How to Lose Belly Fat the Right Way

While there's no magic bullet when it comes to losing belly fat, there are certain things you can do to help you meet your goals.

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 nutrition 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—or the outer layer of fat that you can pinch with your fingers.

That said, the reason you're having trouble buttoning your pants may not be visceral fat: what we're calling "belly fat" these days could be bloating or water retention rather than a fat buildup. Read on for steps to lose stomach fat the healthy way—no restrictive fad diets necessary.

What Should I Eat to Lose Belly Fat?

Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas & Spinach

Get the Recipe: Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas & Spinach

There's no one exact diet that blasts 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 have a tendency to be poorly absorbed in your intestines and then rapidly fermented, 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 this 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 trim down belly fat by increasing muscle mass and metabolism, while also helping stave off hunger. Research shows that a higher-protein diet increases thermogenesis, which might help you burn more calories. Further, eating protein could 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, and 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, less blood-sugar spiking and crashing, and subsequent reductions in the number of calories eaten for the rest of 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!

What Exercises Can I Do to Reduce Belly Fat?

Woman doing a side plank
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. Luckily, there are a few exercises that are especially effective at burning fat from the belly area and from the rest of your body.

1. 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. Running on an incline burns more calories than running on a flat surface and can help build muscle at the same time. How many extra calories you burn on an incline depends on speed and 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 cardio: intense, fast-paced intervals that leave you completely exhausted after only a 20- to 30-minute session. This form of cardio training increases the afterburn effect, allowing your body to continue burning calories long after your workout is over. You can rotate between 30 seconds of your favorite exercises, with rest in between, as long as they work different muscle groups—such as squats, push-ups and kettlebell swings.

Try It: Cardio HIIT Workout

3. Side Planks

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:

1. Roll onto your left forearm and stack your right foot on top of your left.
2. Hold this position for 60 seconds, then switch sides.
3. Having only two points of contact rather than four works your core harder and challenges your obliques.

Try It: 30-Day Plank Challenge

What Lifestyle Changes Can I Make to Reduce Belly Fat?

1. Get Plenty of Sleep

Too little sleep or too much sleep 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. Reduced sleep may also lead to fatigue during the day and less physical activity, which may be another reason why people who regularly don't get enough sleep 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 mid-day snack, have a glass of water and wait a few minutes before reassessing how hungry you really are. 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. Add in cucumber slices or fresh fruit 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 breakfast or any meal, 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 overeat.

The Bottom Line

While we hate to be the bearers of bad news, there's no fast fix for belly fat. However, there are certain things you can do to help 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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