“How do I lose belly fat?”
As a coach, this is the number one question I get asked.
Does it feel like your belly fat is a “stubborn” area that just won’t budge, despite how many crunches you do?
And as summer approaches, there’s always a rise in charlatans selling “flat belly teas” or “7 day ab challenges” to women worried about bikini season.
If you’ve tried any of these, you know they don’t work long-term.
If a tea could help reduce belly fat, we’d all have 6-pack abs right now. Flat belly-teas just make you poo. The weight you lose is not body fat.
Aesthetics aside, for many people losing belly-fat can help with overall health. Visceral fat in the abdomen is strongly linked to metabolic disease and insulin resistance, and an increased risk of death even for people who have a normal body mass index.
So, what actually works to lose belly-fat?
This guide will give you evidence-based recommendations around how to lose belly fat *sustainably* and keep it off.
Keep reading to find out the tips!
Don’t Fall for The Spot Reduction Myth
Unfortunately, we cannot spot reduce belly fat.
When we lose weight, we lose it all over our body. Where we lose weight first is primarily driven by genetics. Most women tend to lose weight from their hips and stomach last.
Endless crunches will not help you lose belly-fat. You cannot “target” belly-fat with moves or certain foods.
Content that claims to “target” belly fat usually gets lots of clicks and views, which is why it’s perpetuated all over the internet. But no matter what your favorite fitness influencer tells you, endless research shows that you cannot spot-reduce fat.
In order to lose belly-fat, focus on losing weight overall. As you lose weight overall, the fat in your stomach will follow.
Remember: Visible Abs Appear at a Low Body fat Percentage
Technically, everyone has “abs.” But they’re covered in a layer of body fat. In order for your abs to be “revealed,” you must be at a low enough body fat percentage for your abdominal muscles to show.
Here is a chart of women at different levels of body fat. Anywhere around X – X% of body fat is where you’ll start seeing some abdominal definition.
But note, some of this is genetic: Someone might have visible ab muscles at 20% body fat, while another person’s abs may show even when they’re heavier.
Nutrition: Create a Calorie Deficit
In order to lose weight overall, you need to be in a consistent calorie deficit.
This means you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning through daily movement. When you’re in a calorie deficit, your body will pull from fat stores for energy. The only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit. All diets work by creating a calorie deficit.
Ideally, you want your deficit to be moderate and not extreme, in order to prevent hunger swings and binges.
Here are a few tips for creating and sustaining a calorie deficit:
Step 1: Build awareness. How much are you eating now?
Take a picture of everything you eat for a week. Start building some mindful awareness of what you’re eating and how much.
Try tracking your food intake for a week or so using an app such as MyFitnessPal to get a sense of your daily calorie intake.
Step 2: Eat a palm of protein and veggies with every meal
Protein keeps you full and satisfied, so you aren’t hungry an hour later. Aim to eat a palm-size of protein with each meal. Pick lean proteins like chicken breast, turkey, tofu, egg whites, or beans. Typically 1g protein per lb of lean body mass or 0.7g per lb of total body mass is recommended for body recomposition.
Veggies have healthy fiber and are low calorie while being high in volume. Try and find ways to make your veggies taste good: Air frying, roasting, or sauteéing with spices are some of my favorite methods to up the taste without adding lots of oil.
Step 3: Limit the processed food, but don’t be “all or nothing”
Chips, candy, cookies are very easy to overeat: Foods like these are designed to be hyper-palatable and addictive to our tastebuds.
Aim for the 80-20 rule with treats: Instead of being “all or nothing” and cutting them out completely (which can lead to binge eating later on), focus on eating them mindfully in moderation. We typically have our clients aim for 80% whole, nutrient-dense food, while 20% can be the processed fun stuff.
Step 4: Drink lots of water
This will help your body distinguish hunger and thirst, and help you stay full.
Training: Focus on Strength Training
Instead of doing endless cardio, focus on strength training: This will help you build lean muscle and get stronger, which will give you the “toned” appearance as you lose body-fat.
Focus on full body compound moves. Compound moves are moves that work multiple joints at once. Think: A squat. Deadlift. Overhead press. When you work big full body moves like these, you engage multiple muscle groups and burn more calories overall than you would with only single-joint moves.
Plus, most of these moves engage your core at the same time — So you get more bang for your buck!
Feel free to add in a few core moves at the end of your workouts–but there’s no need to over do it.
Don’t overdo it with cardio. Endless cardio can make you hungrier, which can make you eat more. It can also increase your cortisol levels (stress hormone), which can cause muscle breakdown and cause you to retain water weight. This includes HIIT classes: These classes often go so fast, that it turns into a cardio workout instead of a strength workout.
The most important thing is to find a workout routine you enjoy and can stick to-long term.
Need a place to start with weights? Download our free dumbbell workout guide here.
Manage Stress and Sleep
Did you know stress can lead to belly fat gain? Stress increases our cortisol levels, which is linked to an increase in visceral fat.
Not only that, but stress can also increase your cravings for processed foods like chips, candy, and cookies. You’re more likely to binge or overeat when you’re stressed, and get out of your calorie deficit. Stress can also decrease your motivation to workout, and worsen your sleep.
So. Find a non-food way to manage stress. Find healthy ways to cope with anxiety. Consider therapy if you’re struggling with high stress and anxiety.
Focus on getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
De-Bloat To Make your Stomach Look Flatter
Oftentimes, bloating can make your stomach look bigger than it actually is. Bloat can be caused by undigested food, excess water retention, gas, or poo that hasn’t passed yet. In order to de-bloat, you need to reduce the water retention and have a healthy digestive system.
Here are some tips to de-bloat:
Drink LOTS of water. This will help flush out the excess water weight. Aim for 3L a day.
Avoid high-sodium foods. Sodium causes your body to retain water.
Make sure to eat enough fiber: Leafy greens, whole grains, and fruits can help make things move along smoothly. Try and aim for around 25g of fiber per day.
Eat probiotic foods to keep your gut healthy. This can help reduce bloat
Note: The weight you lose from de-bloating won’t be fat, but it will help you feel better and as you get leaner, help you see your abs better.
Build Healthy Habits to Put it All Together
In order to lose weight sustainably, focus on building long-term habits and lifestyle changes that will sustain you long-term. A 7-day zero carb diet is probably NOT sustainable long-term. A more flexible plan that enables you to eat out, socialize, and enjoy your quality of life is.
Build healthy habits like:
Eating regular balanced meals and snacks
Meal prepping and plan your meals
Dealing with stress without food
Indulging mindfully in treats without overeating
Eating mindfully until satisfied, not stuffed
Eating out without overeating
Managing emotions without using food to cope
Your HABITS, ultimately, are what will sustain your weight loss long-term.
Above all, Be Patient.
Losing belly fat is a long game. For most women, it’s NOT going to happen in 7 days. Don’t fall prey to fitness marketing with unrealistic claims.
Depending on how much weight you have to lose, it can take many months or even a few years to get to where you want to be. Stay consistent, stay patient, and focus on enjoying the process.
This is why, more than anything, it’s important to have a plan that’s sustainable and realistic for you, while you enjoy your quality of life.
If your eating style is not sustainable, or if you’re miserable the whole time, you’re definitely not going to stay consistent long-enough to see results.
What questions do you have about belly fat? Post them below!