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How to Lose Belly Fat the Scientific Way

beer bellyEvery year millions of people try to get in shape, and the majority of them want to know how to lose belly fat. For the most part, weight loss is correlated with a concurrent drop in abdominal fat mass, but there are certain things you can do in particular that have a higher propensity to “dislodge” that stubborn visceral and subcutaneous belly fat. The following 12 evidence-based tips will get you started on reducing your waist circumference.

Implement Strength Training

Engaging in just 2 sessions per week of resistance training significantly decreases abdominal fat and improves insulin sensitivity without simultaneously undergoing a weight loss diet [1]. So, without any changes to your diet, simply implementing strength training into your life can help burn belly fat.

Of course, losing stomach fat is just one of hundreds of benefits of strength training. Strength training also builds muscle and boosts your resting metabolic rate, which will make your weight loss efforts much easier [2].

Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity

Your insulin sensitivity determines how well your cells respond to insulin. Insulin resistant cells, primarily caused by a sedentary lifestyle and a processed food diet, need higher levels of insulin to shuttle excess glucose out of the bloodstream. When insulin levels are high, fatty acids cannot be easily mobilized.

High levels of visceral fat, the “deep” fat that surrounds inner organs, is associated with reduced glucose tolerance [3].

This reduced insulin sensitivity creating more visceral fat, which creates an even worse glucose tolerance, is a vicious cycle that feeds off one another. The good news is there is plenty you can do to improve your insulin sensitivity and promote abdominal fat loss.

Here are 10 ways you can increase your insulin sensitivity for better fat loss.

Increase Your Exercise Intensity

In this case, slow and steady does not win the race. In a study comparing the effects of moderate-intensity exercise to high-intensity exercise, only the high-intensity group had a significant reduction in visceral belly fat [4].

In yet another study, high-intensity exercise reduced total abdominal fat, abdominal subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat when compared to low-intensity exercise, even when exercise time was adjusted to maintain an even caloric expenditure [5]. In other words, with high-intensity exercise you can burn an equal amount of calories in less time and you burn more belly fat.

Here are 9 more convincing reasons you should increase your exercise intensity.

Incorporate Interval Training

High-intensity interval exercise three times per week for 15 weeks compared to the same frequency of steady-state exercise was associated with significant reductions in total body fat, subcutaneous leg and trunk fat, and insulin resistance [6].

If you don’t already know, high-intensity interval training (or HIIT) is when you do short, alternating intervals of high and low-intensity exercise. For example, you might sprint 100 meters and then walk 100 meters, and repeat that for 20 minutes.

You can also incorporate HIIT into your strength training routine by doing circuit training. Alternate sets of squats, burpees, pushups, and pullups with short rest intervals for a great belly fat-blasting workout.

Reduce Stress Levels

Abdominal fat distribution is associated with higher stress and cortisol levels, and this cortisol secretion might be responsible for the link between stress and abdominal fat distribution [7] [8].

A well-rounded fitness program attacks fat loss from all angles, including proper nutrition, exercise, and mental health. Working on how well you tolerate stress can be a key step towards reducing abdominal fat.

Here are 50 ways to relieve stress and encourage fat loss.

Stop Smoking

I don’t think anyone has to be told that smoking isn’t good for your health, but did you know that current smokers tend to have a higher amount of stomach fat, as measured by the waist-to-hip ratio, than do former smokers or people who have never smoked [9].

The nice thing about this study is that it also adjusted for other lifestyle factors such as age, BMI, dietary and alcohol intake, and physical activity so that we know these other factors didn’t skew the relationship between smoking and abdominal fat. If you’re a smoker and you’re trying to lose belly fat, it would be prudent to take steps towards quitting the habit.

Limit Alcohol Intake

In a study consisting of 3500 people, alcohol consumption (predominantly wine) is correlated with greater waist-to-hip ratios independent of BMI in both men and women [10].

That means whether you are an average weight or overweight alcohol drinker, you will likely have more abdominal fat as compared to someone who doesn’t drink as much.

It’s also important to realize there have been plenty of studies showing the health benefits of wine when consumed in moderation. As long as the occasional drink doesn’t lead to other bad lifestyle behaviors, such as bingeing, you can enjoy alcohol here and there.

Increase Fiber Intake

Higher fiber intakes are associated with lower visceral fat, smaller waist circumferences, lower waist-to-hip ratios, and lower total percent body fat [11] [12] [13] [14] [15].

The reason fiber helps you lose belly fat is because it’s a good natural regulator of blood glucose levels. Fiber slows down the digestion of carbohydrates, providing a nice steady release of glucose into the bloodstream. This glucose trickle keeps high insulin levels at bay, and as a result, fatty acids are able to be mobilized. In contrast, a diet low in fiber results in higher insulin levels, reduced insulin sensitivity, and more fat storage.

Reduce Trans Fat Intake

We all know the dangers of trans fat consumption. Among other things, they greatly increase the risk for coronary heart disease [16]. When it comes to losing belly fat, just a 2% increase in calories from trans fat in place of polyunsaturated fats or carbohydrates is associated with a higher waist circumference [17].

It’s fairly easy to avoid trans fats altogether – you just have to eat a whole foods diet. After all, the majority of trans fat is a man-made concoction. Most trans fat comes in processed, packaged food. But don’t just assume there’s no trans fat in a product just because the front of the box says so. You have to manually look at the ingredients section for hydrogenated oils.

FDA rules allow food marketers to round down to zero if a serving has less than .5 grams of trans fat [18]. That may not seem like much, but if a box has 20 servings, you could potentially be eating 10 grams of trans fat even though they market the product as “0 grams of trans fat”.

Boost Your Omega-3 Fatty Acid Consumption

In a randomized doubled-blind study, supplementing daily for 6 weeks with 4g of fish oil, which is high in the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, significantly increased lean mass, decreased fat mass, and lowered cortisol levels [19].

Essential fatty acids cannot be manufactured by the body and need to be ingested through your diet. Foods high in omega-3s include fatty fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds, omega-3 eggs, or any number of the foods on this list.

Get Sleep

Are you getting enough sleep? Short sleep duration favors higher abdominal fat levels and is associated with future weight gain and obesity [20] [21].

In most studies, short sleep duration meant less than 7 hours of sleep per night, with an optimal amount being anywhere from 7-9 hours. Of course, the benefits of sleep go way beyond just losing belly fat. Short sleep duration is also associated with a higher risk of hypertension and diabetes, and elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides [22] [23] [24].

Eat More Protein

In a randomized controlled study, eating 25% of calories from protein as compared to just 12% resulted in a much greater amount of abdominal fat lost [25]. Elsewhere, studies have shown that substituting a modest amount of protein for carbohydrates can reduce abdominal obesity [26].

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that fitness individuals increase their protein intake to between .54 and .77 grams per pound of body weight due to increased protein synthesis and recovery demands [27]. Combine that intake with some healthy fats, high-fiber carbohydrates, intense exercise, and plenty of rest, and you have a scientific recipe that will burn belly fat like no other.

  • Mags

    I need a list of foods that I CAN eat,,, just plain foods, I dont want complicated recipes with lots of ingredients, please??

  • Kim

    I have diabetes and take insulin. On the days I do weight training, I use less insulin. Cardio works too but weights are better. Thanks for all your good advise and encouragement.

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      Thanks Kim. That’s proof right there that resistance training improves insulin sensitivity. You need less insulin to do the same job because of strength training!

  • Pastry Chef

    Thank you so muchhhhhh Coach. I would loveeeeeee to talk to you. I lost over 220 pounds without any segury at all. But now i just feel like im lost i don’t know what to do. I’m afraid to eat because i think im going to gain them back. But by not eating im gaining couples pounds. I’m very active persone i play tennis, volleyball and GYM. Sometime i think i do to muchhhhhh exercice. I just feel like im hopeless. So i would like to chat with you.

    Btw this is by farrrrrr the BEST blog ever.

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      Hi Chef, fear of regaining weight is very common, so don’t feel alone. My advice to you is to not make any foods off limits, but to count calories and pay attention to portion sizes. You can still eat 10-20% of your calories from the foods you really enjoy and make great progress so long as you maintain a modest calorie deficit. 80% of your diet coming from whole foods will give you all the nutrients your body needs to run optimally.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    How do you feel on that much sleep? Do you feel rundown? Is it difficult to get up that early? Do you have symptoms of overtraining?
    Just a thought – 1.5 – 2 hours is a very long workout. Have you considered sleeping another hour and cutting your workout time in half? A high-intensity workout can take care of both strength training and cardiovascular training together, and you can do it in a fraction of the time. This way you can get some additional sleep too.

    • Kelli Sayre

      Yes, I do feel rundown- I’m 43 and I have a 2 year old- LOL! In all seriousness though, I typically always feel rundown. I have a Bodymedia band and on the days when I chose to sleep instead of going to the gym, I find I still only get about 5 hours of sleep, just over a longer duration, so my quality isn’t as good. I slept 7 hours last night, but that is a rarity, and I STILL feel rundown today. I can’t remember the last time I slept for 8 hours. I keep hoping that working out and eating right will give me the energy people talk about, but in terms of the tiredness, I feel the same as when I was heavier and eating junk. This bums me out. I don’t eat processed foods. I don’t drink (I mean at all- for 14 years) or smoke. I’ve had my iron levels, B12 levels, and thyroid levels checked and all is fine. I feel like if I’m going to feel tired regardless I might as well look good, but truthfully I don’t know how sustainable this is if I don’t feel better. Sorry, Coach, I know you’re not a doc! Just wodering if you can think of anything or if others have had similar experiences and what they tweaked. I do eat carbs, between 30-40% of my diet from them. I will definitely take a look at my workout and your info on HIIT and see if I can work out something less time

      • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

        Don’t be afraid to take a few days to a week off from working out every now and then. Sometimes that’s all you need to fully recover and top up your motivation levels. You shouldn’t feel miserable, and eating and exercise shouldn’t be what you think about day in and day out. Cut back on your exercise some until you’re feeling better and make sure you’re eating enough calories to fuel all that activity. Over-exercising combined with too few calories is a sure recipe for burnout. Good luck!

        • Kelli Sayre

          Awesome! Thank you. I LOVE your site!

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with a 1 hour gym session and then being active the rest of the day. More importantly, you need to listen to your body and make sure you’re recovering. In a calorie deficit this is even more important!
    If you notice you’re not making any progress in the gym or you’re starting to feel your motivation lacking, you might want to cut back a bit. But if you’re having fun playing tennis and volleyball, more power to you. Just make sure you’re fueling that extra activity.
    Building muscle and losing fat at the same time is absolutely possible, especially for someone that is a beginner or close to it. The key is to not create such a large calorie deficit and instead work on changing your body composition. Measure your body fat instead of focusing on the scale while also strength training and eating a nutrient rich diet. Keep your calorie deficit to 500 or less and you’ll see improvements in both fat loss and muscle growth.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Hi Allie, don’t stress :)

    You are right to be looking for exercise you enjoy. That is key to long-term adherence to any fitness program. The possibilities are endless, really. There’s biking, rowing, climbing, dancing, running, sports, weight lifting, and just about anything else that gets your heart rate up and your whole body moving. The key is to just start – even if that means walking. You will find that creates a snowball effect that leads to new ideas and increased motivation to try other things.

  • msmags139

    I’m an over weight diabetic who has recently been taken off diabetic medication. I’ve been controlling my blood sugar levels with diet for about 1 month. I have been going to the gym every morning doing the stair stepper/Glider machines for 2 miles and then working out on different weight machines for a total work out of about an hour to an hour and a half. I’ve been in this routine for about a year. My problem is when I check my blood sugar after my work out it’s around 290 after being at a normal level pre work out. Is this hindering my weight loss? I am complying with everything else on the above list with the exception of my stress levels are sometiimes high. Thank you for any insight you can give.

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      I can’t give you any advice about your medical condition. You’ll need to speak to your doctor about that. However, speaking directly to blood sugar levels and fat loss – yes, high blood sugar levels can have an effect on fatty acid mobilization. Here is a study showing the effect insulin resistance (type II diabetes) has on fat oxidation – http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/277/6/E1130

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Hi Eileen, your calculations are a little off. For example, while your target is 122 grams of protein, you don’t just eat 4oz of pure protein. Food has additional weight. Take chicken breast for instance. A pound of breast has about 100 grams of protein. The same goes for your carb intake. If you want to eat 98 grams of carbs, you need to look at the nutrition label for each carb source and see how many carbs there are in each serving and eat accordingly.

    • Eileen

      I knew I was missing something important.
      Thank your for the clarification. I was working off of the weight, rather than the nutritional content.

  • Oksana

    Hi Coach,

    I have a question regarding protein intake. What do i do if i am not big meat eater? Plus somehow carbs keeps me full longer in comparison to protein.
    Thank you.

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      Plenty of other foods have decent amounts of protein. Check out this list for the cheapest sources of protein – http://www.coachcalorie.com/cheap-sources-of-protein/
      If carbs keep you feeling better, then stick with that. If you do try lower (not low) carbs and higher protein, make sure you are still eating plenty of fibrous veggies and getting enough fats to ensure you’re hitting your calorie target.

  • Kasia Norine Karen Mckenzie-El

    Excellent !!!!

  • Vesi Kovacheva

    Hi, Allie
    How about dancing? Have you ever done that? In a class with lots more people? I’ve been doing Ceroc for the past 4-5 months and it’s great fun, with all sorts of people, and, trust me, you work up a sweat! Whether you’re sweating from somewhat nerves, too much jiggling around the dance floor or pure, stomach-aching laughter – you’re burning calories. :-) Ceroc also goes under the names Leroc and Modern Jive, it’s quite easy (especially for a female), and similar to Latin dances. :-) If you want more of a challenge – Salsa will give you more footwork and make you sweat more, too.
    Ah, Zumba (yes, I know everyone is talking about it, so am I) – also great fun, lots of dripping sweat. :-)
    You don’t have to do it every day, all it takes is twice a week, as usually the sessions are 2-3 hours in most places, so it burns plenty. Getting a walk in every couple days will also help greatly.
    Hope this helps! :-) Best of luck, Allie

  • Sue

    Have you ever looked into “Curves Fitness Centre for women, I am a coach there. They are all over the world, 30 minute circuit training program, so it doesn’t take up a lot of time. The women are wonderful and it is a social thing as well, lots of women your age who are doing the same things you are. Look into it, you may be surprised :)

  • faytown

    Doesn’t this conflict with the weight loss myth of spot reducing?

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      Not exactly. Spot reduction has more to do with working out a specific body part to lose fat in that area. For example, doing situps to lose abdominal fat – which doesn’t work.
      The information in this article causes systemic changes to your body and hormones, which affects the way you store and release fat. You still lose fat from all over your body, but you can shift your hormonal profile to change your proportion of fat loss.

      • faytown

        thx for the reply. i really enjoy your blog and your FB content.

        • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

          Glad you like it. Thanks for reading!

  • Alicia Bradley

    I loved reading this article and thanks for the info.

  • Nellie

    yes i enjoyed this article. thank you for the tips.

  • Theresa

    i don’t understand this….I always hear that you cannot spot reduce fat?

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      I explained this in another comment. You can’t spot reduce in the way you’re thinking (ie doing situps to target stomach fat). However, you can do certain things that alter your body chemistry and the way you store and mobilize fat as a whole. You still lose fat from all over, but a higher proportion might come off from certain areas. Feel free to click through to the studies to see details on how each “tip” worked.

  • Rea

    Losing belly fat? It all comes down to the consistent calorie deficit. ^^

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      That’s absolutely true, but there’s more to the article than that.

  • http://abmachinesguide.com/ Walter M. Forbes

    Great article! You have collected some of the most important rules which help burning belly fat. All my life I had pretty big belly fat, though I could do a lot of abs exercises. I had no results. After going deeper into the topic I changed my lifestyle. I integrated the mentioned tips above. And my stomach is flatter than ever before. :) In my point of view, the most important factor if we want to have flat stomach is the diet, then cardio and ab exercises.