If you haven’t been able to lose your belly fat on your own, we’ve asked experts to share the tips and advice they use with clients to help them lose belly fat for good. Vermont-based registered dietitian and nutritionist Maddie Kinzly, MS, LD, told POPSUGAR that while you can’t choose where on your body you gain or lose fat (sorry, boobs!), some people are more predisposed to holding weight in their bellies.
Although you can’t specifically tell your tummy to slim down on command, Kinzly said you can see reductions in your belly fat and other areas of your body when you lose weight overall and reduce your body fat percentage. Here’s what you can do to start losing belly fat right now.
Focus on Whole, One-Ingredient Foods
Eat foods in the form most closely found in nature. Kinzly said they’re “loaded with healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber to keep you full.” Your plate should include whole foods such as complex carbs — like fruit, sweet potatoes, and whole grains — a variety of veggies, nuts and seeds, lean protein, and eggs. Also, limit the packaged foods with tons of ingredients, additives, and dyes, and don’t forget the healthy fats.
Eat More Veggies and Plant-Based Meals
Studies show that vegetarians (and, even more so, vegans) routinely have lower bodyweight, Seattle-based registered dietitian, nutritionist, and Arivale coach Ginger Hultin, MS, CSO, told POPSUGAR. That’s because plant-based foods like veggies are high in fiber, and research shows that women who followed a higher-fiber diet were at a reduced likelihood of having an increased waist circumference. Try eating a more plant-based diet, focusing on veggies, whole grains, and plant proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products.
Registered dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, CD, of Whole Health Nutrition said that eating veggies is one of the easiest ways to start losing body fat. She recommended including veggies in every single meal and snack — even breakfast and dessert!
Be Aware of Calories
Eating too much can lead to greater fat deposits, including around the belly, Hultin explained, so it’s essential to follow a diet with appropriate calories for your needs. “Caloric needs are based on numerous factors, but the most important ones for a healthy individual include gender, age, weight, height, and activity level,” added Stephanie Ferrari, a registered dietitian with Fresh Communications.
In order to determine how many calories you need, meet with a registered dietitian who can assess your lifestyle, goals, and health history to make recommendations (but this formula will give you an idea). Once you have a daily calorie amount in mind, measuring and weighing your food and tracking calories in an app such as MyFitnessPal can help you stay within your range. Keep in mind that even if you’re eating healthy foods, the calories can quickly add up (we’re looking at you, 800-calorie smoothie!).
Make sure you eat enough to keep your body and brain functioning properly, explained ACSM-certified personal trainer and registered dietitian Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, because severely restricting calories can actually slow down your metabolism. Never dip below 1,200 calories, especially if you’re also working out. For reference, the USDA dietary guidelines recommend adult women consume 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day, but that number will vary based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.
Get Enough Daily Protein
While eating whole foods and watching your calorie intake are important, getting enough lean protein at every single meal can help build muscle and satiate hunger, and it may even rev up your metabolism, said dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, MS, RD.
For protein, you need about 0.8 to 1.8 grams per pound of bodyweight, depending on how active you are. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 20 to 30 grams per meal of lean protein from sources that are low in saturated fats and processed carbohydrates. “This doesn’t necessarily mean eat more meat,” Kinzly explained. “There are many plant foods that contain protein, including grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and vegetables.”
Move Throughout the Day
While doing a 30- to 60-minute workout once a day is great, you won’t burn tons of calories if the rest of the day you’re sitting at a desk. Focus on increasing NEAT (nonexercise activity thermogenesis), which is the calories you burn moving around throughout the day (not through exercise). Increasing NEAT will increase your metabolic rate, which will burn more daily calories and help you lose weight.
If you work at a desk, make a point to get up and walk around a few minutes every hour, or do some quick bodyweight exercises or stretches. Anna Victoria, an NASM-certified personal trainer and the creator of the Fit Body app, said that taking a 30-minute walk during your lunch break or after dinner can help you see fat-loss progress.
If you want to encourage more moving around, wear a pedometer like a FitBit to keep track of your steps. It’ll challenge you to get in at least 10,000 steps a day.
Limit the Sugar and Processed Junk
Eating junk food won’t help you lose weight, but it’s not only because those foods tend to be high in calories — it also has to do with insulin. Jason Fung, MD, a nephrologist (kidney specialist), explained that processed carbs and sugary foods such as ice cream, cookies, muffins, crackers, bagels, and white bread spike your insulin levels, which causes weight gain. Keeping your insulin levels low will help you reduce your overall body fat percentage, and that means belly fat.
Aside from being high in carbs and calories, eating these foods also doesn’t offer your body any nutrition, so you end up feeling hungry, which makes you eat more. Eating sugary foods also increases your cravings for them, another contributor to overeating.
It’s OK to enjoy sugary treats and processed carbs every once in a while, but if you cut down on these types of food, you’ll definitely notice a difference in how you feel and how your belly looks.
Try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) involves not eating (aka fasting) for part of each day or a few times a week. One common example of this is to eat only during an eight-hour window in a day and fast for the other 16. When your body doesn’t have a constant energy source from the food you eat, it allows your body to utilize the fat stores it already has, helping you lose belly fat.
Ferrari and Luiza Petre, MD, a weight-loss specialist and board-certified cardiologist, told POPSUGAR that intermittent fasting raises growth hormone levels and lowers insulin levels, both of which help burn more fat. “Insulin decreases when you fast, and lower levels of insulin results in burning more fat,” Ferrari added.
Eating in a shortened window not only reduces hunger (it’s true!), but since you’re not eating for long periods of time, there are also fewer opportunities to consume calories, which is why IF helps people eat fewer calories effortlessly.
Lift Heavy Sh*t
Many experts like Nicole Aurigemma, a physiologist at the Penn State Muscle Biology Lab, agree that you should focus on strength training to increase your muscle mass to burn more calories and speed up your metabolism. Aim for at least three sessions a week, include all parts of your body, incorporate different exercises, and use a variety of equipment.
Eat This Type of Fiber
Beckerman recommends people eat more soluble fiber to burn more belly fat. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and creates a gel-like substance that mixes with other partially digested food in your small intestine. “This gel that forms slows digestion in the body, which keeps you feeling full for longer,” she told POPSUGAR. “Research supports that soluble fiber leads to a decrease in the amount of fat in the abdominal region.” Focus on eating foods like lentils and other legumes, barley, and some fruits and veggies such as cauliflower, apples, and citrus fruits.
Skip the Alcohol
Both Hultin and Kinzly agree that drinking alcohol won’t help you reduce belly fat. “We say that alcohol is empty calories for a reason; with 80 to 150 calories per drink, these can add up quickly,” Kinzly said. Drinking alcohol can also lower your inhibitions and make it easier for you to say yes to foods you wouldn’t normally eat and make it harder for you to listen to your body’s “I’m full” signals.
Alcohol consumption has been linked to abdominal fat, registered dietitian Whitney English, MS, of Whitney E. RD shared with POPSUGAR. One reason is when you drink alcohol, which your body cannot store like it can fat, protein, and carbs, your liver prioritizes processing the alcohol, which interferes with your metabolism. This leads to the storage of more fat in your body (and your belly), so limit the wine, beer, and cocktails.
Add in This Type of Cardio
Cardio still has a place in helping diminish belly fat, but not just any kind. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are the most effective type of cardio proven to target belly fat. It not only works but also saves you time at the gym. “The whole workout, including warmup, doesn’t need to be more than 45 minutes to be effective,” said ACE-certified fitness instructor John Kersbergen. He added that three to four times a week is enough.
Drink Tons of Water
Drinking water throughout the day will fill your belly and satiate your thirst, which is often mistaken for hunger. Staying hydrated will also help you consume fewer daily calories and keep you alert, so you’re less likely to need a sugary pick-me-up. Fitness guru Bob Harper revealed he drinks at least a gallon a day and said it’s “one of the best weight-loss tips in the world.” But there’s no need to drink that much! Maya Feller, MS, RD, of Maya Feller Nutrition told POPSUGAR we should aim for 91 ounces a day.
“Rather than food right away, I recommend that each meal start with drinking water first,” Ilana Muhlstein, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and the cocreator of Beachbody’s 2B Mindset nutrition program, told POPSUGAR. Aim to drink 16 ounces of water before reaching for your first bite of food. To help you remember, when you sit down to eat, make sure you have a big water bottle or two eight-ounce glasses. Muhlstein said you may find yourself feeling fuller and slimmer in just a few days.
Relax and Fuel Your Happiness
“Stress releases a hormone called cortisol,” Erica Patel, MD, told POPSUGAR. “Over time, persistently high levels of cortisol seen in stress promote the storage of excess glucose as fat in the abdomen, causing belly fat.”
Find healthy ways to relax each day, like taking 10 minutes alone to listen to music or an uplifting podcast, walking in nature, reading your favorite book, or doing this tension-melting yoga sequence. If you’re anxious or worried, talk to a friend or therapist or write in a journal. And go ahead and treat yourself to a massage or pedicure when you’re really stressed. It’s good for your mental health — and your belly.
Say No to Trans Fat
“Trans fats could make you fatter than other foods with the same number of calories,” Kinzly said, which is shocking. New research indicates that trans fats increase the amount of fat around the belly. These are man-made fats, and our bodies have a very hard time digesting them. So avoid hydrogenated oils found in manufactured baked goods such as cookies and crackers, frosting, some brands of margarine and shortening, and candies. Read labels to make sure, avoiding foods that include partially hydrogenated oil.A