Yeah, you’re going to need to start eating more avocado.
By Mallory Creveling
So you’re wondering how to get rid of belly fat, huh?
Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There’s no such thing as spot-reducingwhen it comes to weight loss. Translation: You can’t specifically lose belly fat, for example, without also losing the fat in, say, your butt or boobs.
Still, there’s a certain allure to losing belly fat that goes way beyond looking good in a crop top.
Visceral fat—a type of fat that lies deep inside your abdomen and surrounds your internal organs—is linked to a whole slew of terrifying health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Even scarier: According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), your risk of those health issues increases even more if your waist size is greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.
So yeah, the reasons to lose belly fat go way beyond your desire for six-pack (okay, fine, two-pack) abs. Try these strategies to drop pounds—and shed that belly fat in the process.
- Move as much as you can.
Running, biking, or swimming—basically anything that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat—will help reduce visceral fat.
Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S, founder of TS Fitness, also says that metabolic resistance training and high-intensity interval training is a solid way to reduce fat all over, including belly fat. “These [types of exercise] help to burn calories during the workout, and they also give you that after-burn effect,” he says. “Plus, they help to change your body composition by increasing your muscle mass.”
Research backs up the big fat-loss benefits of HIIT. A 2017 meta-analysis in the journal Sports Medicine found that working in all-out bursts, followed by rest periods—especially while running—reduced fat, including abdominal fat.
- Eat more protein.
You know you’re supposed to eat more protein to lose weight, but you might not know exactly why. Well, it actually has to do with how your body handles insulin. “Your body starts to produce more insulin as you age, since your muscle and fat cells aren’t responding to it properly,” explains Louis Aronne, M.D., director of the obesity clinic at Cornell University.
This is what’s known as insulin resistance. Basically, when your body doesn’t respond well to insulin, it actually makes more of the stuff, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. And that can lead to fat storage, especially around the middle of your body. That’s where protein comes into play: A diet high in protein may protect you against insulin resistance, says Aronne.
Zeratsky suggests choosing lean cuts of meat and opting for poultry and fish to get your fill of protein. An even better option: plant-based proteins, like beans and lentils, which also serve up fiber and healthy carbs.
- Add more (healthy) fats to your diet.
Think: Olive oil (unsaturated fat) instead of butter (saturated fat). Aside from raising your cholesterol levels, saturated fats also pack on more visceral fat than unsaturated ones, according to a 2014 study in the journal Diabetes.
When subjects ate 750 more calories daily for seven weeks—either in the form of palm oil (saturated) or sunflower oil (polyunsaturated)—the former gained more visceral fat while the latter gained more muscle mass and less body fat. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in nuts, seeds, and fish.
Plus: “Foods with fat taste good and feel good, so you get that satiety and enjoyment of a meal,” says Zeratsky. This can help you cut back on overeating or reaching for more food post-meal. Just keep in mind, fats are higher in calories so you still have to keep your portions in check.
- Pay more attention to how well (and how much) you sleep.
Don’t sell your sleep short. According to one 2017 study in the journal PLOS ONE, participants who got six hours of sleep a night had a waistline that was, on average, three centimeters larger than those who got nine hours.
Keeping a sleep schedule can also help reduce belly fat: Women who wake up and go to bed at the same time each evening have lower levels of body fat, according to a recent Brigham Young University study.
And yet another study—from 2018, published in the American Journal of Physiology—found that just one night of little sleep can mess with your body’s metabolism. So even if you skip a night of rest during the week, the weekend won’t make up for it.
- Don’t skimp on the fiber.
Both Tamir and Zeratsky suggest eating more soluble fiber to keep you fuller for longer, which keeps you from overeating. “Foods high in fiber slow your digestion and can help you manage hunger,” Zeratsky says.
In a 2012 study in the journal Obesity, subjects who increased their soluble fiber intake by 10 grams a day—the equivalent of two small apples, one cup of green peas, and one half-cup of pinto beans—reduced visceral fat by 3.7 percent after five years. Even more, participants who also engaged in moderate physical activity (exercising vigorously two to four times a week) experienced a 7.4 decrease in visceral fat over the same period of time.
- Remember to find some balance.
Losing belly fat shouldn’t mean strict dieting or deprivation. “People often think that you have to eat certain foods or avoid certain foods [to lose weight] and in reality, it comes down to eating more of a balanced diet that is portion- and calorie-controlled,” says Zeratsky. “This allows your body to have enough energy to do what it wants to do while managing weight.”
When you want to turn your diet around, don’t focus on the idea of restriction, Zeratsky says. Instead, think about the foods you can eat and how you can manage your hunger. “Eat foods that are more filling and have more water, like fruits and veggies, which will help your stomach respond to the weight to food,” she says. Plus, they’re low-cal and you still need that calorie deficit to drop belly fat.