- Losing belly fat is possible by reducing sugar, refined carbs, and processed foods.
- An exercise regimen that includes weight training and cardio will build muscle and aid weight loss.
- To lose belly fat, you'll need to lose weight in your whole body, since you can't target one area.
Belly fat is often difficult to lose because it's different from other kinds of fat. The part that you can see and pinch is subcutaneous fat, which lies just under the skin. But belly fat also includes visceral fat, which surrounds the internal organs within the abdominal walls.
Can you lose belly fat in a week?
Diets and trends that claim to reduce belly fat within days are unrealistic and unhealthy.
In terms of exercise, ab exercises can help tone your stomach, but you'll still need to lose weight overall to significantly reduce your stomach fat.
Since there's no way to control where your body loses weight, to lose belly fat, you have to reduce overall body fat.
"The best practices to lose belly fat will be a balance of an active lifestyle, a nutritious diet, and maintaining low stress levels," says Lapaix.
In order to lose overall body fat, you'll need to be in a caloric deficit, which means you burn more calories than you consume.
9 steps for losing belly fat
Here are some healthy steps to help you start losing belly fat.
1. Avoid sugary, refined foods and drinks
A high consumption of beverages like carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks, specialty coffee drinks, and sodas is associated with weight gain because of the excessive added sugar content.
Alcohol is considered a sugary drink too. Heavy drinking, or drinking more than seven times per week, increases the risk of weight gain and obesity. Beer, which is high in calories and carbs, is related to overall weight gain. You may have heard the term "beer belly," though the idea that beer only puts fat around your waist is largely a myth. However, overall weight gain can result in more belly fat.
Try switching to flavored seltzers or add fruit and herbs to your water. When you're exercising, replenish your minerals with electrolyte drink packets instead of sugary sports drinks.
2. Drink plenty of water
A 2008 study of women with excess weight found that increasing daily water intake to more than 34 ounces per day, over 12 months, resulted in 4.4 pounds of weight loss.
3. Eat whole foods rich in protein and fiber
Consume more fiber-rich nuts, fruits, and vegetables like:
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
Protein is also a powerful nutrient when you're trying to lose weight, since it keeps you feeling full for longer. It also helps you lose weight because a high-protein diet takes more energy for your body to digest, which in turn burns body fat.
Here are some great sources of protein to incorporate into your diet:
- Whole eggs
- Dairy products
Diets with high levels of refined sugar are associated with weight gain, so they should be avoided as well. Try to limit fast food, too. According to a 2018 study analyzing 300 university students, the consumption of fast food, such as pizza and fried chicken, is related to obesity — particularly excess belly fat.
"It is important to reduce the consumption of foods high in trans fat, refined carbs, and highly processed foods with added sugars," says Lapaix.
However, avoiding food groups to burn belly fat is only a temporary solution caused by a caloric deficit, and the real key to keeping belly fat off, in the long run, is to create an individualized balanced diet that you can maintain long-term, she says.
4. Do a mix of cardio and resistance exercise
You can't control where you gain or lose weight.
This is sometimes called "targeting weight loss" (also known as spot reduction), and it isn't realistic, says Lapaix. For example, abdominal exercises alone aren't enough to get rid of or reduce belly fat.
"While it is common to hear about workout programs that target specific areas, you cannot pick the areas you'd like to target [for] weight loss," says Lapaix.
For example, resistance training focuses on developing muscles by lifting weights or using accessories like resistance bands. Whereas the main focus of aerobic training is to burn calories via cardio, like running or jumping rope.
Having more muscle mass (i.e. the percentage of your body that is made of muscle) will increase how many calories your body naturally burns (this is also known as basal metabolic rate, or BMR).
Results aren't instantaneous, so consistency is key. Additionally, it isn't a good idea to go from not working out at all to doing really intense workouts, says Lapaix, who recommends gradually adding intensity to your workouts to avoid injury.
5. Monitor your eating with a food diary
Try out a free food diary app like MealLogger, MyNetDiary, iEatBetter, and MyFitnessPal. These apps make it easy to keep track of your meals, nutrients, and calories right from your phone. If you prefer a pen and paper, that works too! You can purchase a simple notebook and manually keep track of what you're eating each day.
6. Try a new eating plan
Everybody's body is different when it comes to losing belly fat. If what you've been trying isn't working, you could experiment with a new eating plan.
There are different variations of intermittent fasting, all involving a time window when you eat and a time window when you fast. Intermittent fasting shows promise as a treatment for obesity, but more studies need to be done.
The ketogenic diet has shown success at helping some people lose weight quickly. This type of diet focuses on eating foods that are very low in carbohydrates and high in fat. The ketogenic diet may not be right for everyone, so always consult with a physician before making dietary changes.
7. Incorporate probiotics or probiotic supplements
According to a 2021 review, certain probiotics can aid in fat loss.
One small 2013 study found that the Lactobacillus amylovorus and Lactobacillus fermentum strains of probiotics were capable of shifting body composition. In other words, these probiotic strains helped study participants lose 3% to 4% of their body fat over six weeks.
If you want to incorporate more probiotic foods into your diet, try eating more:
- Sourdough bread
You can also take probiotic supplements. There are a ton of supplements on the market, so make sure to look into the brands, ingredients, quality, and reviews.
Probiotic supplements also contain different strains, so you'll want to research which strain is best for your specific needs. Always talk with your physician before taking any new supplements.
8. Get enough sleep
Not getting enough sleep has been linked to weight gain time and time again.
A 2015 review found that short sleep duration, fewer than six hours, is significantly associated with a larger waistline. A larger waistline is an indicator of belly fat accumulation.
You can improve your sleep quality and duration in a few different ways.
- Stop consuming caffeine at least six hours before bed.
- Reduce screen time before bed.
- Get exercise during the day.
- Try a white noise machine.
- Keep the temperature under 70 degrees.
9. Manage stress
The stress hormone cortisol can lead you to crave comfort foods and overeat. Cortisol can cause higher insulin levels in the body, which causes blood sugar to drop, leading to cravings for sugar and fat. Cortisol has also been shown to decrease metabolism.
There are plenty of ways to reduce stress levels. Some de-stressors include:
- Daily exercise
- Breathing exercises
- Reduce screen time
- Reduce caffeine
- Spend time with friends and family
How fast can you realistically lose belly fat?
Reducing overall body fat will cut down on your belly fat. However, this isn't a process that happens overnight or even within days of starting your weight loss journey.
"A healthy amount of weight loss is one to two pounds per week," says Lapaix.
"It is more important to select a sustainable diet and learn what foods work for you long-term versus a 'quick fix.' This is what leads to results and maintaining weight loss results," says Lapaix.
However, "there are many factors to consider with body composition, including age, gender, current weight, body fat, and muscle mass, to name a few," says Lapaix. "These will affect the rate at which someone loses weight, which nutritional plan to follow, and an appropriate activity level for them."
Combining exercise and a healthy diet is more effective than either of those factors alone.
Belly fat shouldn't be only a cosmetic concern — an excess of visceral fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and other health conditions.
To reduce belly fat, engage in regular physical activity, eat a healthy diet, and manage your stress levels. You'll need to reduce overall body fat to reduce belly fat, which can take several weeks for noticeable results.
Taking drastic measures to lose weight isn't sustainable and will only yield temporary results, says Lapaix. Ineffective diet fixes or suddenly engaging in intense workouts are not sustainable ways to approach weight loss.
"Creating a sustainable lifestyle change with small and gradual changes to nutrition and physical activity will also keep stress levels down. This increases the likelihood of an individual keeping up all parts of their health and wellness journey," says Lapaix.