Core exercises will strengthen your abs, but they won’t eliminate the fat that lies beneath them. To do that, you have to ramp up your overall calorie burn with cardio (running, walking, biking). A Duke University study found that people who did moderate cardio for 178 minutes per week (roughly 30 minutes of walking six days per week) gained hardly any visceral fat over the course of eight months. Participants who worked out at a higher intensity (jogging) for a similar amount of time saw even better results — reducing their belly fat by almost 7 percent. To maximize your workout, try interval training, which alternates between high- and low-intensity cardio.
Grains get a bad rap when it comes to weight loss, but that's because refined grains (read: processed foods!) are linked to wider waists. 100% whole grains are bloat-busting superstars, however, as they're packed with minerals and de-puff by counter-balancing salt. Stick to brown rice, quinoa, wheat, barley, millet, farro, sorghum, and amaranth for the biggest benefits.
Once you’ve established a regular cardio routine, add two or three weight training sessions on nonconsecutive days to your weekly workouts; everyone naturally gains some fat as they age, but building muscle tone can significantly slow the production of belly fat. In a study conducted at the University of Minnesota, overweight women who did twice-weekly strength training routines that included eight to 10 exercises of major muscle groups, from biceps curls to leg presses, gained 67 percent less visceral fat over two years than women who didn’t do strength training regularly.
When you want to turn your diet around, don’t focus on the idea of restriction, Zeratsky says. Instead, think about the foods you can eat and how you can manage your hunger. “Eat foods that are more filling and have more water, like fruits and veggies, which will help your stomach respond to the weight to food,” she says. Plus, they’re low-cal and you still need that calorie deficit to drop belly fat.
People with chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to carry excess visceral fat. Foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI), which uses a ranking system of 0 to 100, cause more rapid spikes in your blood sugar, in turn triggering the release of cortisol when glucose levels crash. The constant up and down of your blood sugar levels can also lead to insulin resistance — the first step on the road to type 2 diabetes. To help keep cortisol levels stable, choose low-GI foods (with a rating of 55 or less) like beans, lentils, and chickpeas, instead of high-GI options like white rice and potatoes. To find the GI rating of your foods, use the University of Sydney’s database at glycemicindex.com.
"Your body needs a healthy balance of exercise and rest. Doing too much prevents the body from shifting excess fat. Exercising without rest can impact our levels of the steroid hormone cortisol and cause an increase of stubborn fat stored in the belly. Not allowing your body to recover can increase the risk of injury too, so make sure you factor in rest days to your plan."
Eat a healthy diet. Emphasize plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and choose lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy products. Limit added sugar and saturated fat, which is found in meat and high-fat dairy products, such as cheese and butter. Choose moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — found in fish, nuts and certain vegetable oils — instead.
“Belly fat or abdominal fat is the subcutaneous (which means under the skin) fat that sits around the waist and provides a store of energy, and also protection and heat, for the organs,” says Tarik Belalij, personal trainer and nutritionist at Everyone Active Becontree Leisure Centre. “Small amounts of fat below the skin is normal and healthy, it is the visceral fat, which surrounds the organs that can be the most dangerous type of fat – leading to heart attacks and diabetes.”