Stubborn belly fat is something most of us deal with, and a fast solution to getting rid of it would be ideal. Unfortunately, there's no safe, quick fix to losing weight just in our bellies. That's because our bodies aren't able to simply spot reduce, which means doing a ton of crunches every day won't necessarily yield the results you're looking for in your midsection.
If you’ve got weight to lose and you want it gone fast, try swapping out your usual proteins in favor of fish. Not only is fish lower in calories than an equivalent amount of beef or chicken, a study published in Obesity reveals study subjects who added omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish, to their diets shed more weight and had an easier time keeping it off than those who skipped them.
If you're on a paleo diet, be careful: There's a chance you might getting too much protein, according to Melina Jampolis, M.D., author of The Doctor On Demand Diet. The average woman only needs around 46 grams per day, and a diet high in meat and meat products could cause excess protein to be stored as belly fat. Plus, too much meat can cause problems with inflammation and digestion due to all the hormones and antibiotics it contains.
Luckily, exercise can help spur things along when it comes to that pesky stomach fat. “Visceral fat responds well when… [you] start exercising and watching your calories and what you eat,” Harris-Pincus says. And while endless crunches aren’t your ticket to a flat stomach, it is still important to train your ab muscles. “Everything radiates from the center of your body – your balance, your posture, your functional movement,” says Joe Ardito, founder of Fit Crush NYC. “You can perform better when you have a strong core.”
Sure, high-intensity cardio can help you torch calories, but ideally, you’ll also need to pump some iron to build metabolism-boosting muscle. That’s because strength training is one of the few activities you can do to spike the amount of calories you burn, even after you’re done with your workout. Case in point: one 2012 review of research found that while completing a 20-minute resistance training circuit may help you burn 200 calories, your body’s resting metabolic rate stays elevated for the next hour, helping you burn an additional 50 calories. Plus, when you lose weight, you lose some muscle with it, so building and maintaining that lean mass will help you achieve a more toned look.
If you have a big-time sweet tooth, grabbing a grapefruit could help cut back on calories from late-night treats. "The interesting thing about grapefruit, and citrus fruits in general, is that they provide an intense, satisfying flavor that rarely gets chanced by sweets," Taub-Dix says. "A grapefruit or citrus fruit after dinner could keep you from reaching for a sweet dessert." Yeah, that's right: a 52-calorie grapefruit can satisfy just as much as a 400-calorie piece of chocolate cake. Sorry, brain, but you just got played.
A daily run or Spin class is great for your heart, but cardio workouts alone won't do much for your waist. "You need to do a combination of weights and cardiovascular training," says Sangeeta Kashyap, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. Strength training increases muscle mass, which sets your body up to burn more fat. "Muscle burns more calories than fat, and therefore you naturally burn more calories throughout the day by having more muscle," says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. Patton recommends 250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 125 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week.
There’s one thing to like about visceral fat: It yields fairly easily to aerobic exercise. Vaporizing calories via running, biking, swimming—anything that gets your heart rate up—is an effective way to whittle your middle. In fact, one 2011 study from Duke University Medical Center, published in the American Journal of Physiology, found the sweet spot: Jogging the equivalent of 12 miles a week was even more effective in reducing visceral fat than resistance training three times per week. However, both types of exercise were beneficial when it came to belly fat, the researchers say. (Don’t have time to hit the gym? Try these fun at-home cardio workouts if you’re in a pinch.)
The popular "flat belly diets"embrace much of the wisdom found in eating a Mediterranean diet, which helps everything from brain health to hearth health. The basic premise for both diets is eat foods rich in monosaturated fatty acids (MUFA) that may help reduce your belly fat storage. MUFA-rich foods include olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocodos, and fish. Eating yogurt regularly has also been found to be helpful in reducing belly fat.
Which means, sadly, the more glasses of rose and chocolate-coated pretzels you eat, the longer it will take to reach your flatter belly goals. “When you digest large amounts of calories, your body allocates some of these to functional systems which work to keep you alive (think the brain, muscles and organs),” says Belalij. “It also uses it to fill up energy stores. Any excess is then stored in fat cells around the body – typically being those of the belly.”