How to Lose Belly Fat: 11 Steps + Why It’s Important
Updated: Apr 28, 2022
February 2, 2018
Original article and page source found here.
There’s loads of advice out there regarding how to lose weight quickly, and often with the least possible effort involved. And while your primary reason for wanting to learn how to lose belly fat may be due to vanity, there are also loads of convincing health reasons for wanting to trim down your waistline as well.
For example, dangerous visceral fat — the type of deep fat that tends to accumulate near your belly, surrounding your vital organs — raises the risk for serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and many others. According to a report published in the Lancet, as of 2005, globally “Excess body weight was the sixth most important risk factor contributing to the overall burden of disease worldwide.” (1) The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2005 approximately 1.6 billion people worldwide were overweight and that at least 400 million adults were obese.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders (NIDDK) seconds this, stating that obesity— which presumably includes carrying extra belly fat — can contribute significantly to the following health problems:
Type 2 diabetes
Coronary heart disease and stroke
Certain types of cancer
Fatty liver disease
Fortunately, research shows that losing just 10–20 pounds (or around 5–10 percent of your total body weight) — including finding out how to lose belly fat — can make a real difference in terms of lowering your risk for developing these serious diseases.
How & Why Belly Fat Increases for Most People
If you’re like a high percentage of adults, including even many young adults, losing extra fat around your midsection is one of the biggest obstacles along your weight loss journey. Often, it’s referred to as “stubborn fat” because no matter what you do, it doesn’t seem to budge much. It can be maddening!
In fact, you may have experienced periods in the past when you’ve watched the numbers on the scale fall, but still you didn’t see a corresponding fat loss in the belly region like you’d hope for. Or, maybe you’re the type who feels overwhelmed by all the available but conflicting dietary advice out there, and so you haven’t yet started to lose weight or tackle the belly fat problem even though you know you need to for your health.
It’s no secret that obesity rates have been rising for several decades now, and scientific studies continue to draw conclusions about how eating a highly processed diet that’s tied to weight gain is one of the leading contributors to most chronic diseases. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the rate of obesity between 1980 and 2000 doubled among adults and children, and scarily has tripled amongst adolescents. This translates to 60 million obese adults in the U.S. alone — a staggering 30 percent of the total population.
Why are so many people putting on more weight, despite their best efforts to reverse or prevent it? While not all experts entirely agree on what needs to be done in order to correct “the obesity epidemic,” most support the theory that several key factors are to blame for such high rates of unhealthy weight gain. Accumulation of dangerous visceral fat (essentially the belly fat that most want to see disappear the most) and general obesity is said to be a “complex pathological processes reflecting environmental and genetic interactions,” which include:
Eating more and more processed and packaged foods, with a decrease in fresh plant foods. The most substantial dietary change to happen in the last century include over-consumption of high calorie foods including processed vegetable oils, sugary drinks, fast food and all types of sweet snacks.
Increased stress levels and busier schedules, which means less time for healthy habits like sleep or exercise; eating more often while distracted; and more comfort/emotional eating.
For some populations, trouble affording healthy food. It’s been found that individuals from disadvantaged communities seem to have greater risks for obesity than more affluent individuals of the same age.
Partly because of genetics, including the effects of “fetal and postnatal imprinting,” or passing on likelihood of obesity from mom to baby. Research now shows that a mother’s environment, habits and diet during pregnancy can have lasting consequences on body weight and risk of chronic disease in the offspring. (2)
Decreases in physical activity, including more people working sedentary jobs and spending less time doing physical activities solely for leisure.
Potentially changes in toxicity levels in the body and neurobiological processes (such as release of certain hormones) that control food intake.
Social networks. Study examining the effects of weight gain among friends siblings, and spouses have found that a person’s risk of becoming obese increased by 57 percent if a close friend became obese, 40 percent is a sibling did, and 37 percent if a spouse or partner did. (3)
How Dangerous Belly Fat Accumulates
Visceral fat is also called “organ fat” or “intra-abdominal fat” — and it’s one of the primary reasons why you must learn how to lose belly fat. This stubborn fat lies in close proximity to the vital organs of the body, including the liver, kidneys and other digestive organs, meaning it’s a real health concern. Fat is actually similar to an organ, in that it releases compounds in the blood and alters hormone levels. (4)
When fat is stored close to the vital organs, it’s easier for this fat to get into the bloodstream and circulate through the entire body. This leads to problems such as clogged arteries, hypertension and even problems with metabolic functions in the body. Several hormones are involved in accumulation of belly fat, including insulin, ghrelin, leptin and cortisol. Here are some of the ways that the “modern lifestyle” can cause belly fat to start increasing:
Insulin is the hormone that’s released when we consume carbohydrates. It helps take glucose (sugar) out of the bloodstream and brings it into cells to be used for energy. However, when too much glucose remains in the blood, it’s stored away for later use as body fat. If insulin is really out of whack, this fat storage can spiral out of control.
Appetite hormones, including ghrelin and leptin, control how hungry or satisfied we feel before, after and between eating. Eating chemically altered foods (which spike cravings), repeat yo-yo dieting, crash dieting, genetic factors and stress can all interfere with appetite regulation.
Cortisol is often called “the stress hormone” because we release more of it when we’re emotionally or physically stressed. Although we need cortisol for some essential functions, too much can contribute to fat accumulation around the midsection, increase appetite in some people, interfere with sleep quality and have other negative effects.
It’s clear from hundreds of different studies that effective long-term weight loss that results in decreased visceral/belly fat depends on permanent changes in dietary quality, calorie (energy) intake, lifestyle habits and also physical activity. These changes are how to lose belly fat but aren’t always easy to make initially. However, with time, healthier habits can become much more manageable, plus the effort to sustain them is well worth it in the end!
Related: Losing Weight After 40: Top 4 Ways to Shed Pounds
How to Lose Belly Fat
1. Eating More Fat-Burning Foods
Naturally, the first step in finding out how to reduce belly fat starts with food. Eating real foods from nature, instead of fake foods found in packages or boxes, is one of the best (and easiest) things you can do for yourself and your loved ones. Real foods are the ones that humans have been eating for all of history: vegetables, fruits, seeds, clean meats and fish, legumes, and others grown in healthy, rich soils without any chemicals added.
Fake foods, on the other hand, are what you want to avoid at all costs. These are most of the foods you’ll find at your local supermarket: bagged, boxed, frozen, items loaded with unhealthy additives and preservatives you don’t want to be putting into your body.
Focus on eating real foods, especially veggies, when you’re learning how to lose belly fat. This will help not only get rid of the unwanted visceral fat but also give your body the vital nutrients it needs to function properly. Believe me, you’ll feel and see the difference when you make the switch from fake foods to healthy real foods.
Eating real foods will also result in you eating more of a high-fiber diet, beneficial for controlling appetite, digestion, heart health and more. It’s been stated by certain obesity researchers that “Increasing consumption of dietary fiber with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes across the life cycle is a critical step in stemming the epidemic of obesity.” (5) In particular, up your soluble fiber, found in oats, barley, peas, carrots, beans, apples, citrus fruits and psyllium. Soluble fiber will attach to cholesterol particles and remove them from your digestive system, thus lowering your risk of heart disease as well as help you lose fat.
2. Stay Away from Sugar, Liquid Calories and Grains
Sugar is really bad for you. And you especially want to avoid added sugar when you trying to reduce belly fat – even hidden sources of sugar like sweetened dairy, juices or packaged snacks made with grains.
Don’t drink your calories! Drink more plain water, herbal tea or fruit with lemon slices.
Reduce your intake of grains (especially refined kinds). All grains are not bad (especially sprouted or gluten-free grains), but they won’t help you lose weight or recover from a health condition. Instead, focus on vegetables and fruits that are low in sugar and high in fiber (like raspberries in the chart above).
3. Eat Mindfully
Mindful eating means many things, and it’s a surprisingly key part of how to lose belly fat:
slowing down while you eat so you’re less likely to scarf down too much, too quickly
being aware of how much food it takes to make you feel satisfied when eating without becoming overly stuffed
eating while undistracted and avoiding multi-tasking
facing emotional or comfort eating head on by figuring out better ways to handle stressors in your life
and eating in a healthy manner first and foremost in order to support your health long-term, rather than just to lose weight quickly. (6)
4. Intermittent Fasting
Want to know how to lose belly fat? For improved fat loss efforts, it’s time to introduce your body to intermittent fasting, which is best approached as a shift in lifestyle and eating patterns, not a diet. There’s no need to count calories or measure grams. Simply focus on extending the duration of time between eating the healthy foods you already eat, with a particular emphasis on healthy fats and proteins.
There are several ways to practice fasting, including: skipping breakfast, eating all you want five days out of the week, severely limiting calories on some days or even not eating anything at all some days, or limiting your eating hours to only 6 or 8 hours a day.
The effects of fasting on hormones are multi-faceted:
it has a dramatic impact on human growth hormone levels, resulting in greater endurance with faster muscle repair and growth
it may help slow the aging process
it can help regulate insulin levels, which is key for those who are diabetic or obese
it might improve detoxification, it helps the body use glucose (sugar from carbs) more effectively
and for many it usually helps reduce calorie intake as well. (7)
5. HIIT Workouts
If you want to lose fat, then you must work out. One of the most effective and efficient ways to lose unwanted belly fat, or simply extra weight distributed all over, is burst training or HIIT workouts. High-intensity interval training–style has been shown to be an excellent way to burn fat in a short period of time and help improve the physical performance of athletes of all kinds. (8)
High-intensity interval training combines short, high-intensity bursts of exercise, with slow, recovery phases repeated throughout one short 15–20 minute session. It’s done at 85–100 percent of one’s maximum heart rate rather than 50–70 percent in moderate endurance activity.
Most people don’t realize that loads of cardio/aerobic exercise can actually wear down our joints, increase our stress hormones (including cortisol) and contribute to fatigue or overeating. A better option is to alternate the types and intensities of your workouts, doing some at a harder pace but for shorter duration (like with the Tabata protocol) and others for strength or cardiovascular benefits.