The Truth About Losing Belly Fat Fast
If you’ve hit the point where your once tiny tummy has graduated into a full-on beer belly, the good news is achieving a flatter stomach can happen faster than you might think.
Belly fat is largely composed of two types of fat:
- Subcutaneous fat is the pinchable fat, which sits just under your skin like a layer of insulation.
- Visceral fat is the deep abdominal fat, and is also the more worrisome of the two due to its association with increased health risks. The good news is visceral fat is typically lost at a faster rate than subcutaneous.
Can You Spot-Reduce Belly Fat?
In reality, you can’t target fat loss to a particular area just as you can’t choose where to gain it. But while crunches and knee raises won’t help you burn belly fat directly, they can help you burn overall body fat, and if most of your excess fat comes from the visceral variety, your belly is where you’ll see the fastest and most significant results.
“Deep abdominal (visceral) fat also tends to be easier to burn,” explains professor Arthur L. Weltman, head of kinesiology at the University of Virginia. “If you were to lose five to 10 percent of your body weight through a healthy diet and exercise, it can be associated with 30 percent or more from [visceral fat] stores in the stomach [area].”
Which Exercises Burn the Most Belly Fat?
While there aren’t particular exercises that will target belly fat specifically, there are training methods that have been found to be more effective for burning fat overall. Research shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) — in which you alternate between brief periods of high-intensity effort and rest — is the most effective form of exercise for fat loss, for example. Second and third place go to strength training and steady-state cardio, respectively.
The caveat is that you need to be fit enough to do HIIT without increasing your risk of overtraining and injury. If you’re new to working out, or if it’s been a while, HIIT can do more harm than good. So work your way up to it. Here’s how.
1. Start with jogging or walking
If you wouldn’t describe your current fitness level as “advanced” (a requirement for HIIT), start with low- to moderate-intensity, steady-state cardio, such as walking, jogging, or easy cycling. The key is to exercise continuously for at least 20 minutes, which means keeping your effort level at about an 11 on the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion, a scale from 6 to 20 where 6 represents no exertion (e.g., sitting) and 20 represents maximal exertion (e.g., sprinting up a hill). (HIIT would be a 17 on that scale.) If you’re breathing too hard to carry on a conversation, you’re going too hard.
2. Add in strength training
While you may burn more calories while you’re actually running or cycling versus strength training, you’ll likely burn more calories overall from strength training thanks to the “after-burn” effect. Essentially, recovery from strength training is longer and more intensive than it is for steady-state cardio, and that results in more calories burned and more fat lost.
Strength training can also help you keep the weight off. A study of 10,500 men found that the waist circumference of those who performed at least 20 minutes of weightlifting per day increased significantly less over the course of 12 years than those who focused on cardio.
3. Incorporate HIIT workouts (as you’re able)
Once you’ve built a solid fitness foundation, you can start incorporating HIIT into your routine. HIIT can take many forms — from sprint intervals to strength circuits — but no matter what type of HIIT you do, it’s important to go about it correctly.
“You want your heart rate to be between 80 and 90 percent of maximum during the work intervals,” says Thieme, adding that a work-to-rest ration of 1:2 tends to work well for most people. “In practice, that might mean alternating between 45 seconds of high-intensity effort and a minute and a half of rest.”
What Are the Best Foods to Help Burn Belly Fat?
As with exercise, you can’t target fat loss through diet. Your goal should be to shrink your belly by losing overall body fat. And you can do that by lowering your daily calorie intake and eating a balanced, healthy diet. Here are a few foods and tips that can help.
Load up on soluble fiber
Most people fall short when it comes to getting enough fiber. According to a 2017 paper published in American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, only 5 percent of Americans eat the daily recommended amount of the nutrient. Make sure you’re not one of them: Eating high-fiber foods such as fruits and veggies, especially ones high in soluble fiber, has been linked to a reduction in visceral belly fat, according to some studies.
Eat high-quality protein
Eating high-quality protein (e.g., milk, beef, eggs) throughout the day has been shown to have a positive correlation with reduced abdominal fat. Shoot for about .25 grams of protein per pound of body weight per meal.
Drink plenty of water
Research shows that drinking water before a meal may help you eat less. One study found that drinking 500 milliliters before each meal led participants to lose four more pounds than those who did not drink water pre-meal over the course of 12 weeks. It may also help give a slight boost to metabolism.
Now, Can You Actually Lose 10 Pounds in a Week?
“I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but I would say it’s dangerous and I wouldn’t recommend you try,” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, of Nutrition à la Natalie and author of the e-book The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide for Every Runner. “Aiming to lose one to two pounds per week is recommended.” Any more than that pushes the limits of healthy and sustainable weight loss.