11 Ways To Get Rid of Belly Fat

How can you get rid of belly fat? Genetics, hormones, and general lifestyle all come into play.

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) resides around your midsection, it goes deeper than just below the skin. It pads your intestines and other vital organs, Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, professor and chair of nutrition and food studies in the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., 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."

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 your waist circumference is more than 40 or 35 inches for men and non-pregnant women, respectively.

But belly fat can be independent of overall body fat. In other words, someone who's not overweight could still have a lot of excess fat around their waist. Also, it's normal to carry some weight around your middle. But if you want to trim it down, here are a few things you can do.

Belly Fat Naturally Increases as You Age

As you get older, your body changes how it gains and loses weight. People experience a declining metabolic rate, or the number of calories the body needs to function normally. On top of that, menopause further complicates the metabolic process for some people.

"If [cisgender women] gain weight after menopause, it's more likely to be in their bellies," Michael D. Jensen, MD, chair of the Mayo Clinic Obesity Specialty Council in Rochester, Md., told Health

In menopause, the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone slows down. Lower estrogen levels may play a role in weight gain after menopause.

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 vegetables.

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 the Cleveland Clinic, told Health

Strength training increases muscle mass, which may help your body burn more fat, agreed Dr. Cheskin.

"When you build muscle, you tend to replace fat with that muscle," said Dr. Cheskin.

"Muscle burns more calories than fat. And therefore, you naturally burn more calories throughout the day by having more muscle," added Kate Patton, RD, sports health and preventive cardiology outpatient dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. Patton recommended 250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 125 minutes of high-intensity exercise weekly.

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," explained Patton. "Belly fat is associated with inflammation, so eating too many processed foods will hinder your ability to lose belly fat."

The following foods cause inflammation, per Harvard Medical School:

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
  • French fries and other fried foods
  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
  • Margarine, shortening, and lard

According to Patton, natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that help prevent belly fat.

Eat All Fats (Even Healthy Ones) In Moderation

The body doesn't react to all fats in the same way. According to Patton, research correlates a high intake of saturated fat (the kind in meat and dairy) to increased visceral fat. 

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 on the body. And if eaten in proper portions, they may do your body good. 

But Patton warned that overeating any kind of fat increases your calorie intake and could lead to weight gain, so enjoy healthy fats in moderation.

Switch up Your Workouts

To banish stubborn belly fat, you have to ramp up your workouts. 

Some studies examining the effect of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on improving body composition have suggested that HIIT significantly reduces 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 possible. If that sounds intimidating, think of it this way: You'll burn more calories in less time.

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

Doing crunches every morning and every night? When you're down to your final inches of belly fat, countless crunches won't necessarily help you reveal a six-pack. It's time to switch it up. 

"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 them flatter.

Instead, Jill suggested doing functional exercises that use the muscles of your entire core—abdominals, back, pelvic, obliques—and other body parts. 

"These exercises use more muscles, so there is a higher rate of calorie burn while you are doing them," said Jill. 

Jill noted that planks are her favorite functional exercise. They activate your core muscles and 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

Take Your Stress Levels Down a Notch

Tight deadlines, bills, 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 stressed, though that's part. 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 cortisol levels have been linked to more visceral fat.

Get At Least Seven Hours of Sleep Each Night

Approximately 35% of Americans sleep less than seven hours a night. If you're one of them, here's one simple way to reduce your waistline: catch more Zs.

People who regularly sleep less than seven hours per night are more likely to have higher average body mass indexes and develop obesity than those who sleep more.

Don't Stress Over Genetics

You're apple-shaped if you tend to carry more weight around your middle than your hips and thighs. That 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 specific body part. So if your genetics have you carrying it around your middle, focus on losing weight all over, said Dr. Cheskin.

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 [healthcare provider]," said Dr. Kashyap. That's because some people with PCOS have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

In some cases of PCOS, the body may be unable to make enough insulin, a hormone that helps your cells absorb sugars. Without enough insulin, you may develop high blood sugar, which damages your body’s systems.

Dr. Cheskin also added that people with higher testosterone levels tend to carry more fat in their bellies. On the other hand, people who have higher levels of estrogen than others typically find more weight around their lower half.

Choose Healthy Eating Over a Short-Term 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 (refined) 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."

The good news: For most people, when they lose weight, it tends to come off the middle, said Dr. Cheskin. People also usually shed belly fat quicker than in other areas because the tummy is a temporary holding zone for fat. 

So, try lifestyle changes if you want to shed pounds off your midsection. Exercising more, adding some HIIT and strength training, and eating a healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help you lose weight. But they are also changes that will benefit your overall health.

Updated by
Mallory Creveling, ACE-CPT
Mallory Creveling is a health and fitness writer and ACE-certified personal trainer. Her freelance work appears across several national publications, including SELF, Shape, Health, Prevention, Runners World, and Men's Journal.
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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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