10 Ways to Get Rid of Belly Fat

Here's the thing about belly fat: Whether you love it or hate it, it's not entirely under your control. In fact, the causes of belly fat—which isn't just fat around your midsection—can be due to a bunch of different factors that you don't have much say in, like your genes or your stress levels. Still, there are health benefits to losing belly fat—and they have absolutely nothing to do with how you look or what size jeans you wear. Here are11 ways to get rid of belly fat, along with a few important things to know about what may be causing you to hold on to belly fat.

One-legged plank
Photo: Zinkevych/Getty Images

The definition of belly fat might sound obvious—it's clearly the fat that sits around your middle, right? Well, not quite. While belly fat (also known as visceral fat) does indeed reside around your midsection, it goes deeper than just below the skin, padding your intestines and other vital organs, Lawrence Cheskin, MD, professor and chair of the department of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, told Health.

"The reason it's different than other forms of fat is because it's more metabolically active—it gets into the bloodstream faster than the stuff under your skin," said Dr. Cheskin. "Belly fat has a bad influence on blood cholesterol and blood sugar, and all the metabolic diseases."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive abdominal fat places you at greater risk for developing obesity-related conditions, such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. You may have a higher risk of developing obesity-related conditions if you are a man whose waist circumference is more than 40 inches or a non-pregnant woman whose waist circumference is more than 35 inches.

Belly fat can also be independent from overall body fat, meaning someone who's not overweight could still have a lot of excess fat around his or her waist. The good news: For most people, when they lose weight, it tends to come off the middle, said Dr. Cheskin. People also tend to shed belly fat a little quicker than other areas, because the tummy is just a temporary holding zone for fat, he added.

Something to keep in mind: It's normal to carry some weight around your middle. Dr. Cheskin said a normal waist circumference is less than 40 inches for men and 36 inches for women—but if you want to trim it down, here are a few things you can do.

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Remember: Belly Fat Naturally Increases as You Age

As you get older, your body changes how it gains and loses weight. Both men and women experience a declining metabolic rate, or the number of calories the body needs to function normally. On top of that, women have to deal with menopause. "If women gain weight after menopause, it's more likely to be in their bellies," Michael Jensen, MD, professor of medicine in the Mayo Clinic's endocrinology division, told Health. In menopause, production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone slows down. Lower estrogen levels may play a role in weight gain after menopause, according to the Office on Women's Health. Weight gain may also be caused by metabolism slowing down with age, less-healthful eating habits, and being less active. In addition, you lose muscle mass as you age, so you use fewer calories.

You can't fight aging, but you can adopt lifestyle changes that keep your weight in check. It comes down to exercising more and eating a healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and veggies.

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Add More Strength Training

A daily run or spin class is great for your heart, but cardio workouts alone won't do much for your waist. "You need to do a combination of weights and cardiovascular training," Sangeeta Kashyap, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic, told Health. Strength training increases muscle mass, which sets your body up to burn more fat.

"Muscle burns more calories than fat, and therefore you naturally burn more calories throughout the day by having more muscle," Kate Patton, RD, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic, told Health. Patton recommends 250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 125 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week.

Dr. Cheskin also agrees strength training is the way to go, as it builds muscle. "When you build muscle, you tend to replace fat with that muscle," said Dr. Cheskin.

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Add More Fruits, Veggies, and Whole Grains to Your Diet

"Refined grains like white bread, crackers, and chips, as well as refined sugars in sweetened drinks and desserts, increase inflammation in our bodies," said Patton. "Belly fat is associated with inflammation, so eating too many processed foods will hinder your ability to lose belly fat." Natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are full of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may therefore actually prevent belly fat, Patton says.

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Eat All Fats (Even Healthy Ones!) In Moderation

The body doesn't react to all fats in the same way. Research correlates high intake of saturated fat (the kind in meat and dairy) to increased visceral fat, said Patton. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats (the kind in olive oil and avocados) and specific types of polyunsaturated fats (mainly omega-3s, found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, and fatty fish like salmon) have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, and if eaten in proper portions may do your body good. But Patton warns that eating too much fat of any kind increases your calorie intake and could lead to weight gain, so enjoy healthy fats in moderation.

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Switch up Your Workouts

To banish stubborn belly fat, you have to ramp up your workouts. A 2018 meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine looked at the effect of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to improve body composition. Researchers examined 39 studies involving 617 subjects and concluded that HIIT significantly reduced total abdominal and visceral fat mass.

"You need to exercise at full intensity because the end goal is to burn more calories, and high intensity exercise does just that," Natalie Jill, a San Diego-based certified personal trainer, told Health. High intensity workouts mean you're going all out for as long as you can. If this sounds intimidating, think of it this way: you'll burn more calories in less time.

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Work All of the Muscles in Your Body—Not Just Your Abs

Doing crunches every morning and every night? It's time to switch it up! When you're down to your final inches of belly fat, countless crunches won't necessarily help you reveal a six-pack. "You can't spot reduce," said Jill. In other words, you can't tell your body where to lose fat—even if you exercise your abs every day, that doesn't always make 'em flatter.

Instead, Jill suggests doing functional exercises that use the muscles of your entire core—abdominals, back, pelvic, obliques—as well as other body parts. "These exercises use more muscles, so there is a higher rate of calorie burn while you are doing them," said Jill. Planks are her favorite functional exercise—they activate not just your core muscles but also your arm, leg, and butt muscles. Add some movement to the plank, with shoulder taps or leg lifts, and you up the ante even more.

Watch: The 10-Move Stomach Workout You Can Do at Home for a Stronger Core

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Take Your Stress Levels Down a Notch

Tight deadlines, bills, your kids—whatever your source of stress, having too much of it may make it harder for you to drop unwanted pounds, especially from your middle. And it's not just because you tend to reach for high-fat, high-calorie fare when you're stressed, though that's part of it. It's also due to the stress hormone cortisol, which may increase the amount of fat your body clings to and enlarge your fat cells. Higher levels of cortisol have been linked to more visceral fat, according to the Office on Women's Health.

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Get At Least 7 Hours of Sleep Each Night

Approximately 35% of Americans who sleep less than seven hours a night, according to the CDC. If you're one of them, here's one simple way to reduce your waistline: catch more Zs. According to a 2018 study published in BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine, people who regularly slept less than 7 hours per night were more likely to have higher average body mass indexes and develop obesity than those who slept more. The CDC recommends that adults get 7 or more hours of sleep per night for the best health and wellbeing

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Don't Stress Over Genetics

If you tend to pack the pounds around your middle rather than your hips and thighs, then you're known as apple-shaped. This genetic predisposition means ridding yourself of belly fat will be harder, said Dr. Kashyap, but not impossible.

Again, you can't lose fat only on a certain part of your body. So if your genetics have you carrying it around your middle, focus on losing weight all over, said Dr. Cheskin.

Says About Your Own Health

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Get Your Hormone Levels Checked

If your testosterone levels are high—something that can occur with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)—you might have difficulty losing weight. "If you're an apple shape and overweight, too, it's a good idea to see your doctor," said Dr. Kashyap, since there may also be a chance that you are prediabetic or diabetic.

Dr. Cheskin also said men tend to carry more fat in their bellies than women, who typically find more weight around their lower half.

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Choose Healthy Eating Over a Diet

Reducing belly fat is less about a short-term diet and more about a new approach to eating. "Reducing belly fat takes a combination approach of a low-calorie diet that is high in fiber and low in carbohydrates and sugar along with cardiovascular and weight training," said Dr. Kashyap. "If you are willing to do the work, you can move past genetics and lose it."

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