When somebody tells you there’s a fast, easy way to get rid of stubborn belly fat, they’re probably trying to sell you something. It’s tempting to believe in fat-burning miracle foods and secret exercises that will flatten your stomach in a matter of days. But there’s no magic formula for trimming your midsection. You can lose belly fat—and keep it off for good—by staying committed to your goals and following a few commonsense tips.
Doing endless sit-ups, stomach crunches, and planks is unlikely to help you get rid of belly fat. Losing fat doesn’t work that way. These exercises can strengthen your abs, but your muscles won’t be visible until you lose that extra layer of fat.
Losing weight—and maintaining a healthy weight—is the most effective way to shrink your waistline. Weight loss can also improve your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars. So, if you want to lose belly fat, stick with a tried-and-true plan: Eat a healthy diet and stay active. For most of us, that’s easier said than done, but here are some tips to get you started.
- Follow a Mediterranean eating plan. The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional cooking styles of countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The idea is to get back to the basics of healthy eating and fill your plate with plant-based foods, fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes and nuts, and fish and poultry. Drinking red wine—in moderation, of course—is encouraged but by no means required.
- Read food labels. Knowing how to read and understand Nutrition Facts labels and lists of ingredients can help you make smart food choices and make every calorie count. When you’re trying to lose weight, understand what counts as a serving size and learn how to spot added sugars.
- Limit sugary drinks. Sugar-sweetened beverages—like soda, energy drinks, high-calorie coffee drinks, and some fruit juices—contain a lot of empty calories. Worse, they don’t fill you up the same way real food does. Limiting or eliminating sugary drinks can prevent sudden upswings in blood sugar levels and help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Drink alcohol in moderation (or abstain completely). Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may have some health benefits. For example, moderate alcohol consumption may help reduce your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. But consuming too many calories, whether they’re from beer, wine, spirits, or even eating too much healthy food, can increase your belly fat and make you gain weight. Plus, excess fat stored around the waist can be dangerous to your health.
- Cut out highly processed junk food. When you’re trying to lose weight, stay away from junk food. You don’t have to be perfect, and occasional slip ups are no excuse to give up on your healthy eating plan, but the worst foods for weight loss are refined sugars, processed carbs, and empty calories. That means no French fries, potato chips, cookies, toaster pastries, doughnuts, white bread, ice cream, or candy bars.
- Stock up on healthy snacks. It may seem like weight loss is all about what you can’t eat. But you can enjoy all kinds of amazing foods, as long as you eat mindfully and pay attention to the foods you choose. That goes double for snacks. Eating smaller meals and snacks about every three hours or so can help you maintain stable blood sugar levels and avoid extreme hunger. With a little planning, you can eat healthy snacks without gaining weight.
- Move more. Sit less. Exercise is one of the keys to losing weight and burning belly fat. But finding time for exercise can be tough. If you’re too busy to hit the gym or take a class, there are ways to sneak physical activity into your life. Remember, any amount of physical activity counts. Gardening, housework, short walks, taking the stairs instead of the elevator—it all adds up.
- Get your heart beating faster. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developed the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to help us understand how much exercise we need. For adults, the guidelines recommend aiming each week for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity. That’s about 30 minutes, five times a week. Anything that raises your heart rate counts as moderate aerobic activity. Of course, always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- Build muscle. Strength training can also help you shed belly fat. The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day, even when you’re resting. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend two strength-training sessions each week for adults. Strength-training is any activity that makes your muscles work harder than usual, including push-ups, squats, and lunges.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep can make you gain weight. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, people who sleep for less than five hours a night are almost a third likelier to gain weight (30 pounds over the course of 16 years) than those who get seven hours of sleep each night. When you’re trying to lose weight, make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep.
Losing belly fat isn’t fast or easy, but you can do it. Eat a healthy diet. Be as active as you can. Take it one day at a time. If it all seems overwhelming, start small. Change one thing. As soon as you’ve mastered that, move on to the next thing. And keep going.