6 Simple Ways to Lose Belly Fat, Based on Science
Written by Kris Gunnars, BSc on March 17, 2020 — Medically reviewed by Atli Arnarson BSc, PhD
Losing abdominal fat, or belly fat, is a common weight loss goal.
Abdominal fat is a particularly harmful type. Research suggests strong links with diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease (1Trusted Source).
For this reason, losing this fat can have significant benefits for your health and well-being.
You can measure your abdominal fat by measuring the circumference around your waist with a tape measure. Measures of above 40 inches (102 cm) in men and 35 inches (88 cm) in women are known as abdominal obesity (2).
Certain weight loss strategies can target the fat in the belly area more than other areas of the body.
Here are 6 evidence-based ways to lose belly fat.
- Avoid sugar and sugar-sweetened drinks
Foods with added sugars are bad for your health. Eating a lot of these types of food can cause weight gain.
Studies show that added sugar has uniquely harmful effects on metabolic health (3Trusted Source).
Numerous studies have indicated that excess sugar, mostly due to the large amounts of fructose, can lead to fat building up around your abdomen and liver (6).
Sugar is half glucose and half fructose. When you eat a lot of added sugar, the liver gets overloaded with fructose and is forced to turn it into fat (4Trusted Source, 5).
Some believe that this is the main process behind sugar’s harmful effects on health. It increases abdominal fat and liver fat, which leads to insulin resistance and various metabolic problems (7Trusted Source).
Liquid sugar is worse in this regard. The brain doesn’t seem to register liquid calories in the same way as solid calories, so when you drink sugar-sweetened beverages, you end up eating more total calories (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
A study observed that children were 60% more likely to develop obesity with each additional daily serving of sugar-sweetened beverages (10).
Try minimizing the amount of sugar in your diet and consider completely eliminating sugary drinks. This includes sugar-sweetened beverages, sugary sodas, fruit juices, and various high sugar sports drinks.
Read the labels to make sure products do not contain refined sugars. Even foods marketed as health foods can contain significant amounts of sugar.
Keep in mind that none of this applies to whole fruit, which are extremely healthy and have plenty of fiber that mitigates the negative effects of fructose.
Summary Excess sugar consumption may
be the primary driver of excess fat in the abdomen and liver. This is
particularly true of sugary beverages like soft drinks.
- Eat more protein
Protein may be the most important macronutrient for weight loss.
Research shows it can reduce cravings by 60%, boost metabolism by 80–100 calories per day, and help you eat up to 441 fewer calories per day (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source).
If weight loss is your goal, adding protein may be the single most effective change you can make to your diet.
Not only can protein help you to lose weight, but it may also help you to avoid regaining weight (15Trusted Source).
Protein may be particularly effective in reducing abdominal fat. One study showed that people who ate more and better protein had much less abdominal fat (16).
Another study indicated that protein was linked to a significantly reduced chance of abdominal fat gain over 5 years in women (17Trusted Source).
This study also linked refined carbs and oils to more abdominal fat and linked fruit and vegetables to reduced fat.
Many of the studies observing that protein helps with weight loss had people getting 25–30% of their calories from protein. Therefore, this may be a good range to try.
Try increasing your intake of high protein foods such as whole eggs, fish, legumes, nuts, meat, and dairy products. These are the best protein sources for your diet.
When following a vegetarian or vegan diet, check out this article on how to increase your protein intake.
If you struggle with getting enough protein in your diet, a quality protein supplement – like whey protein — is a healthy and convenient way to boost your total intake. You can find plenty of protein powder options online.
Summary Eating plenty of protein can
boost your metabolism and reduce hunger levels, making it a very effective way
to lose weight. Several studies suggest that protein is particularly effective
against abdominal fat.
- Eat fewer carbohydrates
Eating fewer carbs is a very effective way to lose fat.
This is supported by numerous studies. When people cut carbs, their appetite goes down and they lose weight (18Trusted Source).
More than 20 randomized controlled studies have now shown that low carb diets sometimes lead to 2–3 times more weight loss than low fat diets (19Trusted Source, 20, 21).
This is true even when those in the low carb groups are allowed to eat as much as they want, while those in the low fat groups are calorie restricted.
Low carb diets also lead to quick reductions in water weight, which gives people fast results. People often see a difference on the scale within 1–2 days.
Studies comparing low carb and low fat diets indicate that low carb eating specifically reduces fat in the abdomen and around the organs and liver (22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source).
This means that some of the fat lost on a low carb diet is harmful abdominal fat.
Just avoiding the refined carbs — like sugar, candy, and white bread — should be sufficient, especially if you keep your protein intake high.
If the goal is to lose weight fast, some people reduce their carb intake to 50 grams per day. This puts your body into ketosis, a state in which your body starts burning fats as its main fuel and appetite is reduced.
Low carb diets have many other health benefits besides just weight loss. For example, they can significantly improve health in people with type 2 diabetics (24).
Summary Studies have shown that
cutting carbs is particularly effective at getting rid of the fat in the belly
area, around the organs, and in the liver.
- Eat fiber-rich foods
Dietary fiber is mostly indigestible plant matter.
Eating plenty of fiber can help with weight loss. However, the type of fiber is important.
It appears that mostly the soluble and viscous fibers have an effect on your weight. These are fibers that bind water and form a thick gel that “sits” in your gut (25Trusted Source).
This gel can dramatically slow the movement of food through your digestive system. It can also slow down the digestion and absorption of nutrients. The end result is a prolonged feeling of fullness and reduced appetite (26Trusted Source).
One review study found that an additional 14 grams of fiber per day were linked to a 10% decrease in calorie intake and weight loss of around 4.5 pounds (2 kg) over 4 months (27Trusted Source).
One 5-year study reported that eating 10 grams of soluble fiber per day was linked to a 3.7% reduction in the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity (28Trusted Source).
This implies that soluble fiber may be particularly effective at reducing harmful belly fat.
The best way to get more fiber is to eat a lot of plant foods, including vegetables and fruit. Legumes are also a good source, as well as some cereals, such as whole oats.
You can also try taking a fiber supplement like glucomannan. This is one of the most viscous dietary fibers, and studies suggest it can help with weight loss (29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source).
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before introducing this or any supplement to your dietary regimen.
Summary There’s some evidence that
soluble dietary fiber can lead to reduced amounts of belly fat. This should
cause major improvements in metabolic health and reduce the risk of certain diseases.
- Exercise regularly
Exercise is among the best things you can do to increase your chances of living a long, healthy life and avoiding disease.
Helping to reduce abdominal fat is among the amazing health benefits of exercise.
This doesn’t mean doing abdominal exercises, as spot reduction — losing fat in one spot — is not possible. In one study, 6 weeks of training just the abdominal muscles had no measurable effect on waist circumference or the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity (31Trusted Source).
Weight training and cardiovascular exercise will reduce fat across the body.
Aerobic exercise — like walking, running, and swimming — can allow major reductions in abdominal fat (32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).
Another study found that exercise completely prevented people from regaining abdominal fat after weight loss, implying that exercise is particularly important during weight maintenance (34Trusted Source).
Exercise also leads to reduced inflammation, lower blood sugar levels, and improvements in other metabolic problems associated with excess abdominal fat (35Trusted Source).
Summary Exercise can be very
effective for reducing abdominal fat and providing many other health benefits.
- Track your food intake
Most people know that what you eat is important, but many don’t know specifically what they’re eating.
A person might think they’re eating a high protein or low carb diet, but without keeping track, it’s easy to overestimate or underestimate food intake.
Tracking food intake doesn’t mean you need to weigh and measure everything you eat. Tracking intake every now and then for a few days in a row can help you realize the most important areas for change.
Planning ahead can help you achieve specific goals, such as boosting your protein intake to 25–30% of calories or cutting down on unhealthy carbs.
The bottom line
Abdominal fat, or belly fat, is linked to an increased risk of certain diseases.
Most people can reduce their abdominal fat through taking on key lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet packed with lean protein, vegetables and fruit, and legumes, and exercising regularly.
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