Ah, who doesn’t love to talk bellies?
If you’re currently sporting a tight and toned middle, you’re probably nodding your head. If you’re still donning a bit of winter weight mid-summer, however, you’re probably less than enthused.
Losing belly fat often seems like one of the most difficult feats. Sometimes it even refuses to budge no matter what diet or exercise regime you try.
Rest assured: here we’re breaking down the top scientifically proven strategies to help you lose weight and belly fat and keep it off.
The Most Effective Strategies to Lose Belly Fat
Some of these weight loss strategies are often not discussed in mainstream fat loss articles, so if you’re finding it difficult to shed fat or have reached a plateau in your training, definitely make sure you’re not missing them.
1. Get Enough SleepWe’re sharing this strategy first, since it’s one of the most underrated when it comes to fat loss.
Studies have shown time and again that sleep is actually a requirement in order to lose weight effectively … and that not getting enough can not only halt fat loss, but can also cause weight gain. [*]
Sleep plays an integral role in maintaining adequate energy balance and metabolism function. When disrupted, a cascade of hormones are released that can disrupt this balance, which can also disrupt how we burn calories and store fat.
Research on nightshift workers illustrates this pretty well, revealing that night workers are significantly more likely to be overweight or obese. The kicker? Many of the studies mention specifically abdominal obesity in the workers [*]
Long story short: get your 7-8 hours. Click here for how to optimize your sleep if you’re having trouble.
2. Drop SugarMost of us are aware of the damaging side effects of sugar. Aside from being a promoter of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other serious disorders and diseases, it’s also a major player in obesity, weight gain, and at the very least, slowing our fat loss to a halt. [*]
When we consume sugar, our blood sugar levels spike and the hormone insulin is released to help bring levels back to normal. It does this by ushering glucose into our cells to be used as fuel, and/or storing the extra we don’t use for immediate fuel as fat. This is a normal process that doesn’t cause harm in healthy individuals who are getting small amounts of sugar from natural sources (say, a sweet potato) and who are moderately active. However, when we begin to consume sugars (especially processed) in high amounts, our blood sugar is constantly elevated. As such, insulin is constantly being released and storing the extra energy as fat. When insulin gets “burned out” and stops doing its job, this is when we see diseases like diabetes pop up.
Toning down our sugar consumption can keep blood sugar levels stable and reduce the risk of storing excess glucose as fat.
Foods with added sugar to avoid:
- Processed white flour, pastas, breads, cookies, cakes, muffins
- Candies, candy bars, ice cream, and chocolate (keep in mind even organic versions may still have a high sugar content, so always check your labels)
- Sweetened yogurts (even non-dairy) and non-dairy milks (look for unsweetened)
- Dried fruits and fruit juices (also check veggie juices that often contain fruits)
- Fried carbohydrates like french fries
- Flavored salad dressings
- Soda and all sweetened drinks
Our best advice is to check labels and avoid anything that contains added sugar in any form. Small amounts of whole fruits like berries and kiwis are fine, along with starchy veggies like carrots and butternut squash, and even a dash of completely raw honey (less than 1 tablespoon per day).
3. Try High-Intensity Interval TrainingHigh-intensity-interval training (HIIT) is a style of training that involves alternating periods of intense activity with periods of low activity. Think sprinting all-out for 15 seconds, followed by one minute of power walking.
This style of training has been proven to be one of the best for fat loss, with studies showing interval training results in greater fat loss than other forms. [*] Alongside this, studies specifically on HIIT and belly fat show it is significantly more effective than other forms, and also works faster. [*]
To add the icing to the cake, one of the best things about HIIT is that typically, a session only lasts 15-20 minutes, versus the standard method of steady cardio for an hour.
Much of these effects occur due to HIIT’s ability to not only burn calories during the intense activity, but to also cause your body to burn more calories up to 24 hours after your workout. This is due to metabolic changes that occur that raise your metabolism, as well as the calories required to repair muscle and re-oxygenate your cells.
To start with HIIT training, aim to get in a session twice a week if you’re a beginner. When done correctly, HIIT is pretty taxing on your body, so you don’t want to jump into a session every day.
4. Reduce StressLike sleep, stress is an under-discussed cause of belly fat.
Now, some stress is good and “normal,” as it keeps us from becoming stagnant in life and protects us from danger. However, when stress becomes chronic, the hormones that are released can rapidly go from beneficial to toxic.
The main hormone that can become damaging is cortisol, aptly nicknamed the stress hormone. Cortisol is known for causing accumulation of belly fat, and for making losing weight pretty difficult. [*]
It can also result in raised blood sugar and insulin levels, which as we discussed before can promote fat storage. Couple that with the tendency of stressed individuals to eat sugary and high-fat foods to ease their stress, and you can see we have a recipe for fat gain.
Strategies to Ease Stress:
- Talk a walk in nature several times a week, which can reduce cortisol levels
- Try yoga and/or meditation, even if it’s only for 10-20 minutes
- Try aromatherapy using stress-reducing essential oils like lavender and clary sage
5. Eat Only Natural FoodsWe discussed removing sugar, but to go an essential step further, it is ideal to focus on consuming mostly whole, unprocessed foods every day. Think lots of veggies, leafy greens like kale and spinach, low-sugar fruits like berries, wild quality meats like chicken, turkey, venison, and beef, wild fish like salmon and sardines, squash, and small amounts of nuts and seeds. If you tolerate them well, you can also add sprouted beans and quinoa, but keep the amount small (½ to 1 cup per serving).
The path to weight loss and dropping belly fat can be a challenge to navigate when we’re confronted with so many fad diets and supplements on a daily basis. While there is no magic pill, the above strategies are the ones that are proven to work time and time again to drop fat.