This question is on so many minds: how can I lose belly fat...and fast? While there's no magic formula of food and exercise to reduce belly fat with the snap of your fingers, there are nutrition choices, exercises and lifestyle changes that can help. Here's your guide to understanding exactly what belly fat is and how you might be able to reduce it over time.
Stress wreaks havoc on every part of your body, and can lead to breakouts, joint pain, headaches, and yes, even excess belly fat. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body pumps out extra cortisol, that not-so-great hormone you keep hearing about. Studies show that cortisol not only spikes your appetite, but may also redistribute body fat to your belly area, according to a review published in the journal Obesity.
Usually work out for 30 minutes? Exercise for a third of that—but go hard! "An intense 10 minutes jump-starts your metabolic furnace and equals about 20 or 30 minutes at a moderate intensity," says Jordan Metzl, MD, author of Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Workout Prescription. If you can’t spare the full 10 minutes, you can sweat for even less time: According to a 2013 study from Colorado State University, exercising for just 2 ½ minutes at a high intensity (think running or biking sprints) can help you burn 200 more calories over the rest of the day.
You may have an apple-shaped or a pear-shaped body structure. Accumulation of fat occurs differently for different people, it actually depends on the body structure. For those whose bodies are pear-shaped, the fat tends to accumulate in the lower part of the body, like the buttocks. But for those whose bodies are apple-shaped, your body tends to store fat around the middle section, thus resulting in fat accumulation around the belly. You must know that there are two types of belly fat – visceral, which accumulates around the abdominal organs, and subcutaneous, which occurs between the skin and abdominal wall.
The 2003 research indicated that exercise is a top weapon against visceral fat, backed up by a 2011 study which found that aerobic exercise is basically a magic bullet. Aerobic exercise is known to most people as cardio — activities such as running and cycling, as opposed to resistance training (where you lift heavy stuff around). While participants in the study worked fairly hard (jogging 20km per week at a high intensity), the researchers said lower-intensity but longer workouts should have similar benefits.
Saturated fats in food will pack on more visceral fat than polyunsaturated ones, according to a 2014 Swedish study. When subjects ate 750 more calories daily for seven weeks, either in the form of palm oil (saturated) or sunflower oil (polyunsaturated), the former gained more visceral fat while the latter gained more muscle mass and less body fat. The study authors believe different fat types can impact both the way your body forms fat and stores it. What’s more, including healthy fats in your meals can make them more satiating and keeps hunger at bay.
“Most people overestimate the calories they burn on a run,” says Angela Rubin, USAT Level I triathlon coach and studio manager of Precision Running Lab at Equinox in Boston. As a very general estimation, you burn about 100 calories per mile (use this calculator to determine how many calories you burn based on your weight). So if you run two or three miles, you’ll burn about 200 to 300 calories—a solid workout.
Add resistance training. A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests that combining cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise with resistance training is more effective than cardiovascular training alone in getting rid of abdominal fat. You can do resistance training with free weights, exercise machines or resistance bands and it may also be useful to train from unstable positions due to increased muscle activity.
So, your goal is to lose weight. But that’s not a “why.” Why do you want to lose weight? Keep asking yourself why until you get to the heart of why you want to get healthier. Once you know why you’re starting your diet, print out this out form, fill it out, and keep it in your pocket or on your fridge. Remind yourself several times per day why you’re changing your eating habits.
Intermittent fasting—limiting your eating hours to just eight, say between 10:30 and 6:30—has gained popularity as a way to shake up your metabolism, and it just might work. “There is a lot more research that needs to be done but it does seem to benefit some people, particularly men,” says Angel Planells, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics based in Seattle. Another approach is to fast—or eat next to no calories (500-600 calories total)—two non-consecutive days a week. (You can eat normally the other five days.) The tactic seems to increase fat burning. “When your body isn’t getting fuel, it will start burning fat,” Planells says. Read about this woman’s experience with intermittent fasting.
”In many ways, body fat is the same as food intake, it’s all available energy, and this is reflected in the fact that adipose tissue produces leptin. You can increase fat by 10-20g, and that’s another 90-180 calories your body “sees”, but gain 1lb of body fat and you’ve got 3500kcals that your body is seeing now…so yeah, changes in body fat can make much larger impacts than what you consume…that’s why I shake my head when guys freak out about going from 50g to 45g of dietary fat….really, you think the 45 calories per day is what is going to kill your libido, not the fact that you lost 10lbs (35,000kcals) of fat? ”
4. Eat more protein: Upping your protein is crucial for shedding fat. For starters, the macronutrient helps keep you full, preventing overeating and extraneous calories. And without adequate amounts of the macronutrient, muscle protein synthesis is diminished, your muscles can’t rebuild bigger and stronger, and your resting metabolism is lowered, says nutrition specialist and exercise physiologist, Marta Montenegro, CSCS, adjunct professor in Exercise & Sports Sciences at Florida International University. Plus, it gives your calorie burn a little boost since protein takes more energy for your body to process than carbs or fat.