How to Lose Belly Fat

The Truth About How to Lose Belly Fat

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You’ve tried them all in your pursuit of flat abs: crunches, reverse crunches, planks, bicycles and even the ab roller. After all, it seems logical. To increase muscular definition and lose fat, you should workout your stomach muscles more. But will that really lead to a trim belly?

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“You can do 50,000 crunches a day, but it will still only be toned muscles under your belly fat,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN and owner of Nutrition Starring You. “The truth is, unless the weight comes off, you’re not going to get a six-pack.”

So how do you get rid of the stubborn cushion around your midsection? Read on to get the real scoop on how to lose belly fat.

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Stomach Fat 101

“You exercise for 30 minutes compared to the 23-and-a-half hours that you don’t exercise.”

First things first, everyone has fat, both the layer of subcutaneous fat just under our skin that helps insulate the body and the deeper visceral fat that surrounds and protects the organs. That’s right: You’re supposed to have belly fat. But just how much fat you have and how it’s distributed has more to do with genetics than your core workout.

Men and women squirrel away fat differently, according to Harris-Pincus. On average, women have six to 11 percent more body fat than men. That extra fat typically gathers lower on the body (especially before they hit menopause) around the hips and thighs, creating a pear-shape. Men, on the other hand, tend to accumulate fat around the belly (hence, the beer gut).

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Thanks to the hormone estrogen, the female body likes to hold on to fat, too. A study in Obesity Reviews shows that women store fat more efficiently than men in an effort to prepare the body for pregnancy. But while it seems like women may have drawn the short-end of the stick, the stereotypical pear-shape is actually considered healthier than boasting a beer gut, because belly fat is a red flag when it comes to your health. “Visceral fat is associated with increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome,” says Harris-Pincus.

How to Lose Belly Fat - Eat The Right Things

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How to Lose Belly Fat and Keep It Off

While targeting the abdominal muscles through exercises like crunches, the more critical aspect of losing belly fat lies in dietary choices. Nutrition expert Lauren Harris-Pincus emphasizes the importance of maintaining a balanced and healthy diet, which consists of veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, low-fat dairy, and lean protein like poultry, eggs, and fish for a dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Cutting down on added sugar and controlling portion sizes is also crucial for reducing belly fat.

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Although spot reduction of belly fat isn’t possible, overall body fat reduction can be achieved through a combination of a balanced diet and regular exercise. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has proven to be effective in reducing excess fat around the abdomen. A study suggests that even increasing general physical activity throughout the day can contribute to lowering overall body fat percentage.

The Bottom Line

There isn’t one magic trick or quick fix that will melt the fat around your midsection and give you those coveted abs we all see on the newsstands. Decreasing belly fat — and all body fat for that matter — is about making changes over the long-term.

Originally published October 2015. Updated February 2018.

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