How to Get Rid of Belly Fat

8 Strategies That May Help You Slim Your Middle

As you work to slim down, you might notice that weight comes off many areas of your body, but it tends to stick around your midsection. You're not imagining things if belly fat seems extra stubborn. Several factors, including hormonal changes, genes, and loss of muscle mass, can affect the distribution of fat in your body—and your belly is one place it tends to always find a home.

When trying to figure out how to get rid of your belly fat, you might have tried pills, supplements, or fad diets. Unfortunately, most of these methods don't work (and, in many cases, are unsafe). Focusing on ab exercises may be worthwhile, but it's likely not enough to significantly trim waistline inches.

If your belly fat doesn't seem to want to go anywhere in a hurry, consider these strategies. Some may be new tactics for you, while others may be modifications that can make your current attempts more successful.

Lift Weights

Man and woman lifting weights in front of mirror
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Strength training for the whole body may help you lose abdominal fat. In fact, it might be one of the more effective methods.

In one study, researchers followed a group of women who lifted weights three times a week for 16 weeks. At the end of that time, the women significantly decreased abdominal fat (along with overall body fat) and increased strength and muscle as well.

If you aren't lifting weights now, there's no better time to start. Follow a simple total-body program two to three times a week to put yourself on the right track to a leaner midsection. Start with a beginner strength workout, work your way up to an intermediate program, and possibly even advanced supersets as you progress further.

Consider the first six weeks of strength training the time when you adjust to your new exercise regimen. That includes everything from learning how to maintain proper form to conditioning your muscles.

Combine Diet and Exercise

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People who try to slim their stomach area usually try one of two methods: diet or exercise. Both are good ideas, but if you want to specifically target belly fat, you're going to have to do both.

Exercise is the key to burning more calories throughout the day and revving up your metabolism. Putting that together with a healthy, low-calorie diet can give you more bang for your buck, helping you lose weight everywhere—including your belly.

This was the conclusion from one study in which obese participants were split into two groups. One group dieted to lose weight, while the other combined diet and exercise. At the end of the study, the group who both dieted and exercised reduced more belly fat than the other group.

How to Change Your Diet

Even small changes to your diet can make a difference when you're trying to lose weight, so don't feel like you have to follow a strict regimen or cut out entire food groups. If you like to bake, try low-calorie substitutions in your recipes. Cooking at home more often can help you lose weight, especially if you look for ways to reduce fat and calories in your meals. As you make changes like these, you may even find that you enjoy healthy eating.

How to Start Exercising

Not a fan of exercise? You may just not have found something you enjoy. Start simple and easy with walking, swimming, stretching, yoga, or basic strength training.

Exercise More

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There's no doubt that any amount of exercise is good for you, but the more you do, the more belly fat you can lose.

In one study, researchers measured abdominal fat in people who did different amounts of exercise. The group who worked out the most (about 200 minutes a week) and at the highest intensity (80 percent to 95 percent of max heart rate) lost the most abdominal fat.

However, many people struggle to get even the minimum amount of exercise suggested by experts (about 30 minutes of moderate activity a day). In addition, not everyone is equipped, either physically or mentally, for intense, high-impact exercise.

If you want to reduce belly fat, but you're not ready for hours of intense exercise, start where you are and build from there. It takes time to build the strength, conditioning, and endurance to handle high-intensity exercise. Start with what you can do and add more as you can.

  • Add time to your workouts: Work at a moderate pace and increase workout time every week by five to 10 minutes until you can exercise continuously for 30 minutes. You might start with a beginner cardio workout or a more long-term starter exercise plan.
  • Increase intensity: Add short bursts of speed or resistance to your workouts or practice going faster than you normally do.
  • Increase frequency: Add another day of cardio after you've been exercising regularly for two to three weeks.
  • Split your workouts: You can break up your workouts into multiple shorter sessions while getting the same benefits as a continuous workout.

Try Interval Training

woman doing sprints for high intensity interval training
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Interval training is great for burning calories and building endurance, but it's also a great way to target abdominal fat. In one study, researchers compared interval workouts with steady-state exercise and found that exercisers lost more abdominal fat when doing interval training.

That doesn't mean that steady-state exercise isn't important or that you have to do interval training all the time. However, adding intervals to your routine will not only give you better results, but help you push your limits and keep your workouts a little more exciting.

Try these ideas for adding intervals to your routine:

  • During your regular workout, add three to five short bursts of high-intensity exercise. Work as hard as you can for as long as you can (around 30 seconds), then slow down and completely recover before going into the next interval.
  • Create a walk/run interval workout. Alternate one minute of walking with 30 seconds of sprinting or hill climbs. Repeat for 20 or more minutes.
  • Learn how to use exercise equipment settings to your advantage. For example, strategically change the resistance on your elliptical.

If you're doing high-intensity interval training, meaning you're working at level eight to nine on the perceived exertion scale, keep your sessions to about two a week to avoid overtraining or injury. As you build endurance and strength, you may be able to add more interval training to your workout routine.

Boost Cardio and Strength Training

Barbell Lifting at Strength Training Class
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Since cardio exercises and strength training can help, it makes sense that including both in your weekly routine would reduce belly fat even more.

There are a variety of ways to set up a cardio and strength routine, including:

  • Alternate your workouts: Doing cardio and strength training on different days allows you to focus your energy and attention on each workout.
  • Split routines: Another option is to split your workout and do cardio in the morning and strength training later in the day, or vice versa.
  • Combine workouts: If you don't have as much time, another option is to do cardio and strength training in the same workout.

When setting up your routine, you may need to experiment to find a schedule that works for you. Just remember, you don't want to work the same muscles two days in a row, although you can do cardio on consecutive days.

Sample Routine

Day 1: Interval training
Day 2: Total body strength
Day 3: Cardio intervals
Day 4: Rest or light cardio
Day 5: 30 minutes of cardio and upper body strength training
Day 6: 30 minutes of cardio and lower body strength training
Day 7: Rest or light cardio

Do Fewer Ab Exercises

Abs exercise

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Ab exercises may be the least important thing you do to lose weight from your midsection, although strengthening your abs is just as important as working on the other muscles in your body. The key to losing belly fat, however, is more about burning more calories than you eat and letting your body respond to that.

When you do work your abs, treat them like any other muscle group. Challenge them with a few well-chosen exercises, perform two to three sets of 10 to 16 reps, and give rest a day between workouts.

Don't forget, some whole-body exercises work your abs while targeting other muscles, which save time and makes your workouts more functional.

Eat More Whole Grains

Quinoa

Photo: Alexandra Shytsman

Whole grains are a great source of fiber and are proven to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. What makes them even better is they may actually help reduce fat around the belly.

In one study, researchers followed a group of obese men and women. The men and women were randomly assigned to two groups: One group was told to get all of their grain servings from whole grains, and the other to avoid whole grain foods. The whole-grain group lost more body fat around the abs than the other group.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends women get a minimum of about three to six servings of whole grains a day, while men should aim for three and a half to seven (a little more if they are under 30 years old). Below are some examples of single whole-grain servings:

  • Five whole wheat crackers
  • One packet of instant oatmeal
  • Three cups of popped popcorn
  • A half cup of cooked brown or wild rice
  • A half cup of cooked whole grain pasta

You can also try some of the more unusual whole grains, such as quinoa or wheat berries.

Drink in Moderation

Red wine

 Photo: Alexandra Shytsman

Moderate wine consumption may provide some health benefits. One possible benefit is a smaller waist circumference.

In one study, researchers found that moderate wine drinkers show the lowest accumulation of ab fat among drinkers. Liquor drinkers and people who drink infrequently, but heavily, have the most abdominal fat.

If you don't drink, that doesn't mean you should start. Alcohol adds extra calories to your diet, so cutting it out can help with weight loss.

If you do drink, however, this is a good time to assess your habits. Drinking wine, in moderation, may serve you better than hard liquor, especially if you're watching your weight. Remember to always drink responsibly.

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