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9 ways to blast belly fat

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That extra fat around your waist can be hard to lose. But trimming down can benefit your health. Get started with these steps.

You stand in front of a full-length mirror and wonder if your stomach is sticking out a little more than usual. Or you try on a favorite pair of jeans and the waist is too tight.

Belly fat sneaks up on many of us as we get older. And it’s not great for your health. Fat around the midsection can increase your risk of heart attacks, strokes and other conditions, says the American Heart Association.

There is no magic bullet for targeting belly fat. But losing weight overall can help shrink your waistline. And there are some tricks and tips that can help. Here’s what you need to know about belly fat — and what you can do to get rid of it.

Belly fat basics

Carrying extra weight in your midsection poses more health risks than if you carry it in your thighs. That’s especially true if you have a lot of visceral fat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is a type of belly fat that lies deep in your abdominal cavity and surrounds your organs.

“Belly fat is dangerous because it’s related to the release of proteins and hormones that cause inflammation,” says Evelina Grayver, MD. She’s a cardiologist at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York. “This inflammation can damage your arteries, enter your liver and affect how your body breaks down sugars and fats.”

Extra fat around the midsection can even raise the risk of health problems in people who are of normal weight.

If you’re a man or over the age of 40, you’re more likely to carry excess stomach weight. Women often gain belly fat after menopause. “Hormonal changes in the body can lead to extra energy turning into internal fat,” says Jessica Cutler, MD. She’s a bariatric surgeon at Maryland Bariatric Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

No pill or potion has been shown to get rid of abdominal fat. But there are steps you can take to lose weight overall and trim down your waistline. Here are 9 ways to bust belly fat.

1. Pass on processed foods

Cut back on anything made with refined sugar. Processed carbs and other foods don’t have natural vitamins and fibers. They’re mainly made of sugar. And they can easily become internal fat in the body. Steer clear of:

  • White bread
  • White pasta
  • Crackers and cookies
  • Sodas and other sugary drinks

 

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2. Follow the Mediterranean diet

“The Mediterranean diet may help reduce central obesity or belly fat, according to some studies,” says Patricia Araujo. She’s a registered dietitian at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. This heart-healthy diet focuses on fresh foods and limited lean proteins. Fill your plate with:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole-grain bread and pasta
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish and seafood

3. Watch your portions

Be mindful of food portions as well as calories. You don’t need to use measuring cups for every meal. But you should watch how much you’re putting on your plate.

4. Avoid unhealthy fats

Avoiding foods with saturated fat can help your body get rid of belly fat. Some common culprits include meat, butter and processed foods.

But not all fat is bad. In fact, omega-3 fatty acids may help you lose stomach weight. Omega-3s are found in fish such as:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Anchovies

“Having 2 to 3 servings of fatty fish per week can significantly reduce liver and abdominal fat,” says Dr. Grayver.

5. Get moving

Exercise may help reduce belly fat. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, according to the CDC. That breaks down to about 30 minutes 5 days a week.

Get moving with one of these options:

  • Brisk walking
  • Bicycling
  • Dancing
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Group fitness classes

Tip: Pick a cardio activity you like to do. You’ll be more motivated to get moving.

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6. Try HIIT

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and interval training are popular exercise routines. They’re all about short bursts of intense exercise, lower-intensity moves and periods of rest.

“Research shows that HIIT exercises for belly fat can help control weight and improve your overall physical condition,” says Dr. Grayver.

7. Grab some weights

Strength training may help fight belly fat, too. That’s because strength-training exercises boost your metabolism. And they help your body burn calories that lead to weight gain.

You can use hand weights or resistance bands at home. Or do exercises that use your own body weight to build muscle. Good ones to try: pushups, squats and planks.

One note: Some spot exercises, such as situps, can tighten your abdominal muscles. But they won’t banish belly fat on their own.

8. Eat colorful foods

Bright, colorful vegetables and leafy greens add color and crunch to your meals. “They may also help turn off fat-storage genes,” says Dr. Grayver.

Plus, vegetables are a much better way to fill up the extra space on your plate than rice or pasta. Adding fiber-rich foods is also important for keeping off body fat. Good sources of fiber are:

  • Legumes
  • Oats
  • Psyllium husk
  • Chia seeds
  • Fruit and vegetables

9. Watch what you drink

One of the best ways to lower your sugar intake is to skip sweet drinks such as sodas and fruit juices.

The brain doesn’t seem to register calories from liquids in the same way as from solids, says Dr. Grayver. So when you drink sugar-sweetened beverages, you end up eating more total calories. You should also limit alcohol. Alcohol adds empty calories and may stop fat from being burned.

If your belly fat is sticking around, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you create a diet and exercise plan that works for you.

Additional sources
Risks: American Heart Association (2019). “Belly fat raises risk of heart disease, stroke in older women despite normal BMI”
Exercise guidelines: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). “How much physical activity do adults need?”