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Losing belly fat is a common weight-loss goal. Where you carry fat is more important than how much fat you carry. Visceral fat, also called abdominal fat or organ fat, is metabolically active, has a more direct connection to the liver, and is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, abnormal lipids, insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes.1,2 Subcutaneous fat is fat located under the skin. It is more visible but less harmful to your health.
Hormones and genetic predisposition play a large role in determining where you store fat. Premenopausal women typically store fat in their buttocks and upper legs. An increase in abdominal fat is more common in men and postmenopausal women when androgens dominate.
Measuring your waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio can give you data to track as you work on losing belly fat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, a healthy waist circumference is less than 40 inches for men and less than 35 inches for non-pregnant women.
The World Health Organization classifies the waist-to-hip ratio as follows:
It is not possible to lose weight in specific regions of your body. However, working on losing excess pounds will reduce belly fat. It will also improve your cardiovascular health, boost your mood, give you more energy, and increase the chance that you will live a longer, healthier life.
Here are some steps you can take to make slight changes in your daily life that will pay off with better health and lower belly fat.
Triggers are environmental factors or emotional states that trigger eating. Easily accessible food, especially high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, can be hard to resist. For example, suppose you store your snack food on your kitchen counter. Every time you walk by, you are tempted to grab a handful of chips as a snack. Unfortunately, most people have no idea how many calories are found in these drive-by snacks.
Another environmental trigger may be smell. Imagine you have resisted mindless eating all day, and your partner makes a big bowl of buttery popcorn to snack on while watching television.
Emotions can also be triggers. Many people snack more than usual when they are tired and stressed. Have you ever had an upsetting phone call or conversation and then started eating? By the time you have processed the conversation and calmed down, you may have eaten an entire bag of chips or a half-gallon of ice cream.
Identify your triggers and try to set yourself up for success. Put healthy foods in more accessible locations. Develop a plan in advance for how to manage stress. Maybe go for a walk or watch a short video instead of eating.
High-calorie, highly palatable processed foods taste delicious and are hard to resist. About 60% of the calories in an average American diet come from highly processed foods.3 Ultra-processed foods are manufactured from substances derived from foods. Additives are used to improve the color, texture, taste, and smell. Processing foods remove fiber (which helps you feel full and keeps your gut working well) and vitamins and nutrients.
Look for these clues that foods are highly processed:
Your body is about 60% water. Every chemical process in your body, including the ones that metabolize your food, needs water. An adult male needs about 3 liters of water per day to survive. Drinking plenty of water helps metabolize fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It also decreases appetite.4
Many people choose to get their fluids from sugary drinks. Sugary drinks are high in calories. They lack fiber and vitamins. Drinks without healthy sources of fat, fiber, or protein will leave you hungry and may increase your likelihood of choosing unhealthy, high-calorie foods to pair with that sugary drink.5
Many people hear the word exercise and automatically paint a picture in their mind of sweating in a gym, followed by muscle pain for the next several days. Physical activity is the walking, lifting, and moving that occurs throughout the day. It is choosing to pace while on a phone call, walking stairs instead of using an elevator, and lifting light weights while watching a show. Physical activity throughout the day improves cardiovascular health, tones muscles, and improves balance.
Try setting an alarm or reminder to ensure you get up and move around throughout the day. Look for ways you can add steps or short bursts of activity.
Read More: 7 Ways to Lose Weight Without Cardio
While adding physical activity is a great first step, try to take your physical activity a step further by choosing exercises you enjoy and making them part of your weekly schedule.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines jointly recommend the following:
Researchers have found that 300 minutes or more of weekly exercise is best when trying to lose fat.6
Vitamin D helps regulate insulin release, increase insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation whether you get your vitamin D by spending 20 minutes in the sun twice a week, consuming it in your diet, or taking supplements.
Vitamin D deficiency is common, especially in people who live further from the equator. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, people with a higher body fat percentage are more likely to be vitamin D deficient. The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults aged 19 to 70 get 600 IU of vitamin D daily, with an upper limit of 4,000 IU. The Endocrine Society recommends 1,500 to 2,000 IU for adults 19 and older.7
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Vitamin D
Both insoluble and viscous fiber have health benefits. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and helps your gastrointestinal tract work more efficiently. Viscous fiber can help with blood pressure and blood sugar control. It can also increase satiety, which means you stay full longer.2
Great sources of fiber:
Alcohol has empty calories, which is not a plus when trying to cut belly fat. In addition, research is inconsistent on whether light-to-moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.8 If you are drinking more than two units of alcohol per day, try cutting back to reduce your belly fat and for overall health benefits.
Chronic stress increases cortisol release, which can increase appetite and therefore increase belly fat. Each time cortisol is released, your body prepares for a threat by secreting glucose into your bloodstream and increasing adrenaline release. This response is commonly called the fight-or-flight reaction.9
Once the threat is over, your blood sugar drops, which triggers hunger to replenish blood glucose. Cravings for sugar increase to supply your body with the energy it needs. Unfortunately, modern sources of stress do not burn many calories, so excess sugar is stored as glycogen in muscle and the liver and then as fat.
There are many healthy diet plans available. Choose one that emphasizes consuming:
Plan your diet, so cravings or triggers do not tempt you. Avoid impulse food choices like fast-food high in calories and unhealthy fats.
Consider using an application to track your calories and macronutrients throughout the day. Many people are surprised by how many calories they consume. Also, consider weighing your food portions until you feel comfortable eyeballing a portion size.
Getting enough sleep is essential for maintaining and losing weight. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body responds by releasing cortisol. Cortisol increases hunger and blood glucose, which contributes to weight gain. In addition, sleep conditions, such as sleep apnea, stress the body and can also cause weight gain. Finally, sleep deprivation increases the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreases the satiety hormone leptin, which increases appetite.
Aim for 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night.
There is no simple way to lose belly fat. Your body has complex endocrine pathways to regulate your energy resources and defend your weight. However, lifestyle changes that improve your overall health will help reduce belly fat. Be sure to track your progress using tools other than a scale alone. People commonly notice that their clothes fit better, and they have more energy long before they notice significant weight loss.
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While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
1. Patel P, Abate N. Body fat distribution and insulin resistance. Nutrients. Jun 5 2013;5(6):2019-27. doi:10.3390/nu5062019
2. Hairston KG, Vitolins MZ, Norris JM, Anderson AM, Hanley AJ, Wagenknecht LE. Lifestyle factors and 5-year abdominal fat accumulation in a minority cohort: the IRAS Family Study. Obesity (Silver Spring). Feb 2012;20(2):421-7. doi:10.1038/oby.2011.171
3. Baraldi LG, Martinez Steele E, Canella DS, Monteiro CA. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and associated sociodemographic factors in the USA between 2007 and 2012: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. 2018;8(3):e020574. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020574
4. An R, McCaffrey J. Plain water consumption in relation to energy intake and diet quality among U.S. adults, 2005–2012. https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12368. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016/10/01 2016;29(5):624-632. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12368
5. Collison KS, Zaidi MZ, Subhani SN, Al-Rubeaan K, Shoukri M, Al-Mohanna FA. Sugar-sweetened carbonated beverage consumption correlates with BMI, waist circumference, and poor dietary choices in school children. BMC Public Health. 2010/05/09 2010;10(1):234. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-234
6. Friedenreich CM, Neilson HK, O’Reilly R, et al. Effects of a High vs Moderate Volume of Aerobic Exercise on Adiposity Outcomes in Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Oncol. Sep 2015;1(6):766-76. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.2239
7. Holick MF, Binkley NC, Bischoff-Ferrari HA, et al. Evaluation, treatment, and prevention of vitamin D deficiency: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Jul 2011;96(7):1911-30. doi:10.1210/jc.2011-0385
8. Dorn JM, Hovey K, Muti P, et al. Alcohol drinking patterns differentially affect central adiposity as measured by abdominal height in women and men. J Nutr. Aug 2003;133(8):2655-62. doi:10.1093/jn/133.8.2655