you spend significant amount of time not eating. Usually, participants will fast for a 24-hour period once a week. Sometimes, intermittent fasting includes eating all your food for the day within one window of time. Other times, it consists of avoiding foods for a certain period each day.
There is some evidence that intermittent fasting works. One review looked at a variety of different studies and found that intermittent fasting reduced participant’s abdominal fat by about 4-7% within 6-24 weeks (62).
16. Get Plenty of Probiotics
Probiotics are the “good bacteria” in your gut that help you break down the foods you eat. They are found in some foods, like yogurt, but you can also take probiotic supplements. There are many different health benefits to taking probiotics, including improved gut health and immune function (63).
Bacteria can also play a role in weight regulation. If you are lacking in some important gut bacteria, you may find that you gain weight more easily. The right balance is necessary if you want to lose belly fat.
Specifically, the bacteria in the Lactobacillus family are associated with a reduction in belly fat according to many different studies (64).
Luckily, you can easily get probiotics from a variety of foods. Kefir, a yogurt drink, is one of the best sources, but anything that has been fermented, like yogurt, should be full of probiotics as well. Alternatively, you could take a probiotic supplement. Just ensure it includes the Lactobacillus family.
Related: 20 top probiotic foods
17. Try Apple Cider Vinegar
Surprisingly, apple cider vinegar is associated with a large number of health benefits. It can low blood sugar levels and has been associated with a reduction in abdominal fat in a variety of studies (65, 66).
One study done on humans followed men over a 12-week period. They found that those who took 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar a day lost half an inch around their waists (67). This level of apple cider vinegar intake appears to be safe and may produce moderate weight loss. It is unknown whether or not is specifically targets abdominal fat.
With that said, apple cider vinegar can erode the enamel on your teeth. It is essential to dilute it when you drink it. Typically this can be done in a glass of water, though technically, it doesn’t really matter what you dilute it in.
18. Drink Green Tea
There are tons of benefits of green tea. It contains caffeine as well as the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate, which has been shown to improve metabolism (68).
You can drink green tea every day or pick up a green tea supplement, which is just a concentrated version of the tea. The effect of green tea might be strengthened when used alongside exercise, so be sure to exercise plenty as well (69).
19. Try Lifting Weights
Resistance training is important for gaining and preserving muscle mass. When you lose weight, there is a risk that you might lose muscle mass as well. For this reason alone, you should lift weights any time you plan on losing weight to preserve your muscle mass.
It is also possible that resistance training might be beneficial for losing belly fat. Many of these studies were done on those with prediabetes or fatty liver disease, but it is likely that their findings fit the general population as well (70).
Plus, this sort of training does burn calories, which is exactly what you want to do when you’re trying to burn fat.
This type of training may be even more helpful when combined with aerobic training, which we discussed previously in this article. One study found that teenagers that were overweight lost the most body fat when they did both strength training and aerobic exercise (71).
20. Drink Water
Drinking water can help you lose weight, including your belly fat.
Studies have shown that drinking water can boost your metabolism by about 24 to 30 percent over a 1-1.5 hour period. This helps you burn more calories (72).
Furthermore, drinking water can also make you feel fuller, which reduces the chance that you’ll consume more calories than you need. Those who drank 17 ounces of water half an hour before meals ate significantly less food and lost 44% more weight than those who didn’t drink the water (73).
21. Eat Eggs for Breakfast
Those who eat eggs for breakfast eat fewer calories over the next 36 hours than those who eat a grain-based breakfast instead. This leads to more body fat lose overtime (74).
This is likely because eggs are high in protein, which will keep you fuller for longer. If you don’t like eggs, choose something else to eat for breakfast that is significantly high in protein.
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 the 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.