Important disclaimer: there's no reason you need to reduce belly fat unless you've been instructed to do so by a doctor. For many people, belly fat is perfectly healthy, and it's extremely common (especially in women) to have belly fat in the lower abdomen, just below the belly button. (Remember, fat is just stored energy.)
That said, we understand some people are looking to tone their midsection. If that's you, follow along for some of our favorite tips from fitness and nutrition experts for healthy ways to target your lower abdomen.
Consider the 80/20 Guideline for Nutrition vs. Exercise
It's not possible to reduce fat from specific spots in your body, but you can reduce lower belly fat by reducing your overall percentage of body fat, explains Nick Hounslow an LA-based ISSA certified personal trainer.
"This is done by following a diet of whole or minimally processed foods that contain protein, healthy fats, and micronutrients, he says. "You'll want to make sure that you're eating fewer calories than you are burning in a day."
Be careful not to overdo it and cut too many calories or do so too quickly—a slow and steady weight loss is optimal for long-term success, he says.
"As a nutritionist, I tell my clients that you can work your core all you want but if your nutrition isn’t 80 percent you will not see any results," says Stephanie Rofkahr, nutritionist and certified personal trainer. Here, Rofkahr is speaking to the concept that is generally accepted by the fitness and nutrition community: weight loss is 80 percent proper nutrition and 20 percent exercise.
As Much As You Can, Cook at Home
When dining out you rarely know exactly what ingredients are included in your meals, but cooking at home brings you a lot more control over what you eat. If you're trying to eat a healthier diet to reduce fat, cooking at home is a big help. Another great part of eating at home? You'll most likely save a bunch of money, too.
Challenge Yourself to Some Planks
If you're of the competitive type, challenge yourself to 30 days of planks. "Planking is simple but an effective exercise for everyday people to train their lower belly," says Hasan Adkins, a Nationally Certified Fitness Coach. "Focus on consistency first, then build from there."
Fill Your Diet With Whole Foods
A great way to make this easy for yourself is to subscribe to the 80/20 rule when you're grocery shopping, suggests NASM-certified trainer, Sarah Pelc Graca. "Before checking out at the grocery store, take a peek at your cart—only about 20 percent of the contents should be in a box," she says. "For the most part, boxed foods like crackers, cookies, and frozen meals, are processed and include little nutrients and excess sugar. On the flip side, about 80% of your cart should include real foods, such as meat, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits."
Embrace High Intensity Exercise (and Enjoy the Endorphins Rush That Follows)
One way to target lower belly fat is to engage in high intensity exercise a couple times a week. But keep in mind that high intensity is a relative term, and will be different from person to person. "The key is to create intervals for yourself so that you're getting your heart rate up high several times during your 30- to 40-minute workout," Pelc Graca says. "This could mean a HIIT workout, a jog to fast run interval workout, a slow walk to brisk walk interval workout, or any other exercise modality you prefer."
Keep in Mind That Hormones Play a Role
If you're struggling to lose lower belly fat, underlying hormone imbalances could be playing a role, explains Maritza Worthington, a functional nutritionist who specializes in digestive & hormone health. "In my experience, the top two culprits behind stubborn belly fat have to do with either excess cortisol or estrogen dominance," she says. "Typically hormone imbalance issues don’t happen overnight, and are the result of insulin resistance, malnutrition, lack of exercise and a high stress lifestyle."
Worthington shares a few pointers:
- Eat regularly (every three to five hours or so) and skip the fasting—the body actually stores more belly fat when skipping meals. "This could be because the body experiences higher cortisol/stress from starvation, and as a coping mechanism stores more belly fat (like insulation), not knowing when the next meal will come," she says.
- Focus on balanced meals and avoid eating protein or carbs alone. "There’s a reason why your body uses macronutrients —protein, carbs, & fats—for optimal fuel. And skipping one of these macronutrients can actually work against your metabolism."
Focus on Your Core
"Everything in our bodies is so intrinsically connected. Technically we can’t target just our lower abs with exercises or nutrition tips," explains AKT Master Trainer Alissa Tucker. "What we can do is work our core from all angles so we work not only the rectus abdominis, aka our six pack muscles, but we also work our transverse abdominis, the deep core muscles, and our obliques."
To accomplish this, work on core exercises across all planes of motion, such as side planks and C curve exercises. And pair your core workouts with some regular cardio to burn fat.
Excess fat stores, particularly stubborn belly fat, can be the result of blood sugar imbalances, explains Lauryn Mohr, who is a personal trainer and metabolic specialist at Life Time. "Even non-diabetics struggle with blood sugar, but many of us don't know it," she says. "To minimize belly fat, it's important to keep our blood sugar in a healthy range throughout the day, which is made possible by prioritizing protein."
Mohr suggest consuming a palm-sized serving (this is equal to three or four ounces) of high-quality protein at every meal and snack throughout your day. This could include foods like chicken, fish, eggs, or Greek yogurt.
"This will fuel your muscle for everyday activity and exercise, and ensure that your blood sugar stays stable without the highs and lows that cause energy crashes and inevitable belly fat accumulation," Mohr says.
Fill Up on Fiber
"Fiber is important for optimal digestive health as it aids in motility and regularity, which minimize bloating, gas and constipation" Mohr says.
Vegetables are a great source of fiber and should be a key component of your diet even if you're not trying to lose belly fat. Mohr suggests consuming 4-6 cups of vegetables each day. "Although carbohydrates have received their fair share of "mixed reviews" from nutrition gurus as of late, the best carbohydrate sources are chock full of fiber and offer a host of benefits to our overall physique," she says, adding that the prebiotic fiber found in oats, potatoes, quinoa and brown rice is excellent for optimal gut health and should be incorporated into your diet regularly.
Move Your Body Everyday, in Any Way You Can
Daily movement is not only healthy, but typically makes you feel better, too. Make sure to move your body in some shape or form every single day, and remember that this exercise doesn't necessarily require a trip to the gym. It can be anything from walking a certain amount of steps to taking the stairs instead of the elevator. "If you're looking to burn more calories than you consume, you need to get yourself moving at least once a day," Pelc Graca says.
Reduce Your Intake of Inflammatory Foods
The foods we consume can cause inflammation within our bodies, which can then contribute to lower belly fat. Some foods that promote inflammation include the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products, processed food, fast food, fried food, palm oil, and more.
"Saturated and trans fats damage blood vessel walls, which triggers the immune response associated with inflammation and encourages blood fats, like cholesterol, to stick and become imbedded in the artery wall leading to atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of heart disease, stroke, and even some forms of dementia," explains Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietitian and Medical Advisory Board Member at Persona Nutrition.
But we have some good news—there are many foods that inhibit inflammation, like the fats in fish oils, nuts and flaxseed (known more formally as omega-3 fatty acids), olive oil, many fruits and vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, soy, whole grains, tea, and spices like turmeric and ginger.
"Cutting back on calories and increasing exercise will shrink your waistline, including the dangerous visceral fat around the middle, especially if you're overweight," Somer says. To lower inflammation and reduce belly fat, "focus on unprocessed foods, such as colorful fruits and vegetables, 100% whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, fatty fish such as salmon, and low-fat milk products. Then watch portions and exercise daily."
Do What You Can to Reduce Stress Levels
"If you are working out consistently, eating healthy and still not losing the belly fat, I suggest having your hormones checked," Tucker suggests. "Too much cortisol can be a result of adrenal fatigue and can cause weight gain and bloat around the lower belly."
If the belly fat is the result of a hormone imbalance, you'll also want to prioritize adding stress reduction activities into your day. "Try incorporating a daily meditation practice or yin yoga and limiting time on devices to reduce stress and calm your nervous system".