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.) hat said, we understand some people are looking to tone their midsection. If that's you, keep reading for some of our favorite tips from fitness and nutrition experts.
Follow the 80/20 Guideline for Nutrition vs. Exercise
It's impossible to reduce fat from specific spots in your body, but you can reduce lower belly fat when you reduce your overall body fat percentage, explains Nick Hounslow, a Los Angeles-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 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—he says that slow and steady weight loss is optimal for long-term success.
"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, a nutritionist and certified personal trainer. Here, Rofkahr is speaking to the concept generally accepted by the fitness and nutrition community: Weight loss is 80 percent proper nutrition and 20 percent exercise.
Fill Your Diet With Whole Foods
Another 80/20 rule can be applied to your diet itself, according to NASM-certified trainer Sarah Pelc Graca. "Before checking out, 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 percent of your cart should include real foods, such as meat, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits."
Cook at Home as Often as You Can
When dining out, you rarely know exactly what ingredients are included in your meals, but cooking at home gives you much 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 pro of eating at home? You'll most likely save a bunch of money, too.
Challenge Yourself to Some Planks
If you're the competitive type, challenge yourself to 30 days of planks. "Planking is a simple but 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."
Embrace High-Intensity Exercise
One way to target lower belly fat is to engage in high-intensity exercise a of 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."
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 also 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.
How to Do a C-Curve Exercise
Move Your Body Every Day
Daily movement isn't just healthy but typically makes you feel better, too. Make sure to move your body in some way, 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.
Check Out Your Hormones
If you're struggling to lose lower belly fat, underlying hormone imbalances could be playing a role, explains Maritza Worthington, a functional nutritionist specializing in digestive and 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. They are the result of insulin resistance, malnutrition, lack of exercise, and a high-stress lifestyle."
"If you are working out consistently, eating healthy, and still not losing the belly fat, I suggest having your hormones checked," Tucker adds. "Too much cortisol can be a result of adrenal fatigue and can cause weight gain and bloat around the lower belly."
Worthington and Tucker share 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," explains Worthington.
- Focus on balanced meals and avoid eating protein or carbs alone. "There's a reason your body uses macronutrients—protein, carbs, and fats—for optimal fuel, and skipping one of these macronutrients can actually work against your metabolism," Worthington says.
- 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," says Tucker.
Excess fat stores—particularly stubborn belly fat—can be the result of blood sugar imbalances, explains Lauryn Mohr, a personal trainer and metabolic specialist at LifeTime. "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 suggests consuming a palm-sized serving of high-quality protein at every meal and snack throughout your day. (This is equal to three or four ounces.) This could include foods like chicken, fish, eggs, or Greek yogurt. "This will fuel your muscles 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.
Cut Back on Your Alcohol Consumption
The phrase "beer belly" doesn't spring out of nowhere: Alcohol consumption can indeed contribute to belly fat. "All types of alcohol, regardless of advertising, are a concentrated energy source derived from carbohydrates like grains or fruit," explains Danine Fruge, MD, ABFP, medical director of Pritikin Longevity Center.
Alcohol is significantly more calorie-dense than carbs or proteins, and "liquid calories are deceptive because they have lost natural food fiber resulting in low satiety, which means you can consume a lot of calories without feeling full," Fruge adds.
And it isn't just the alcohol itself: It's also what that alcohol might inspire you to do. "Many people trying to lose excess fat erroneously believe they can 'save calories' by excessive fasting, so they consume alcohol on an empty stomach," says Fruge. "This backfires and can actually lead to more belly fat. Without healthy fiber in the stomach, alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, which causes the insulin to spike," promoting the storage of belly fat and potentially causing cravings for unhealthy food. Additionally, your lowered inhibitions might lead you to eat more high-calorie foods, and any mixed drinks you're guzzling often add in sugary, insulin-spiking fruit juices.
Sometimes, those of us of age want to enjoy a glass of wine with friends—which is totally fine. But you might want to be mindful of how those liquid calories will impact your goals and overall health (both physically and mentally). "The social gathering of family and friends over food and drink in moderation can be healthy, but if you cut back on liquid calories, including alcohol, it is much easier to maintain a trim waistline," says Fruge. "Beware of overconsumption and drinking alone, which is also often self-medicating for loneliness, stress relief, relaxation, or boredom."
Skip the Sodas
"Drinking sodas and sweetened beverages to me is like injecting sugar through a syringe," says Kara Burnstine, MSRD, LDN, CDCES at Pritikin Longevity Center. "These products are what we call ultra-refined, [with] no fiber or nutrients to slow the rise of blood sugar."
"Once we drink the sweetened beverage, a whole cascade of events happens fast," explains Burnstine. "Insulin is released to cover these sugars, and the more insulin secreted, the more efficient the body is at storing fat." Yet another reason to keep that water bottle full.
Reduce Your Intake of Inflammatory Foods
The foods we consume can cause inflammation within our bodies. This can then contribute to lower belly fat. Some foods that promote inflammation include the saturated fats 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 embedded 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—many foods can help inhibit inflammation, such as 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 percent whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, fatty fish such as salmon, and low-fat milk products. Then watch portions and exercise daily."
Consider When You're Eating
"The time of day we eat can impact retaining and gaining belly fat because the body's circadian rhythm affects how it processes food," explains Burnstine. "Hormones are also affected when our rhythm is off, which can definitely contribute to weight gain and belly fat. Eating late at night or skipping breakfast can disrupt the body's natural rhythm and lead to weight gain, including belly fat." How much you're eating plays a role, too. "Eating too much or too little can also contribute to weight gain," she adds.
And while intermittent fasting "may be an effective way to lose belly fat for some people," Burnstine says it isn't for everyone. "People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or low blood sugar, should consult a healthcare professional before starting an intermittent fasting regimen. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid intermittent fasting."
And remember to listen to your body. "I will always encourage anyone to eat if they are feeling hungry," says Burnstine. "Belly growling and/or feeling lightheaded or foggy is definitely a signal it's time to eat, even if you are outside your eating window."
Get Your Sleep Schedule in Order
Most of us are familiar with how a poor sleep schedule can change our mood and functioning. But did you know it can also impact your waistline? "The average adult needs about seven hours of deep restorative sleep each night, which is critical to maintaining the health of our brain, heart, immune system, mood, motivation, and energy, and to prevent excess belly fat," says Fruge.
To that belly-fat point: Our bodies interpret a lack of sleep as a serious threat. "For survival, there are many stress hormones that are secreted that cause our body to conserve fat for energy, preparing for the worst because it does not know when we will get to rest from danger," explains Fruge.
These stress hormones can make us hungrier when we're awake. "When we are sleep deprived, we tend to eat to try to stay awake, specifically choosing high sugar and fat snacks for emergency energy," she says. That fatigue can also cut into our fitness routines: "Unfortunately, when we are tired, we typically do not actually run or exercise, which would help lower the stress chemistry, decrease food cravings, improve muscle mass, and lower belly fat."
Sleep disorders can also contribute to losing sleep—and, by extension, gaining belly fat. "Sleep apnea is an underdiagnosed but common serious sleep disorder related to belly fat, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, hypertension, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, cognitive decline, depression, decreased immunity, and premature aging," explains Fruge. "Contrary to popular belief, it can occur in young people, thin people, and those who don't snore loudly. Apnea means that the person stops breathing during the night and the blood oxygen level goes below 90 percent. The body goes into full stress mode, the heart races, the blood pressure goes up, fat storage hormones are released, and the brain wakes up multiple times during the night, even if you don't realize it."
How can you tell if sleep apnea could be contributing to your restless nights and increased belly fat? Someone with sleep apnea "could sleep 10 hours a day and still not feel rested in the morning, which is a red flag to complete a sleep study," says Fruge. (Your doctor can order one for you.) Even mild sleep apnea "is very important to treat," she adds. "It will significantly improve your health and well-being."
How can I flatten my lower stomach in a week?
For those looking to decrease their body fat percentage, the American Council of Exercise recommends losing no more than 1 percent of your body fat per month.
If you have minimal body fat, trainer Anna Victoria told us that you can expect to see some improvements if you reduce bloating. You can do this by eating whole, natural foods. In this situation, you'll likely see an increase in definition—but not exactly shredded abs.
What is the cause of lower stomach fat?
As stated above, hormones, fitness level, diet, and stress all play a part in lower belly fat. Additionally, genetics and heredity are a factor—some people simply store more fat in their stomachs than others, regardless of diet and lifestyle.
What foods burn belly fat?
If you're looking to lose fat, you'll generally want to stick to foods that are high in fiber and protein. Fiber-full proteins like brown rice, quinoa, couscous, and oats; lean proteins like eggs, cottage cheese, and chicken; fruits high in vitamin C, like oranges; and nuts should all be on your grocery list.
Keep in mind that “anything that bans your favorite foods, unnecessarily cuts out food groups or is so low in calories it leaves you feeling hungry" will likely lead to a return to less-than-healthy eating habits, as dietitian Helen Bond told us.
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