By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE | July 11, 2016
Overweight Man Looking Down at His BellyBelly fat is more than just a nuisance that makes your clothes feel tight.
Fat inside the belly area is also termed visceral fat, and it is seriously harmful.
This type of fat is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, to name a few (1).
Many health organizations use BMI (body mass index) to classify weight and predict the risk of metabolic disease. However, this is misleading.
People with excess belly fat are at an increased risk, even if they look thin on the outside (2).
Although losing fat from this area can be difficult, there are several things you can do to reduce excess abdominal fat.
Here are 20 effective tips to lose belly fat, backed by scientific studies.
1. Eat Plenty of Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a gel that helps slow down food as it passes through your digestive system.
Studies show this type of fiber promotes weight loss by helping you feel full so you naturally eat less. It may also decrease the amount of calories your body absorbs from food (3, 4, 5).
What’s more, soluble fiber may help fight belly fat. An observational study of over 1100 adults found that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber intake, belly fat gain decreased by 3.7% over a 5-year period (6).
Make an effort to consume high-fiber foods every day. Excellent sources of soluble fiber include flaxseeds, shirataki noodles, Brussels sprouts, avocados, legumes and blackberries.
2. Avoid Foods That Contain Trans Fats
Trans fats are created by pumping hydrogen into unsaturated fats such as soybean oil.
They’re found in some margarines and spreads, and they’re also added to some packaged foods.
These fats have been linked to inflammation, heart disease, insulin resistance and abdominal fat gain in observational and animal studies (7, 8, 9).
A 6-year study found that monkeys who ate a high-trans-fat diet gained 33% more abdominal fat than monkeys that ate a diet high in monounsaturated fat (10).
To help reduce belly fat and protect your health, read ingredient labels carefully and stay away from products that contain trans fats. These are often listed as “partially hydrogenated” fats.
3. Don’t Drink Too Much Alcohol
Alcohol can have health benefits in small amounts, but it is seriously harmful if you drink too much.
Research suggests too much alcohol can also make you gain belly fat.
Observational studies link heavy alcohol consumption with significantly increased risk of central obesity — that is, excess fat storage around the waist (11, 12).
Cutting back on alcohol may help reduce your waist size. You don’t need to give it up altogether if you enjoy it, but limiting the amount you drink in a single day can help.
In a study of more than 2000 people, those who drank alcohol daily but averaged less than one drink per day had less belly fat than those who drank less frequently but consumed more alcohol on the days they did drink (12).
4. Eat a High-Protein Diet
Protein is an extremely important nutrient for weight control.
High protein intake increases release of the fullness hormone PYY, which decreases appetite and promotes fullness. Protein also raises your metabolic rate and helps you retain muscle mass during weight loss (13, 14, 15).
Many observational studies show that people who eat more protein tend to have less abdominal fat than those who eat a lower-protein diet (16, 17, 18).
Be sure to include a good protein source at every meal, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, whey protein or nuts.
5. Reduce Your Stress Levels
Stress can make you gain belly fat by triggering the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.”
Research shows high cortisol levels increase appetite and drive abdominal fat storage (19, 20).
What’s more, women who already have a large waist tend to produce more cortisol in response to stress. Increased cortisol further adds to fat gain around the middle (21).
To help reduce belly fat, engage in pleasurable activities that relieve stress. Practicing yoga or meditation can be effective methods.
6. Don’t Eat a Lot of Sugary Foods
Sugar contains fructose, which has been linked to several chronic diseases when consumed in excess.
These include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and fatty liver disease (22, 23, 24).
Observational studies show a relationship between high sugar intake and increased abdominal fat (25, 26).
It’s important to realize that more than just refined sugar can lead to belly fat gain. Even “healthier” sugars (such as real honey) should be used sparingly.
7. Do Aerobic Exercise (Cardio)
Aerobic exercise (cardio) is an effective way to improve health and burn calories.
Studies also show it is one of the most effective forms of exercise for reducing belly fat. However, results are mixed regarding whether moderate-intensity or high-intensity exercise is more beneficial (27, 28, 29).
Regardless of intensity, how often and how much you exercise is important. One study found postmenopausal women lost more fat from all areas when they did aerobic exercise for 300 minutes per week versus 150 minutes per week (30).
8. Cut Back on Carbs, Especially Refined Carbs
Reducing carb intake can be very beneficial for losing fat, including abdominal fat.
Diets with under 50 grams of carbs per day cause belly fat loss in overweight people, those at risk of type 2 diabetes and women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (31, 32, 33).
You don’t have to follow a strict low-carb diet. Some research suggests that simply replacing refined carbs with unprocessed starchy carbs may improve metabolic health and reduce belly fat (34, 35).
In the famous Framingham Heart Study, people with the highest consumption of whole grains were 17% less likely to have excess abdominal fat than those who consumed diets high in refined grains (36).
9. Replace Some of Your Cooking Fats With Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is one of the healthiest fats you can eat.
Studies show that the medium-chain fats in coconut oil may boost metabolism and decrease the amount of fat you store in response to high calorie intake (37, 38).
Controlled studies suggest it may also lead to abdominal fat loss.
In one study, obese men who took coconut oil daily for 12 weeks lost an average of 1.1 inch (2.86 cm) from their waists without intentionally changing their diets or exercise routines (39, 40).
To boost belly fat loss, it’s best to take about 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil per day, which is the amount used in most of the studies reporting good results.
However, keep in mind that coconut oil is still high in calories. Instead of adding extra fat to your diet, replace some of the fats you are already eating with coconut oil.
10. Perform Resistance Training (Lift Weights)
Resistance training, also known as weight lifting or strength training, is important for preserving and gaining muscle mass.
Based on studies in people with prediabetes, type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, resistance training may also be beneficial for belly fat loss (41, 42).
In fact, one study in overweight teenagers showed that a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise led to the greatest decrease in visceral fat (43).
If you decide to start weight lifting, it is a good idea to get advice from a certified personal trainer.
11. Avoid Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
Sugar-sweetened beverages are loaded with liquid fructose, which can make you gain belly fat.
Studies show that sugary drinks lead to increased fat in the liver. One 10-week study showed significant abdominal fat gain in people who consumed beverages high in fructose (44, 45, 46).
Sugary beverages appear to be even worse than high-sugar foods. Because your brain doesn’t process liquid calories the same way it does solid ones, you’re likely to end up consuming too many calories later on and storing them as fat (47, 48).
To lose belly fat, it’s best to completely avoid sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, punch and sweet tea, as well as alcoholic mixers containing sugar.
12. Get Plenty of Restful Sleep
Sleep is important for many aspects of health, including your weight. Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep tend to gain more weight, which may include belly fat (49, 50).
A 16-year study of more than 68,000 women found those who slept less than 5 hours per night were significantly more likely to gain weight than those who slept 7 hours or more per night (51).
The condition known as sleep apnea, where breathing actually stops intermittently during the night, has also been linked to excess visceral fat (52).
In addition to sleeping at least 7 hours per night, make sure you’re getting sufficient quality sleep.
If you suspect you may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, speak to a doctor and get treated.
13. Track Your Food Intake and Exercise
Many things can help you lose weight and belly fat, but consuming fewer calories than your body needs for weight maintenance is key (53).
Keeping a food diary or using an online food tracker or app can help you monitor your calorie intake. This strategy has been shown to be beneficial for weight loss (54, 55).
In addition, food-tracking tools help you see your intake of protein, carbs, fiber and micronutrients. Many also allow you to record your exercise and physical activity.
14. Eat Fatty Fish Every Week
Fatty fish are incredibly healthy.
They are rich in quality protein and omega-3 fats that protect you from disease (56, 57).
Some evidence also suggests that these omega-3 fats may help reduce visceral fat.
Studies in adults and children with fatty liver disease show fish oil supplements can significantly reduce liver and abdominal fat (58, 59, 60).
Aim to get 2-3 servings of fatty fish per week. Good choices include salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel and anchovies.
15. Stop Drinking Fruit Juice
Although fruit juice provides vitamins and minerals, it’s just as high in sugar as soda and other sweetened beverages.
Drinking large amounts may carry the same risk for abdominal fat gain (61).
An 8-ounce (248-gram) serving of unsweetened apple juice contains 24 grams of sugar, half of which is fructose (62).
To help reduce excess belly fat, replace fruit juice with water, unsweetened iced tea or sparkling water with a wedge of lemon or lime.
16. Add Apple Cider Vinegar to Your Diet
Drinking apple cider vinegar has impressive health benefits, including lowering blood sugar levels (63).
It contains a compound called acetic acid, which has been shown to reduce abdominal fat storage in several animal studies (64, 65, 66).
In a controlled study of obese men, those who took 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per day for 12 weeks lost half an inch (1.4 cm) from their waists (67).
Although no other human studies yet exist, taking 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per day is safe for most people and may lead to modest fat loss.
17. Eat Probiotic Foods or Take a Probiotic Supplement
Probiotics are bacteria found in some foods and supplements. They have all sorts of health benefits, including improved gut health and enhanced immune function (68).
Researchers have found different types of bacteria play a role in weight regulation, and having the right balance can help with weight loss, including loss of belly fat.
Those shown to reduce belly fat include members of the Lactobacillus family. These include Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus amylovorus and especially Lactobacillus gasseri (69, 70, 71, 72).
Probiotic supplements typically contain several types of bacteria, so make sure you purchase one that provides one or more of these bacterial strains.
18. Try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has recently become very popular for weight loss.
It is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of eating and periods of fasting (73).
One popular method involves 24-hour fasts once or twice a week. Another involves fasting every day for 16 hours and eating all your food in an 8 hour period.
In a review of studies on intermittent fasting and alternate-day fasting, people experienced a 4–7% decrease in abdominal fat within a period of 6-24 weeks (74).
19. Drink Green Tea
Green tea is an exceptionally healthy beverage.
It contains caffeine and the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), both of which appear to boost metabolism (75, 76).
EGCG is a catechin, which several studies suggest may be effective for losing belly fat. The effect may be strengthened when green tea consumption is combined with exercise (77, 78, 79).
20. Change Your Lifestyle and Combine Different Methods
If you do just one of the items on this list, then it won’t have a big effect on its own.
If you want good results, then you need to combine different methods that have been shown to be effective.
Interestingly, many of these are the same things we generally associate with healthy eating and an overall healthy lifestyle.
Therefore, changing your lifestyle for the long-term is the key to losing your belly fat and keeping it off.
When you have healthy habits and eat real food, fat loss tends to follow as a natural side effect.