Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 07, 2020
Get More Fiber
You don’t have to eat a bag of Grandma’s prunes to get your fiber. Leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, and beans are all good for keeping away the fat that stays deep in your belly. That’s called visceral fat, and it’s the most dangerous kind because it can wrap around major organs, including your liver, pancreas, and kidneys.
Forget These Two Things
There are no “super foods” that burn off visceral fat. And you can’t tone it away with specific moves like crunches. Instead, look for ways to upgrade your eating habits and add activity every day. Think about your average week. Where might you be able to make some changes?
The Best Thing You Can Do
While anyone can have too much visceral fat, it’s more likely if you’ve got a lot of weight to lose. As you start to take those pounds off, it will help your whole body, including belly fat that’s hidden out of your sight.
Be Choosy About Fat
You can still have some! But limit the “saturated” kind that’s in animal foods, coconut and palm oils, and full-fat dairy. Keep the portions of those foods smaller than you might normally do, for instance. And check nutrition labels to see how many calories and how much fat is in a serving. Look for fats that are better for you, too, like those from plant foods or fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel that are rich in omega-3s.
Stop Trying to Outrun It
Still trying to “burn off” that belly fat by pounding the pavement for hour upon hour? Research shows that a few quick bursts of high-intensity exercise -- such as a 30-second sprint or intense pullup set -- may be more effective, and easier to fit into your schedule. You can add bursts of higher intensity to any workout. Just speed up or work harder for a brief time, then drop back to a more mellow pace, and repeat.
Sleep: the Goldilocks Formula
When it comes to weight gain, shut-eye is a bit like porridge: Too little -- less than 5 hours -- may mean more belly fat. But too much -- more than 8 hours -- can do that, too. “Just right” seems to be around 6-8 hours. If you don’t sleep that much now, or if you tend to toss and turn, try to go to bed a little earlier, relax before bedtime, keep your bedroom cool, and try not to text and email right before you turn in.
Forget a ‘Quick Fix’
Sorry, but cosmetic surgery isn’t the solution here. Liposuction doesn’t reach inside the abdominal wall. So it can’t get rid of visceral belly fat. Likewise, crash diets aren’t the solution, either. You’re too likely to go off them. The slower, steadier option -- lifestyle changes that you can commit to for a long time -- really is the best bet.
Are you stressed out? That can make you eat more fat and sugar, and unleash the “stress hormone” cortisol, which can boost belly fat. Stress also can make you sleep less, exercise less, and drink more alcohol -- which can add belly fat, too. It’s a great reason to take up meditation, work out, listen to music you love, or find other healthy ways to unwind and relax.
Rethink Your Drink
Whether it’s a latte, a regular soda, a mug of beer, or a glass of wine, it’s got calories. And when you’re trying to unwind the numbers on the scale, water (or a smaller glass of your favorite beverage) might be a better choice. If you drink alcohol, remember that it just might make you throw your willpower out the window when you order your meal, too.
As if you need another reason to quit. Smoking makes you more likely to store fat in your belly, rather than your hips and thighs. And that’s bad. Oh, and it’s also a cause of diabetes. And cancer. And heart disease. And lung disease. And … you get the idea. If you’ve tried before, try again. Tell your doctor, so you can get pointers on what might help you quit for good.
Don’t Rely on Clothing Sizes
One company’s size 14 could be another’s size 12. A better method is to measure your waist. If you’re a woman, you want that number to be 35 inches or less. Men get up to 40 inches. The reason? You may lower your chance of having a heart attack, a stroke, or possibly certain types of cancer. A tape measure can’t check on visceral fat. But along with the scale, it can help you track your weight loss.
Think about hitting the gym instead of the trail. In one study, healthy middle-aged men who did 20 minutes of daily weight training gained less abdominal fat than men who spent the same time doing aerobic exercises, such as biking. Strength training is also good for women -- and it won’t make you bulky. You still need to do some cardio, but make sure strength training is in the mix.
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Beaker SBP Science: “How belly fat differs from thigh fatand why it matters.”
Harvard Health Publications: “Taking aim at belly fat.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “The Skinny on Visceral Fat.”
National Institutes of Health: “Different modalities of exercise to reduce visceral fat mass and cardiovascular risk in metabolic syndrome: the RESOLVE randomized trial,” “Effect of exercise training intensity on abdominal visceral fat and body composition,” “Influence of Exercise Intensity on Abdominal Fat and Adiponectin in Elderly Adults,” “High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss,” “Lifestyle Factors and 5-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: The IRAS Family Study,” “Sleep duration and five-year abdominal fat accumulation in a minority cohort: the IRAS family study,” “Do stress reactions cause abdominal obesity and comorbidities?” “Stress-induced cortisol response and fat distribution in women,” “A lower-carbohydrate, higher-fat diet reduces abdominal and intermuscular fat and increases insulin sensitivity in adults at risk of type 2 diabetes.”