You’ve tried healthy eating, you’ve tried exercising, and perhaps you’ve even tried some expensive weight loss supplement. You may have had some luck in the past, but before you know it, that belly fat quickly re-emerges.
Let’s get one thing straight: belly fat is stubborn.
Fat around your midsection is known as ‘visceral fat’, and this is a type of body fat stored within the abdominal cavity and located near several vital organs such as the liver, stomach, and intestines.
While it’s perfectly normal to have some fat around your abdomen, visceral fat can build up in the arteries and this can actively increase your risk of acquiring serious health problems – which is one of the reasons why visceral fat is sometimes known as ‘active’ fat.
But fear not – it’s not impossible to budge your belly fat, and there are a few ways to keep it off permanently. You just need to know exactly how to do this, and we’re going to show you how in this article.
The spot reduction myth
You might have heard about spot reduction – the idea that you can target a specific area of your body to tone muscle, shed fat, and sweat more. There are even supplements marketed at targeting specific areas of the body, such as the belly.
However, it may come as a surprise to you to hear that spot-reduction is a myth. Everyone has different fat distributions, and that’s why two people who are the same weight can have completely different body shapes. One person may have more muscle definition in their legs, while the other may have more definition in their abs.
Men and women also have different fat distributions, and annoyingly, men are more prone to holding fat around the midsection – a.k.a the notorious beer belly.
The only way to truly shift your belly fat is to get leaner.
By burning off more calories your body will use fat from every cell evenly. If you carry more fat in a certain area, like your belly, it will take longer to see results because there is more fat to lose.
Without being in a consistent caloric deficit, you won’t get rid of that stubborn belly fat.
To achieve this, there are three things you can do: ignite, train and maintain your metabolism, which we’ll explain below.
1. Kick-start your metabolism
In order to get lean and tone your muscle, you need to ensure you’re consuming enough protein.
If your diet lacks protein, it can lead to health issues, tissue can break down, and it can even lead to muscle loss. Not only this, but protein helps fuel energy and carry oxygen throughout your bloodstream. It also helps produce antibodies that fight off infections and illnesses and helps maintain and produce healthy cells.
Out of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and protein, protein is the most metabolically active of the three. Basically, it takes more energy to digest protein than it does carbohydrates and fats, so if you’re consuming more protein, you’ll also be burning more calories. If your protein intake is low, your appetite will also be higher, as protein keeps you feeling satiated for longer.
To lose belly fat, your first step should be to ignite your metabolism by eating more protein. You can start with a goal of 0.9 g/lb/day, which is around 180g of protein for a 200lb man. Once you’re comfortable with this, you can increase it slightly.
However, if you’re not used to a high protein diet you may find this a challenge at first. You’re also likely to feel fuller as a result of the protein, so you may struggle to eat as much. Try to eat the protein part of your meal before the rest of it, as this will make it easier to hit your target.
While protein may be found in fatty cuts of bacon or hot dogs, these should not be your primary source of protein, as they’ll simply drive your calorie and fat intake upwards.
Opt for lean meats which have more than 60% of calories coming from protein, like chicken breast, fish, and lean cuts of beef and pork. Protein shakes are an easy way to up your protein intake. Greek yoghurt is also a good source of protein, as is peanut butter, but remember the latter is also high in fat, so don’t rely on this regularly. Eggs, almonds, and oats are also great for vegetarians, as is broccoli.
It’s also a good idea to reduce your alcohol consumption, or if possible, cut it out altogether. Alcohol blunts your body’s ability to metabolize fat even in a caloric deficit, and this is true both when you’re drinking, and the following day.
Not to mention the number of calories found in alcohol, and the fact that it tends to make you crave the saltiest, fattiest foods. You needn’t stop drinking forever, but it’s a good idea to do so until you reach your desired body fat level and have built up a metabolic ‘cushion’ which allows you to indulge a little if you work hard in the gym and eat healthily the rest of the time.
2. Train your metabolism with strength workouts
Getting your diet on track is the first step to losing belly fat. Next, you need to combine this with consistent strength training. This will enable you to target excessive fat, burn calories, and build muscle, while also maintaining your metabolic rate.
Proper strength training will allow you to build up strength while also repairing muscles from damage. It also helps you maintain a healthy body fat percentage by providing a metabolic ‘cushion’ when you do overeat – so it allows you to indulge a little now and again.
Three hours of intense strength training per week will help you train your metabolism. You shouldn’t treat it as a short-term solution either, you should aim to continue strength training in the long run to ensure you shed that belly fat – and keep it off.
3. Keep your metabolism on track
Strength training is a great start for targeting your belly fat, but generally speaking, you’ll need to be doing more than that to truly train your metabolism. Being active is key to staying fit and healthy, and it’s the best thing you can do to keep your belly fat off once and for all.
For example, regular aerobic exercise – also known as cardio – is a great way to shed visceral fat as it burns a lot of calories. Studies have even shown that you can lose visceral fat through aerobic exercise even without dieting.
An analysis of 15 studies in 852 people assessed how well different types of exercise reduced visceral fat without dieting. Results showed that moderate and high-intensity aerobic exercises were most effective at doing this.
While running and cycling are great ways to increase your aerobic activity, there are also easy ways to increase your metabolism during your daily routine. You can do this by making simple lifestyle changes – ie. stop taking the elevator, walk rather than drive, don’t stay sitting down for long periods of time. Taking regular walks on your lunch break or after dinner is an easy way to maintain a healthy metabolic rate and stay fit.
You don’t have to do this for long in order for it to take effect. Even 5 minutes of exercise is better than staying sat down. You’ll also find that the more active you become, the more you’ll crave exercise, and it’ll soon become a natural habit. It will also do wonders for your mental health and stress levels.
You burn about 30% of your weight in calories – 60kcal for a 200lb man – after walking a mile, and it takes just 2,000 steps to walk a mile. You can easily incorporate this into your day, either on your daily commute, walking around the office, or parking further away so that you’re forced to walk further to work.
Walking is also a great option because it doesn’t increase your appetite as much as long, moderate-intensity cardio sessions will – like jogging, spin classes, and kickboxing. Those extra 2,000 steps a day won’t have a noticeable effect on your appetite, but they will make a big difference to how many calories you burn, making it a far better way to sustain fat loss.
Sugar can also lead to weight gain. Studies have also shown that people who eat more added sugar tend to have a greater percentage of visceral fat. That doesn’t mean you can never treat yourself to something sweet, but try not to indulge every day.
Choose smart alternatives
Avoid trans fats
Trans fats are pretty much the worst thing you can put in your body, as they’re an artificial type of fat that’s created by pumping hydrogen into vegetable oils. They’re popular because they are easily preserved and have a longer shelf life, which is why they’re often added to processed foods such as potato chips.
However, not only will trans fats increase your visceral fat but they’re also linked to several health issues, so steer clear of these as best as you can.
Get plenty of sleep
A third of American adults aren’t getting enough sleep, and studies have proven that a lack of sleep can increase your risk of visceral fat gain, while increasing your sleep may help reduce it.
A six-year study analyzing 293 people found that increasing sleep from 6 hours or less to 7–8 hours reduced visceral fat gain by roughly 26%. You’ll also notice that getting a good night’s sleep will improve your stress levels and make you feel more refreshed and energized throughout the day.
Reduce stress levels
Interestingly, stress and anxiety can not only affect us mentally but can have a knock-on effect on our physical health too. Stress and anxiety stimulate the body’s adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, a stress hormone, and excess cortisol has been proven to increase visceral fat storage.
Not only this, but ongoing stress can increase overeating, which in turn may worsen this problem.
You can reduce stress levels by reducing the amount of time you spend working (if possible). You may be able to raise your concerns with your boss, and see if there are any ways you can reduce your workload. However, if this isn’t possible, you can reduce stress in other ways – for example, through regular exercise, yoga or meditation, or just reserving more time for social activities with friends and family.
Belly fat is stubborn, and it takes time and persistence to get rid of it. While strict diets, fancy supplements, and intense workouts may make for a successful short-term solution, this won’t keep your belly fat off in the long run, and therefore you need to find a sustainable way of keeping your body fat percentage at your desired rate.
The best way to do this is by igniting your metabolism, training your metabolism, and finally, maintaining your metabolism. This involves eating plenty of protein, staying active, and doing regular strength training to keep muscles lean. You should also aim to cut out trans fats and sugary foods, as well as reduce your alcohol intake and stress levels, and get plenty of sleep.
Don’t be taken in by fad diets and spot reduction training programs. They may work for now, but they won’t allow you to sustain your desired weight. Be persistent, and find what works for you, then stick with it!