There are a lot of misconceptions—and even myths—surrounding belly fat and how to banish it. And, when you really think about it, there are two different factors contributing to the protruding stomach you see when you stand sideways in front of your mirror: bloating and actual body fat. Bloating can be caused by water retention, digestive distress, overeating, etc., while true belly fat is energy storage for the body. Most of us want to banish both, and have dreams of a flat, toned stomach. And it’s not just for vanity—bloating is uncomfortable and excessive abdominal fat can be unhealthy, particularly if it’s visceral fat, the kind that surrounds our organs.
But, what we often envision in the rulebook for de-bloating and flattening the stomach involves strict diets and grueling fitness regimens that tire us out (even just thinking about them). Even when we work up the courage to take on these belly-fat-burning strategies, our stamina and patience easily wane—long before we ever see the results we desire. For the most part, these routines are incredibly difficult to stick to with a nine-to-five schedule, and, let’s face it, fitness and nutrition should never be about punishing yourself. That's why we reached out to three experts—a physician, a nutritionist, and a dietician—to weigh in with their top habits that us regular people (who don't work out and eat right for a living) can stick to in order to help fix belly bloat and lose abdominal fat.
Keep scrolling for 20 expert tips and advice on how to banish belly fat and flatten your stomach all without doing sit-ups.
Meet the Expert
- Amy Lee, MD, is board-certified in Internal Medicine, specializes in obesity, and is the head of nutrition for Nucific.
- Kimberly Snyder is a nutritionist, a New York Times best-selling author, and the founder of Solluna.
Eat Protein Right Before Bed
When one imagines strategies for reducing belly fat, eating isn't at the top of the list. However, so much of how you can reset your stomach starts with what you put in it. Dr. Lee recommends getting a healthy dose of protein right before you go to sleep for the night; filling up on a meal of protein and leafy greens will ensure your body doesn't hold on to water when you wake up the next morning.
"Protein before bed has shown clinically to boost your metabolism the next morning," she says. "Plus, it helps your body repair itself more effectively while you sleep, so you wake up feeling fresher." She recommends half a grilled chicken breast or a scoop of protein powder.
Eat Protein as Soon as You Wake Up
Just as you should end your day with protein to help your body repair itself overnight, Lee recommends kick-starting your day in the same manner. "A high-protein breakfast will turn your metabolism up even more, and give you a nice energy boost," she explains. "Protein has long been proven to be thermogenic—meaning it makes you burn fat. Turning on your fat-burning engine first thing in the morning keeps your metabolism going for the rest of the day."
Add Fiber and Healthy Fat to Your High-Protein Breakfast
In addition to protein, Lee suggests you incorporate fiber and healthy fats into your breakfast. "This will improve your digestion and make you feel fuller and lighter on your feet for the rest of the day," she says. "After a few days of doing this, you'll find yourself eating less for lunch and dinner than you normally would."
When crafting a healthy energy-boosting breakfast, one ingredient Lee says to definitely steer clear of is sugar "because it will spike your cravings and ruin the benefits of your breakfast."
Go For Whole Grains
Consumption of whole grains is inversely associated with visceral abdominal fat, meaning that people who consume more of them have less visceral abdominal fat. Additionally, consumption of refined grains and simple sugars is associated with higher levels of both visceral and subcutaneous abdominal fat. Whole grains also help you feel more satiated, due to the fiber content, and they often contain more B vitamins and protein to boot.
Incorporate Probiotics into Your Diet
Simply upping your intake of probiotic-rich foods might help to reduce the bloat around your midsection, which is often confused with belly fat. While you can get a healthy serving via yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods, you can also easily get a daily dose taking a probiotic supplement. In addition to resetting your stomach and leading to long-term weight loss, especially around the midsection, Snyder says probiotics are "one of the keys to ultimate nutrient absorption, energy, and having awesome, youthful skin."
Consider Going Gluten Free
The medical community and general public have become more aware of food sensitivities and intolerances in the last couple decades. And, gluten has been at the forefront of many of those discussions, primarily because it’s a fairly common intolerance and ubiquitous in the standard American diet. Mincemeyer says that gluten intolerance can cause symptoms like belly bloat, diarrhea, and other GI issues. “If you are concerned that you may have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, it's important to ‘test, don't guess,’” she says. “Working with a registered dietitian to get the appropriate testing can help you find out what may be causing the sensitivity.”
Cut Back on Dairy
Snyder also says to be wary of dairy. Sounds like too much of an endeavor? In this day and age, it isn't as difficult as you'd think. "Replace dairy items with almond milk, almond cheese, coconut yogurt, and the whole range of dairy-free items that are available now," Snyder says.
Lower Your Sodium Intake
All experts agree that cutting back on certain foods is essential to beating belly fat. And salty foods are often unanimously called out first because they cause the body to hold on to water. Admittedly, this is no easy feat, but simply being conscious that high-sodium foods cause bloating may help persuade you to make healthier decisions. Snyder recommends swapping out salt for seasoned herbs to enhance flavor. Or, for a double dose of belly-fat-blasting power, spice your food with hot pepper or chili power. A compound in these spices called capsinoids has been shown to be effective at reducing abdominal fat.
Reduce Your Portion Sizes
Your pants shouldn’t need an elastic waist to accommodate a distended stomach after eating. But, if you feel like buttons may burst, you might need to take a look at your portion sizes. “If you find yourself overeating at meals or in the evenings, you may benefit from eating more balanced snacks throughout the day to help regulate blood sugar, notes Mincemeyer. “Including protein and fiber in your snacks, such as hummus with veggie sticks or yogurt with fruit, can keep you fuller longer.”
Steer Clear Of Artificial Sweeteners
If you’ve ever eaten more than your fair share of sugar-free ice cream, hoping to save on calories, only to find yourself grabbing your distended stomach and running for the bathroom a few hours later, you’re not alone. “Many artificial sweeteners are not easily digestible, particularly sugar alcohols, like xylitol (the artificial sweetener found in most chewing gum),” explains Mincemeyer. “This isn't inherently a bad thing, but eating artificial sweeteners can cause gas, upset stomach, and bloat.” Spare yourself the inflated-balloon feeling and leave anything artificial on the shelf.
Avoid Drinking Liquid with Meals
This strategy may seem odd, but Snyder says it will greatly improve the state of your stomach. "Stop drinking lots of liquids with meals," she says. "By drinking water with meals, you are diluting your digestive juices and slowing down digestion that is cutting into your energy." Though it's important to keep hydrated throughout the day, try easing off during mealtime to keep digestion clear.
Green Light Green Tea
Green tea has long been touted as a healthy beverage. And, as it turns out, it also can help you reduce belly fat. Research has found that regular consumption of green tea can reduce abdominal adiposity, and the subsequent risk of metabolic syndrome. Try a cup in the morning to wake up. The caffeine can also help stimulate your bowels to promote regularity.
Limit Your Alcohol Consumption
Whether you’re an occasional social drinker, or enjoy a nightly glass of wine or two, you might want to examine your alcohol consumption. “Alcohol provides calories that don't really serve a purpose in our body,” says Mincemeyer. “While there's nothing wrong with enjoying an occasional drink, excessive drinking can crowd out other important nutrients your body needs, and the calories can add up over time.” Plus, carbonated drinks like beer are filled with carbon dioxide gas, which can cause bloating.
Stop Drinking Sweetened Beverages
Whether you love a tall glass of orange juice with breakfast, a caramel frappuccino for an afternoon pick-me-up, or a ginger ale with dinner, sweetened beverages are packed with empty calories. Moreover, they have been shown to disproportionately increase visceral abdominal fat accumulation. In other words, your waist line is going to take the brunt of your soda habit and you'll put your body at risk for gaining more of the least healthy type of body fat.
Strength Train 2-3 Times Per Week
Most people jump to running, cycling, or other cardio exercises when they want to lose weight, but research indicates that resistance training is actually more beneficial at reducing waist circumference—a standard measure of abdominal obesity. Lifting weights builds lean body mass, which increases metabolism, and it tones your physique, helping you look trimmer and tighter.
Try HIIT Workouts
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be as effective at reducing abdominal fat as continuous exercise, but in a much more time-efficient manner. Plus, it keeps your metabolism even more revved up once the workout is over.
Get Your Steps In
We all know walking is great exercise—it burns calories, tones the body, and is good for your heart. But research has also demonstrated that walking can reduce both subcutaneous and visceral abdominal fat. And, in the short term, if you're feeling bloated or overfull, a good walk can also promote digestion and reduce bloating.
Perfect Your Posture
Mincemeyer says that simply correcting your posture can instantly reduce some of that belly protrusion. “When we slump forward, it causes the belly to push forward. Simply raising the chest and sitting up straight may do wonders,” she says. “We can improve our posture by becoming more mindful of our position during the day, and by strengthening the muscles of your back and abdominals with exercises like planks and back extensions.” Plus, maintaining proper posture requires you to engage core muscles and aids in digestion.
Lower Your Stress
Stress can increase belly fat both physiologically and behaviorally. Research indicates that stress increases cortisol (hormone) levels, which can directly cause abdominal fat gain, and stress can result in overeating and the consumption of sugary, fatty foods, which can cause weight gain. But, there's good news: mindfulness practices, such as breathwork, meditation, tai chi, and yoga, have been shown to counteract these negative effects.
Get More Sleep
Last but not least is the belly-fat-beating habit we can all get behind: Get more sleep. One overlooked (and easily fixable) reason you're not losing belly fat is simply that you are not getting enough sleep. Research has found that sleep deprivation messes with your metabolism, thus making it difficult to burn fat. Once you’ve had a full day of making all the best diet and fitness decisions to promote that flat stomach you’re after, make sure to get some quality shut-eye to allow your body to get to work on itself while you catch some Z's. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
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