Best Ways to Get Rid of Belly Fat

Stubborn belly fat remains that final frontier in the realm of toning and weight loss, with many people struggling to get rid of it for years.

There are a few reasons why so many of us collect fat in the abdominal area:

— Having fat in the middle of the body allows easy access for the body’s organs to pull from it for quick energy. This is why the body favors storing fat there, says Sparta, New Jersey-based registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, author of “Belly Fat Diet for Dummies.”

— Stress leads the body to release a hormone called cortisol, and that triggers an increase of fat accumulation in the midsection, Palinski-Wade says.

— Poor sleep can also lead your body to release more cortisol, potentially leading to more fat in the abdominal area, adds holistic nutritionist and fitness trainer Miriam Amselem of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

— Poor food choices that are high in sugar and saturated fat can lead to more belly fat, says Atlanta-based fitness coach ShaNay Norvell, author of “Stretch Your Stress Away with ShaNay.” Alcohol also falls under this category, leading to the infamous beer belly.

— Lack of exercise leads to fat accumulation.

— Hormonal changes, such as declining estrogen in women during menopause, can lead to more midsection fat.

[READ: Weighted Jump Rope for Weight Loss.]

How Bad Is Belly Fat?

Excess belly fat can put you at risk for a variety of diseases, including:

Type 2 diabetes.

— Certain types of cancer, such as breast and colon cancer.

— Heart attacks and heart disease.

High cholesterol.

The risk for these health problems is higher because belly fat includes two different types of fat:

Subcutaneous fat is fat that’s stored just under the skin. It’s the sort of fat you can pinch with your fingers. It can be found all around the body.

Visceral fat is specific to the midsection. It is found deep in the abdomen and around organs like your liver and stomach. Visceral fat releases hormones and chemicals that can increase inflammation and insulin resistance, which is linked to Type 2 diabetes, Palinski-Wade says.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says that a waist circumference of more than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men puts you at a higher risk for health problems like diabetes and heart disease. You can measure your waist circumference in the area just above your hip bones — in most people, this where your belly button is — using a tape measure. Breathe out, and then measure your waist.

[READ: Weight Management: What’s a Healthy Weight?]

Why It’s Hard to Get Rid of Fat in Your Midsection

One reason why it’s hard to get rid of belly fat: It’s a quick source of energy for the body. “It’s easy to accumulate but harder to lose since the body doesn’t want to part with easy energy,” Palinski-Wade says.

Additionally, if you’re under stress, your body will continue to release cortisol. That contributes to having more midsection fat. Women also tend to naturally hold on to more midsection fat for child bearing, Norvell adds.

Aging also works against you, Amselem says. Testosterone helps to contribute to muscle mass in men. As a man loses testosterone with age, his body tends to lose muscle mass and gain weight.

The loss of estrogen through perimenopause and menopause can change fat distribution in a woman’s body, even if there isn’t a major weight gain. The fat that once gathered in the breasts, hips and thighs instead concentrates in the abdominal area.

However, all of that doesn’t mean that getting rid of belly fat is impossible. “It just takes more diligence and intention with food, exercise and overall lifestyle habits,” Norvell says.

[Read: Easy At-Home Ab Workouts for Women.]

10 Effective Ways to Get Rid of Belly Fat

There are a few changes you can make to your everyday habits to help whittle down your waistline.

1. Curb Added Sugar.
Limit added sugar in your diet to less than than 10% of your total calories, Palinski-Wade advises. Apps such as MyFitnessPal and SparkPeople can track your calories and help you look closer at the foods you eat.

2. Avoid Alcohol.
Alcoholic drinks are filled with extra, unneeded calories that make their way to your waistline. Plus, some drinks with alcohol — we’re looking at you, sweet cocktails — are filled with sugar.

3. Eat More Vegetables.
Add more vegetables such as broccoli and spinach to your diet. These are filled with fiber, so you’ll get full more quickly and allow your digestive system to run more efficiently. This is important because constipation can lead to midsection bloat that goes away once you add more fiber-filled vegetables, Norvell says.

4. Eat Balanced Meals.
Eat three meals a day that include protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, Amselem advises. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates include beans, oatmeal and 100% whole-grain bread.

5. Eat More Protein.
Protein digests more slowly than carbs, and that helps you to feel full longer, Palinski-Wade says. You also burn more calories digesting protein over simple carbs and fat. Consuming about 30% of your calories from protein can help you meet your daily needs and provide enough protein to help your metabolism and control your appetite.

Good protein sources include:

— Beans.

— Fatty fish such as salmon. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon also help to lower inflammation and stress hormones in the body.

— Greek yogurt.

— Nuts.

— Poultry like chicken and turkey.

6. Manage Stress Better.
We get it. The world’s a stressful place, and there’s no way you can completely get rid of stress just to banish belly fat. However, you can learn how to control your reaction to stress so you aren’t causing a 24/7 cortisol rush.

Controlled breaths: One easy thing you can do, Palinski-Wade says, is practicing slow, controlled breaths in through your nose into your belly and then deeply exhaling while your lips are pursed (as if you’re whistling).

The American Lung Association has a video that demonstrates belly breathing. This type of breathing can lower your heart rate, reduce stress hormones and help if you experience shortness of breath.

Take time out: Do something you enjoy every day, even if it’s just for 10 to 15 minutes, the American Heart Association advises. Create art, read, talk to a friend, take a relaxing bath or find another activity that allows you to tune out stress and tune in to me-time.

7. Do the Right Kind of Cardio Exercise.
Cardio is the kind of exercise that gets your blood pumping more, such as fast walking or aerobics. It also helps you to:

— Burn more calories.

— Lower stress.

— Reduce insulin resistance.

— Reduce your overall body fat.

Cardio exercise along with resistance training can go a long way toward targeting belly fat, Palinski-Wade says. Resistance training includes dumbbells, lifting, Pilates and resistance bands, Amselem shares.

Whatever cardio you choose, perform it consistently to see the best results. Thirty to 60 minutes of heart-pumping dancing, walking, jogging or swimming five times a week is best, Norvell says.

You should also add in 30 minutes of resistance training, three times a week, and daily stretching, Amselem advises.

8. Focus on a Stronger Core.
Exercises that focus on the midsection won’t lead you to magically wake up with less belly fat. A better approach is to combine a healthier diet, cardio, resistance training and core exercises. Your core muscles are in your back, abdomen, hips and pelvic area. Core strengthening can improve your abdominal muscle tone, and the combination of core exercises with cardio make the difference for midsection fat loss, Norvell says. Exercises like planks and bridges can strengthen the core.

9. Sleep More.
Want permission to sleep more? Well, here you go. Most adults need seven to nine hours of shuteye a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep also helps to control your appetite, as lack of sleep can make you want to eat more — and you’ll likely choose foods with more sugar and unhealthy fats, Palinski-Wade says.

Here are a few sleep-better tips:

— Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

— Have a before-sleep routine to relax you. Consider including meditation, deep breathing or wind-down yoga.

— Move those distracting electronics outside of the bedroom.

10. Measure Your Results.
As you focus on losing belly fat, measuring your progress can hold you accountable but also can motivate you to continue to lose more. Measure your waistline and take pictures of your front, back and side, Norvell recommends. Then continue to measure and take pictures each week. You also can use a pair of non-elastic pants so you can feel any changes in tightness or looseness over time.

You may see progress in your belly fat reduction in a week or two if you follow a better diet and exercise consistently, Norvell says. Progress may feel slow as the midsection is usually the last area to show change, especially for women, she says. However, slow and steady changes can lead to keeping off belly fat in the long term.

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