How to Lose Belly Fat the Healthy Way

This question is on so many minds: How can I lose belly fat—and fast? While there’s no magic formula of food and exercise to lose belly fat with the snap of your fingers, there are nutritional choices, exercises and lifestyle changes that can help.

Here’s your guide to understanding exactly what belly fat is and how you might be able to reduce it over time.

What Is Belly Fat, and Is It Dangerous?

Visceral fat, commonly known as belly fat, is the layer of fat below the muscles of your abdomen. Due to its crucial location surrounding many of your vital organs, belly fat supplies a constant source of energy while also exposing the body to harmful toxins and hormones.

When you have too many fat cells or your fat cells get too large, they can overproduce toxins that increase your risk for chronic inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. For these reasons, belly fat can be more dangerous than subcutaneous fat—that outer layer of fat you can pinch with your fingers.

That said, the reason you’re having trouble buttoning your pants may not even be due to visceral fat. What we’re calling “belly fat” these days could actually be bloating or water retention.

Read on for steps to lose belly fat the healthy way—no restrictive fad diets necessary.

What to Eat to Lose Belly Fat

Pictured Recipe: Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas & Spinach

There’s no one exact diet that targets belly fat more than others. To reduce belly fat, you need to consider the timing, size and nutritional quality of your meals. This can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce visceral fat and avoid uncomfortable bloating. Start with these tips to begin your journey to losing belly fat the healthy way.

1. Avoid Belly Bloaters

Certain carbohydrates tend to be poorly absorbed in your intestines and rapidly ferment as they sit there, leading to gas and bloating. Common culprits include refined carbohydrates and simple sugars—like those found in processed foods with added sugars. Excess sodium can also cause bloating due to increased water retention.

While there are plenty of healthy packaged foods out there, there are just as many that aren’t as great. Opt for freshly prepared foods most of the time to help reduce your intake of processed, packaged foods that can cause belly bloat. For example, swap a high-added-sugar bowl of cereal for a Green Smoothie made with fresh fruits and vegetables to get your day going in the morning.

2. Embrace the Power of Protein

Protein serves a dual role in helping you reduce belly fat by increasing and maintaining muscle mass and metabolism, while also helping to stave off hunger. A 2020 review in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome suggests that a higher-protein diet increases thermogenesis, which helps you burn more calories.

Eating protein could also lead to increased satisfaction after a meal, which may help you eat fewer calories later in the day. This Chipotle Chicken Quinoa Burrito Bowl is a great lunch option to help you feel full and tide you over until your next meal.

3. Focus on Fiber

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can’t digest. It helps regulate the body’s use of sugar as it slowly passes through your digestive system. Increasing your daily fiber intake can result in greater satisfaction after meals since it helps fill you up. Your blood sugar is less likely to spike and crash when you eat more fiber, too. Because of this, you’ll stave off that “hangry” feeling, which means you won’t be reaching for anything and everything in sight—which also reduces the number of total calories eaten for the day.

When trying to lose belly fat, aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber in your diet each day. Foods that are rich in fiber include pulses, like lentils and beans; apples and pears, with the skin; nuts and seeds; and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Try this recipe for Tabbouleh with Chickpeas for a fiber-packed side dish or a one-dish dinner!

Exercises to Reduce Belly Fat

Getty Images / LaylaBird

In an ideal world, we would be able to target the exact part of our body we want to burn calories from—but that’s not how it works. Thankfully, there are a few exercises that are especially effective at burning fat from the belly area—and from the rest of your body.

1. Walk or Run on an Incline

If your go-to warm-up or cardio workout is on the treadmill, try bumping up the incline of your machine. Walking on an incline burns up to 10.5% more calories than running on a flat surface, according to a 2023 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology. How many extra calories you burn on an incline depends on speed and your weight. You can also incorporate hills into outdoor workouts.

2. HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)

Rather than a long and low-intensity cardio workout, try the HIIT method of exercise—intense, fast-paced intervals that can leave you completely exhausted after only a 20- to 30-minute session. This form of cardio training also incorporates strength training exercises and increases the afterburn effect, allowing your body to continue burning calories after your workout is over. You can rotate between 30 seconds of your favorite exercises, with rest in between, as long as they work a variety of muscle groups—such as squats, push-ups and kettlebell swings.

3. Side Planks

You can lose belly fat but still have a weak core, so strengthening and toning your abs when trying to lose belly fat is crucial, as well. To make a traditional plank routine more challenging, add in side planks:

  • Roll onto your left forearm and stack your right foot on top of your left. Lift your left hip off the floor while pulling your abdominal muscles in toward your belly button. Breathe! Keep your head in line with the rest of the spine.
  • If this position is too difficult to hold for any length of time, bend your left leg and lower your left knee to the floor so that your lower left leg and foot are resting on the floor. Your right foot can also rest on the floor—or to make it more challenging, keep the right leg raised off the floor so that it is unsupported.
  • Regardless of which side plank version you use, hold this position for up to 60 seconds with proper form, then switch sides.

Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Belly Fat

1. Get Plenty of Sleep

Too little sleep—or too much of it—can throw your stress and regulatory hormones out of whack, which may lead to weight gain. A single night of sleep deprivation can increase levels of ghrelin, a hormone that promotes hunger, making you more likely to overeat the next day, according to a 2023 study in the journal Obesity. Reduced sleep may also lead to fatigue during the day and less physical activity, which may be another reason why people who don’t get enough sleep on a regular tend to gain weight.

2. Drink Water Constantly

If you’re dehydrated, it can be hard to tell if you’re hungry or just thirsty. If you’re craving a midday snack, have a glass of water and wait a few minutes before reassessing your hunger level. Water also helps food move through your digestive system, lessening feelings of bloating. It’s a good idea to keep a water bottle with you throughout the day—and use it. Add cucumber slices and mint sprigs or fresh fruit to your water to infuse flavor.

3. Never Skip a Meal

Have you ever decided to skip a meal to cut back on your daily calorie count? Despite saving a few calories in the moment, this strategy almost always backfires. When you skip meals, you’ll begin to experience excessive hunger that can lead to craving less nutritious foods—and lots of them. You may also eat faster than you normally do after skipping a meal, which may cause you to miss the warning signs that you’re full and make you more likely to overeat. Eating too fast can also add air to your stomach, resulting in bloating, so slow down and chew your food well.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, there’s no fast fix for belly fat. However, there are certain things you can do to help speed up the process. Mindful lifestyle changes and a commitment to changing your eating and exercise habits over time are your best bet. With a little patience and perseverance, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier you.

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