How to lose belly fat

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Woman performing a seated bicep curl

Learn how to lose belly fat with a combination of diet and exercise. This is by far the best way to do it.

Just about everything you need to know about losing weight and reducing your stomach can be found on this page.

In this guide we provide you with the our diet rules for losing weight and getting a flat stomach; specific advice for men, women, teens and seniors; exercise and lifestyle factors and exercises which are needed to maintain a healthy weight. At the end of the guide you will find several of our fitness workouts that will help you to lose weight.

Knowing how to lose the visceral fat that surrounds your internal organs is the first step in gaining a flat stomach. Of all the body changes that people wish to achieve, losing belly fat ranks at the top along with slimmer thighs (women) and bigger biceps (men). A relatively small number of people also wish to achieve on of the greatest fitness goals – the elusive six pack.

The stubbornness of visceral fat

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Even just a thin layer of adipose tissue (fat) covering your stomach can be hard to shift. If you are looking for advice on how to lose stomach fat then following these tips and tricks will help you to lose that gut quickly. Combined with a fitness plan, these tips to lose belly fat will speed up weight loss and get you in shape in no time. Not everyone wants a “washboard abs”, but if you just want to trim down some inches around the waist and get a flatter stomach, these tips can really help you.

Central obesity and health risks

Central obesity, which is mostly visceral (belly) fat with a thick layer of subcutaneous (skin) fat, is extremely bad for your health. Losing this fat can greatly reduce the risk of developing serious health conditions in the future such as diabetes and heart disease. There is growing evidence that many chronic diseases are caused by poor lifestyle choices such as poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and smoking.

The Diet Rules: “Fat burning” food

Happy young woman with a perfect waist

MotleyHealth’s Rules

1. Foods that help breakdown adipose tissue

Eating more of these foods, when combined with a calorie restrictive diet and exercise, helps to burn all types of fat.

  1. Oily fish
  2. Vegan soups
  3. Beans and lentils
  4. Whey protein
  5. Oats – especially good for breakfast
  6. Cottage cheese
  7. Bananas
  8. Lean meat
  9. Eggs
  10. Grapefruit

Try to include these foods in your diet and you experience improved health and faster weight loss. For more advice on food read our article about foods that burn belly fat. It is not just healthy food though, you still have to control calories.

2. Throw out junk food and reduce sugar and saturated fat

To lose stomach fat you have to throw out the junk food. You are what you eat, so don’t eat junk. Do not keep junk food like cookies, chips, sweets and other similar products in your house. Junk food and addiction to sugar is considered to be the greatest cause of belly fat today.

If you do not have these bad foods lying around, you will not think about them and after sometime, you will break the bad eating habits. Most weight loss plans provide great nutrition advice and motivational tips to help you keep your healthy diet on track and this is essential for losing belly fat. But, why is junk food so bad? Mostly it is due to the high sugar content of junk food. Most junk food consists of refined carbohydrate and sugar, which when eaten quickly raise blood sugar levels, leading to reduction in fat burning and increase in appetite.

3. Carbohydrates and fat – low GI carbohydrates are best

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Consumption of carbohydrate is essential for losing fat, but there are good carbohydrate and bad carbohydrate.

Refined flours and the foods that they create, such as white bread, pasta, donuts, cakes and biscuits (yes, biscuits cause weight gain) should be avoided. They can cause bloating, poor digestion, and lead to accumulation of fat, which is the opposite of how to lose fat! “Good carbs”, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, should be eaten instead.

Slow release carbohydrates are also beneficial, such as oats, brown rice, some pulses and sweet potato. A diet that takes most of its carbohydrate from fruits and vegetables, as opposed to refined flours, is healthier.

Our Low GI Diet Plan - ebook!

Our Low GI Diet Plan – ebook!

Our Low GI Diet eBook teaches how the glycemic index can help you to lose weight. Ideally granary or wholemeal bread should be eaten instead of white bread, and biscuits / cookies and cakes should be avoided.

Consuming too much carbohydrate can bump up your insulin level, which can slow down your metabolism (insulin stops the body breaking fat down). Your body cannot metabolize too much carbohydrate at once because the body does not need so much energy at once.

The excess sugar from the carbohydrates will just turn into stomach fat. For a more complete explanation of this process read our page, What Is Fat? Much research has shown that adopting the Atkins Nutritional Approach, i.e. a high fat/protein diet, is the way ahead to lose weight fast.

Avoiding carbohydrate increases the fat burning metabolism (lipolysis), which helps to reduce fat to get a flat stomach, and this is a key element to your flat belly diet plan.

Combine your meals with a good mixture of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. Your source of protein should be in the size of a deck of cards; the carbohydrates in the size of your palm and the major bulk of your meals should come from vegetables, ideally low GI vegetables.

4. Losing belly fat the natural way- eat like a cave man (or woman)!

Palaeolithic woman hunting for food

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Following a natural food idea is a great way to lose fat as if combines the rules above, that is you avoid all junk food and all processed food, sugar and saturated fats.

Following a Caveman Diet or a Low GI diet are two ways to lose fat the natural way. It is important that you avoid gimmicks and pills when try to lose weight. You need to make a lifestyle change and carry on eating a healthy diet and exercise after you lose weight.

Systems such as the Lemonade Cleanse / Maple Syrup Diet may aid fast weight loss initially but in the long-term there is a much greater risk of putting the weight back on again. Slow and steady is best.

5. No more late night snacks – stop comfort eating

Try not to have late night snacks. The main problem with late night snacking is that there is not much activity done afterwards. People go straight to bed right after the late night meal because they are tired.

So, this will cause high sugar levels in the blood stream and no energy spent after that. The excess sugar will just turn into fat very quickly. You can reduce you hunger and food cravings by following a low glycemic diet. Fluctuations in blood sugar causes increases in appetite.

Losing stomach fat requires a strict diet so avoiding hunger is essential. Late night snacking is often emotional eating and not eating to nourish.

6. Consume less alcohol to lose belly fat

It is important to decrease alcohol consumption if you drink a lot because frequent drinking (of alcohol) causes the accumulation of visceral fat. Excess alcohol consumption can really give you a fat stomach. Have you seen people who are slim all over but have a beer belly sticking out?

Well, that is the effect of excess alcohol consumption. Alcohol does not contain any nutrients at all. Most of the additional the energy consumed through alcohol will be stored as visceral fat. If you want to lose weight fast then you need to stop drinking for a while.

You do not need to give up alcohol completely, but just drink in moderation. Do not drink everyday and limit yourself to just one glass of wine or one bottle of beer.

Calorie reduction works – learn how:

Losing fat really does all come down to a calorie deficit. Even if you are reducing the empty carbohydrates and eating low GI vegetables and lean meats, you still need that calorie deficit to lose fat.

The basic rule of weight loss is that for every calorie deficit of 3500 Calories you will lose one pound of fat. This is because one pound of fat contains around 3500 Calories of energy.

To lose 2 pounds in one week you need a total calorie deficit of 7000 Calories, which is 1000 Calories a day. The only people who lose significantly more are those who are extremely overweight – they can lose five to ten pounds in a week. For a daily deficit of 1000 Calories you need to follow a strict diet plan. Exercise will help, but diet really is the key.

Lifestyle changes to help manage your weight

1. Switch off the lights before bed

Sleep research has shown that sleeping with a light on, even just a dim night light, is enough to cause changed to appetite. Researchers found that subjects that sleep with a light on gain more weight.

2. Cardiovascular and weight training exercise

Exercise is vital for weight loss and long-term health. Exercising has an immediate effect on weight, in that as you exercise you burn energy (mostly glycogen stored in muscle tissue).

The body replaces the lost energy by breaking down sugar reserves in fat cells. This is why we lose weight (fat) when we exercise.

Exercise also helps build muscle and this means that your metabolism is raised permanently.

Finally, the more exercise you do, the fitter you get. The fitter you are, the more you can exercise and the more calories you burn. If you do not know how to get started, find a fitness class, hire a personal trainer or learn from or guides. Below is our essential guides to exercising for fat loss.

Exercises to lose belly fat

1. Do abdominal crunches really work?

Crunches are a great core workout for circuit trainingIn short – no, they do not. Crunches are done to develop the abdominal muscles. This will not cause your abdominal fat to melt away. For that you need cardiovascular and full body workouts, not just crunches.

However, crunches are an important part of your overall fitness – a strong mid-section makes you more athletic, more stable and will help in many aspects of life in general.

2. What is the best exercise to lose weight?

The question that is so often asked. But it has now finally been answered by sports scientists; researchers from the Duke Uni Medical Center have found that aerobic exercise is more effective at burning visceral (belly) fat than weight training. Visceral fat is the least healthy of fat too. It causes diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer.

“Resistance training is great for improving strength and increasing lean body mass. But if you are overweight, which two-thirds of the population is, and you want to lose belly fat, aerobic exercise is the better choice because it burns more calories.” – Dr. Cris Slentz, Duke University Medical Center, 2011.

However, many fitness instructors and personal trainers get excellent results from a combination of cardiovascular and resistance training.

One theory is that by performing a variety of different exercise you activate more metabolic pathways which can speed fat loss.

One big advantage of doing some resistance exercise as well as cardiovascular is that you can exercise more. If you are unfit and have not exercised in years, or decades, it is often easier to do a longer session in the gym on resistance machines than it is to perform intensive cardiovascular exercise for the same duration.

3. Short and intensive weight loss solutions

If you have left it almost too late to lose weight, then follow the MotleyHealth 7 day exercise and diet plan to help you lose as much weight as possible in one week.

This plan will then set you up for longer term weight loss should you need it. If you follow a structured and well designed weight loss plan you can learn the best way to reduce visceral fat in one month. If you follow our MCD weight loss system (a free MotleyHealth ebook) for one month you will see good results.

4. Top stomach exercises for firmer abdominal muscles

Remember to do intensive cardiovascular workouts, compound weight training, and control your calories intake first, then target your abdominals with some of these exercises.

Many of these exercises will help you to tone the muscles to help lose lower abdomional fat as well as build stronger and more visible abdominals.

5. The need for frequent exercise

The key to losing belly fat is to exercise often. We suggest exercising at least 7 times per week.

If you can fit in 2 workouts a day all the better. Although sports research has indicated that intensive exercise is most effective, this new research suggests that really it is just a matter of burning more calories.

Whether you spring or walk makes little difference, so long as you do the work. Sprinting obviously burns calories quicker than walking but if you can only walk that just means is that you have to exercise for longer each day.

There are many exercise routines that will help you to get a 6 pack once you have lost all your fat. The most important thing is to combine different workouts. Weight training is essential, as building muscle speeds metabolism.

Intensive exercise, such as interval training and circuit training burns fat fast. Keep it varied, and you will lose weight. Remember that although stomach exercises will not help you to lose fat, they will help to tone the mid-section and develop your abdominals.

If exercise is simply not an option for you then you should read the section on How to Lose Weight which explains the role of food, hormones and fat loss. Although diet plays the most important role in losing weight and body fat, exercise really is essential.

Fortunately there are some fitness and weight loss plans that are tailored to help people lose fat. We have many workouts in our fitness section. There is really no single “best exercise” to lose fat, what is important is that you do exercise on a regular basis and burn as many extra calories as you can.

Further guides to losing weight and getting in shape

1. Weight loss advice for men

Belly fat seems to be a huge problem for lots of people, especially men. Naturally, men tend to hold more fat around their waistline (this is visceral fat, or internal fat), which we call love handles (also known as beer belly or pot belly).

The rules on how to lose fat for men do not vary significantly really, but there are a few considerations concerning lifestyle, physical fitness and diet. Besides the biological nature of men, modern lifestyle also has a huge impact on belly fat; as work, stress, entertaining clients and lack of exercise contribute to the accumulation of stomach fat.

Belly fat is usually a very stubborn type of fat, in that it requires a lot of work to reduce it. The best way for men to lose weight is through a combination of cardiovascular exercise, weight training and a lean muscle-building diet.

Our article on how to lose your beer belly provides more specific information for men. Losing your gut and getting a flat stomach can be a slow experience, but it is certainly worth the efforts.

The rewards are not only a better looking and fit body, but also improved long-term health. You can also learn how to get rid of “man boobs” here.

2. Weight loss advice for women

an exercising woman's torsoMany women accumulate stomach fat, especially after having children. Really the same approach needs to be taken – combine regular exercise with a healthy diet.

It is very easy to develop bad eating habits when nurturing a baby. Irregular sleep leads to poor diet and emotional eating and also causes weight gain. We also have articles on losing baby fat as well as a set of belly fat rules for women that you may find useful.

3. Diet and health tips for teenagers

2 healthy teenagers in a parkWe have had many teenagers ask what they can do to lose fat. Really the best thing to do is adjust your diet and get more active. Reduce sugar intake, which includes sugar in processed foods, junk food, cakes and cookies.

Eat more lean proteins, less starchy foods and start exercising more. Teenagers have a great advantage over adults as they are more energetic and have a faster metabolism.

Weight loss is still relatively easy for teens so long as a healthy diet is followed and regular exercise is taken. However, teenagers do require more calories than adults to ensure healthy growth and development.

If your school does not provide adequate exercise or sports then join an after school club. Martial arts, dance or scouts will all provide plenty of exercise and activities to help get you fit. Read our article on teenage health and fitness to learn more on theis subject.

4. Weight loss advice for seniors

a healthy and fit gentleman in his 50'sLosing weight becomes harder as we age. Metabolism tends to slow down which means that it is far easier to gain weight. Also we become less active as we get older which just adds to the problems.

However, this does not have to stop you from losing weight. Sir Anthony Hopkins lost 80 pounds after following a strict diet and walking program.

Remember that diet is more important than exercise to lose weight. You will never be able to burn of excess energy through exercise (only professional athletes are able to do this).

The key is to reduce the amount of calories consumed while maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. One word of caution, although higher protein diets aid weight loss, research has shown that high protein diets can lead to a reduction in bone density in older women.

It is therefore important to do some weight training exercises as part of your weekly fitness routine to ensure that both muscle mass and bone density is maintained. Read our article Over 50′s exercise advice to learn more.

5. Remember that a little belly fat is natural

Remember this fact: belly fat is natural. Its main purpose is actually to protect the vital internal organs. To lose all your belly fat is to defy nature. This is why it is so difficult to achieve. But you can do it if you stay focused and work hard. The fat that surrounds the internal organs can be burnt off with intensive exercise. weight training and a sensible low sugar diet. MotleyHealth.com provides many well structured diet plans which provide the best ways to lose fat. This really is the key to training your body how to lose fat.

6. Other diet plans for losing fat

There are many well researched and healthy diet plans available to help you lose your central stomach fat. The much misunderstood Atkins diet is still a very good way to lose weight. The The Dukan diet is becoming more popular and follows in the footsteps of Atkins with more care over ensuring that you eat a healthy low GI diet.

1 Final rule to get fit and healthy again – change your life!

There is only one reason why you are overweight now. It is because in recent years you have gone from being a healthy person, maybe without realizing it, to being an unhealthy one. When at school our eating habits are restricted. Children can eat only during lunch break.

Exercise is compulsory. This trend continues for a while after school for many people, as they follow sporting pursuits and their eating habits remain the same. But time passes, and the good habits instilled during our formative years are eroded away. We snack, we eat extra meals, we become sedentary, stop exercising, stop playing sports, stop running for fun, stop cycling our bikes or climbing trees, stop digging holes and stop chasing friends for the thrill of the sprint.

We stop, we eat and we get fat!

For some it happens in a few months, for others it may take a decade before the rot sets in. But the reason is the same: we stop caring.

We forget what it is to be free, to be young, to have fun, to run with no reason, to climb and not care if we fall, and to stop to eat only when we have been called five times. The one true rule to losing weight and getting slim again is to change, to go back to be young again.

Develop a strict eating regime and stick to it. Follow a fitness routine and diet plan and never skip a class (unless you have a letter from a parent). Get up and change your life. Be young again. Be fit again. Be slim again. Be happy again. Remember, we are here to help. The real key to losing weight is to reverse the bad habits that have been formed over the past years.

Being overweight is simply the result of eating more food than you need. As we grow older our daily calorie needs generally reduce, so diet must be adjusted to compensate. When people continue to eat throughout their twenties in the same way that they ate during their teenage years they will put on weight.

A healthy diet really does help to reduce hunger and keep you slim. Regular exercise helps to burn more calories and reduce hunger by controlling the hormones that regulate appetite. Diet and fitness really is the answer.

We hope that you find our flat tummy tips helpful. If you have any questions please ask below. There really is no one single trick to lose fat; you have to adopt multiple lifestyle changes to improve your diet, be more active and get fitter. It takes time, but it is never too late to get started.

Selected references

The Effects of Aerobic versus Resistance Training on Visceral and Liver Fat Stores, Liver Enzymes and HOMA from STRRIDE AT/RT: A Randomized Trial” by Cris A. Slentz. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab August 16, 2011 ajpendo.00291.2011. Abstract – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov (accessed August 2011).

Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior” GI News. Accessed Sept. 2011. “Effects of an Energy-Restrictive Diet With or Without Exercise on Abdominal Fat, Intermuscular Fat, and Metabolic Risk Factors in Obese Women” by Ian Janssen, Anne Fortier, Robert Hudson, and Robert Ross. Published in Diabetes Care March 2002 vol. 25 no. 3 431-438. Abstract – DiabetesJournals.org, accessed June 2008.

Exercise-induced reversal of insulin resistance in obese elderly is associated with reduced visceral fat” by Valerie B. O’Leary el alJournal of Applied Physiology May 2006 vol. 100 no. 5 1584-1589.

Inactivity, exercise, and visceral fat. STRRIDE: a randomized, controlled study of exercise intensity and amount” by Cris A. Slentz et al, Journal of Applied Physiology October 1, 2005 vol. 99 no. 4 1613-1618

Article history

This article was first published in July 2007 and has undergone many updates, edits and reviews in the years since. We added the comments section in 2008 and very soon there were over a thousand question and answers.

We have now moved all old comments to this public comments archive. In 2012 we updated the article with the media review, first previously published in May 2011 as a separate article. In 2013 we moved the Dean Ornish TED talk as it was slowing down the page for some of our readers.

There are still over 6000 words of advice, so take your time and read from the top – almost everything you need to know is here. Any questions, please use the form below. Photo by Glenn Francis, Pacific Pro Digital.

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