It’s impossible to target belly fat specifically when you diet. But losing weight overall will help shrink your waistline; more importantly, it will help reduce the dangerous layer of visceral fat, a type of fat within the abdominal cavity that you can’t see but that heightens health risks, says Kerry Stewart, Ed.D. , director of Clinical and Research Physiology at Johns Hopkins.
Real talk: It could take weeks or months to see the metabolic effects of exercise on the scale, and even then, building muscle, which is denser than body fat, could lead to weight gain. "Do what you like because it’s good for you," Dr. Seltzer says, noting the way exercise is awesome for your heart, mental health, and more—and that not all measure of progress can be seen on the scale.
It’s true that a caloric deficit—burning more calories per day than you take in—is a requisite of weight loss. But creating a deficit doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) involve deprivation. That goes for calories, carbs, sugar, fat, or any other commonly demonized nutrient. “No one food is responsible for your weight,” Langer says, explaining that a good vs. bad mentality sets people up for disordered eating and exercise habits. In fact, caloric deprivation increases how the brain responds to food, setting you up for binge-eating down the line, according to research from the Oregon Research Institute.
"Your body needs a healthy balance of exercise and rest. Doing too much prevents the body from shifting excess fat. Exercising without rest can impact our levels of the steroid hormone cortisol and cause an increase of stubborn fat stored in the belly. Not allowing your body to recover can increase the risk of injury too, so make sure you factor in rest days to your plan."
They should help keep you from feeling deprived and bingeing on higher-calorie foods. For instance: honey has just 64 fat-releasing calories in one tablespoon. Eggs have just 70 calories in one hard-boiled egg, loaded with fat-releasing protein. Part-skim ricotta cheese has just 39 calories in one ounce, packed with fat-releasing calcium. Dark chocolate has about 168 calories in a one-ounce square, but it’s packed with fat releasers. And a University of Tennessee study found that people who cut 500 calories a day and ate yogurt three times a day for 12 weeks lost more weight and body fat than a group that only cut the calories. The researchers concluded that the calcium in low-fat dairy foods triggers a hormonal response that inhibits the body’s production of fat cells and boosts the breakdown of fat.
If you eat your dinner restaurant style on your plate rather than family style, helping yourself from bowls and platters on the table, you’ll lose weight. Most of us tend to eat an average of 150 percent more calories in the evening than in the morning. You’ll avoid that now because when your plate is empty, you’re finished; there’s no reaching for seconds.
But his struggle resonates with lifelong dieters. For most of his life, Stevens, now 41, believed certain foods had the power to make him fat or thin. He went on his first diet at age 10, and for 25 years he counted calories, carbs and fat while on every diet from Atkins to the Zone. He lost hundreds of pounds, but they always returned, and his weight continued to climb.
If you're specifically looking to target your belly, we have some bad news: you can't spot-target fat loss. That means you can do crunches or planks all day long, but you won't specifically burn belly fat. Instead, you can lose body fat overall, including from your belly. And by avoiding certain belly-bloating foods and with some strategic exercise, you will inevitably see results in your belly.
Research has shown that with intermittent fasting, blood pressure is reduced, levels of sugars and fats in circulation are improved, and inflammation, an indicator of heart disease risk, can be limited. Every week there is a day when you are eating a reduced amount of calories compared to the other days, to achieve this. He has dieters follow a specific four-week eating plan, including some days where the calorie count is about 1,600, and other days where it is 900. (The average caloric intake for women is about 1,800 a day; for men, 2,500, according to government statistics).
Protein is one macronutrient that can really help fight belly fat. When you eat more protein, it keeps you fuller longer and reduces the hunger hormone ghrelin, helping you slash the total calories you consume in a day. High-protein meals, with 20 to 30 grams of protein each, can also help you burn more calories by raising the body’s metabolic rate. Eat up to three protein-rich meals a day to keep your appetite and cravings in check. Good sources of protein include poultry, lean meat, eggs, fresh-caught fish and other seafood, cottage cheese, and yogurt. Include one or more of these in every meal. Say hello to a slimmer waistline with these 15 foods that actually flatten your belly.
On the physiological side of things, it’s important to realize that the vast majority of your daily caloric burn comes down to just basic functions like breathing and keeping your heart beating, Moore says. Called your basal metabolic rate (BMR), your muscle does play a role in setting it, but extra muscle isn’t going to turn you into a supercharged calorie-torching machine. And even though exercise does burn calories, that total is often significantly less than what we expect and would need to create a large daily caloric deficit, he says.
"With all the different tips out there, it can be tricky to understand exactly which exercises work the best. HIIT is great for fat burning and will get your heart rate up, but I’d also recommend including strength (resistance) exercises too. Try lifting weights, using resistance bands or using the weight machines at the gym as these will increase your metabolism to help with weight loss, and increase your muscle strength. It’s important to mix-up your whole-body workouts so you don’t get bored."