The secret is — you can’t. At least, not the way that you think.
Studies show that blasting your abs with tons of crunches won’t trim your belly fat, just like doing curls won’t give you tighter arms and squats won’t give you leaner legs.((J Strength Cond Res.: The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat))
Spot reducing fat, or picking and choosing where you’d like to lose fat on your body, is a complete and utter myth.
The only way to get a leaner midsection is to shed fat from your entire body. To do this, you’ll need the right combination of diet strategy and exercise — something you can stick to long enough for your body to start tapping into the fat stores in your belly.
There are as many approaches to losing weight as there are people on this planet, but no matter who you are, here are 10 diet hacks to keep you on track as you lean down in your quest for a flat stomach.
1. Create a Consistent Calorie Deficit
Eating the right number of calories on a daily basis is the number one driver of fat loss.((Science Direct: Calories do count)) Don’t let the low-fat or low-carb gurus fool you!
What’s the right number of calories?
Well, a calorie is a unit of energy that our bodies primarily derive from food. Every day, we burn a certain number of calories depending on our size, age, gender, and activity levels.
To burn fat, which is to say, to force our bodies to tap into our fat reserves and use them for energy instead of food, we need to eat fewer calories than we burn in a day.
The key is not to overcomplicate your diet by demonizing specific food groups or macronutrients.
Aim for a deficit of about 500 calories per day. The easiest method to calculate this is to multiply by 12 calories per pound of bodyweight and eat that many calories every day.
If you do nothing else on this list except consistently hit your daily calorie target, you WILL lose weight.
2. Eat Slower and Be Patient
Eating fewer calories to lose weight is really simple, but that’s not to say that it’s easy.
Forcing your body to burn its fat stores for energy is an uncomfortable process that might leave you feeling drained and with less energy, while getting used to smaller meals may leave you feeling hungry at first.
One great workaround is to eat slower, chew more, and be patient.
There is evidence to support the idea that eating more slowly can increase how satisfied and full some people feel after a meal, and decrease your desire to eat more.((Science Direct: Slower eating rate reduces the food intake of men, but not women))
It simply takes time for your stomach to communicate to your brain that it’s full and satisfied! If you eat quickly, you might bypass this signal and wind up eating more than you really needed to feel full.
Not only that, but it takes a solid 2 to 3 hours for your body to convert food you’ve just eaten into actual, usable energy. Even after eating a large meal while dieting, you may still feel hungry, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat more.
If you’re patient enough and allow your body to do its work, you’ll usually feel a jolt of energy a few hours after eating.
3. Eat More Protein
If you hit the right number of calories every day, you’ll be well on your way toward losing your belly, regardless of the overall makeup of your diet.
However, there is lots of evidence to suggest that people interested in fat loss should consider a diet high in protein.
People who eat more protein are generally more satisfied and tend to eat fewer calories overall.((The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite …)) Plus, a healthy dose of protein every day will help you preserve more muscle mass and encourage your body to lose more fat.
Your protein needs will vary depending on your gender and activity levels, but most people should shoot for at least 40 to 50 grams of protein every day.
4. Delay Your First Meal
Ever heard of intermittent fasting? It’s an eating style wherein you drastically reduce your eating window during the day while remaining fasted the rest of the time. For example, you might be “allowed” to eat for 8 hours, from noon to 8pm, while the rest of the time you only drink water.
The health benefits of fasting are vast and go far beyond weight loss and include boosts in mood, energy, focus, longevity, and more.
However, you needn’t jump right into long, extended fasts, though they can be extremely effective.((Trusty Spotter: I tried my first 24 hour fast. Here’s what happened. ))
Try pushing your first meal back just a few hours after you wake up. You’ll likely trigger more fat burning than you would by eating right away, and surprisingly, you’ll probably be a lot less hungry eating nothing than you would after eating a small breakfast.
Even mild fasting can dramatically decrease your overall appetite and calorie intake throughout the day.
5. Work Your Core
I know I said you can’t force your body to lose stomach fat, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared for the day that it does!
Work your abdominal and core muscles 2 to 3 times per week to build strength in your midsection. As you begin to lose fat, you’ll discover better tone and definition in that area than if you ignored it.
What are the best core exercises? Leave the crunches on the bench and try some more challenging moves like:
You can find more here: 5 Killer Stomach Workouts for Impressive Abs
You don’t need much, just 2 to 3 sets of 20 reps or so a few times per week should be plenty to build those abs and prepare them for their big reveal.
6. Do the Right Kind of Cardio
Believe it or not, exercise is completely optional when it comes to losing weight. If you eat the right number of calories, the fat will come off regardless.
However, it will be much easier to create your consistent calorie deficit if you’re active and burning extra calories at least a few times per week. Plus, exercising is a whole lot better for your health that not exercising.
Cardio can definitely help! But you’ll have a few choices for how to go about it:
- LISS (Low Intensity Steady State): Going for a long walk or light jog would be considered low intensity cardio. The benefits of this kind of exercise are that you’ll burn calories without taxing your body too badly and driving up your appetite. The downside? It can be kind of boring and lengthy, therefore difficult to incorporate on a consistent basis as a result.
- HISS (High Intensity Steady State): Think going for a long run. The plus side of HISS is that you’ll burn more calories a lot faster when compared to LISS, however these workouts are more draining and difficult to recover from. You may find yourself extremely hungry as a result of the exertion.
- HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training): HIIT refers to short bursts of intense exercise followed by stretches of rest or long intensity work. Imagine walking on a treadmill and occasionally working in high-speed sprints, or doing a circuit of pushups, air squats, lunges, etc. with rest intervals worked in. These workouts burn a ton of calories quickly and dramatically improve your conditioning, but they can also be difficult for your body to recover from and can drive up your appetite.
Each form of cardio has its place, but for fat loss, I’d recommend sticking mostly with LISS or HIIT workouts to burn extra calories a few times per week.
7. Eat More Filling Foods
Again, hitting a calorie target sounds simple, but that doesn’t make it easy!
If you find you’re consistently getting hungry throughout the day when trying to stick to a diet, you may need to change up your food choices.
Sure, you could technically lose weight by eating 1200 calories of Doritos every day, though I wouldn’t recommend it!
Your best bet will be to eat lots of nutrient rich foods that satiate your body and take time to digest.
Simple carbs (white bread, sugar, etc.) are unquestionably delicious but offer little nutritional value, so your body churns through them quickly. They might briefly fill your stomach, but they won’t leave you satisfied for long.
Complex carbs (oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes) and lean proteins (chicken, turkey) will keep you full for longer and better fuel your body for any workouts you might incorporate.
8. Utilize Strategic Refeeds and Diet Breaks
You likely won’t need these strategies when you first begin your diet, but as you start to see results and get to a lower body fat percentage, you might find your body needs a break every now and then.
After all, burning your own fat for energy is difficult on the body and mind. Long-term adherence to the diet is a lot more important than getting results as fast as possible.
Consider adding in one refeed day per week, where you eat an additional 500 calories or so (usually complex carbs). This will help restore your body’s energy and promote a healthy metabolism.
You can also take a 2 to 4 week diet break, where you eat your body’s maintenance calories (around bodyweight times 15 calories per day) and allow yourself to recover and rejuvenate.
Funny enough, you may find that eating more actually encourages your body to shed some of the fat it’s been desperately clinging to. Studies show that people who take strategic breaks from dieting now and then have better long-term fat loss results.((Science Daily: Taking a break from dieting may improve weight loss))
9. Get More Sleep
So much of adhering to a fat loss diet comes down to willpower and mental focus.
Know what the number one killer of willpower is? A lack of sleep.
Sleep deprivation can cause chaos with your hormonal balance and ability to regulate your appetite, but more importantly, it can leave you with very little self-control. People who don’t sleep enough find themselves snacking more and overeating more frequently.((WebMD: Sleep and Weight Gain))
Shoot for 7 to 9 hours per night to feel your best. Go to bed earlier if need be, and definitely consider shaking up the bedtime routine.
Blue light from phones, computers, and TVs, for example, is known to disrupt sleep patterns. Opt for a book before bed if you’re having trouble getting to sleep on time.
10. Track Everything
An extra bite of your friend’s dessert here, a quick snack there, and another dollop of sauce or oil on your plate… It all adds up, and those extra calories can easily derail your diet if you’re not careful.
To be sure you’re hitting your calorie goal every day, it’s best to track everything, even if you’re only using your best estimation (though calorie counters can help, too).
Tracking meals is one thing, but for the best results you’ll want to write down every single thing you take into your body including sauce, oil, sides, snacks, drinks, and more.
Forgetting about that 300 to 500 extra calories you had during the day will be the difference between losing belly fat fast, and not.
The Bottom Line
I wish there was an easy way to quickly lose fat from your belly, believe me!
What more people need to understand is that, although targeted fat loss is impossible, fat doesn’t come off of your body completely evenly, either.
For many people, especially men, the stomach is their body’s absolute favorite place to store fat. You may need to lose a significant amount of weight before your body is ready to start tapping into its belly stores.
Remember to set your calorie target and focus on hitting it every single day. Exercising, getting lots of protein, and incorporate tricks to stay motivated can really help, but the energy deficit is the primary driver and fat loss and should be your main priority.
You’ll likely need to stick with the plan for a long time before that stomach completely flattens out.