Many health organizations use body mass index (BMI) to classify weight and predict the risk of metabolic disease.
However, this is misleading, as people with excess belly fat are at an increased risk even if they look thin (2Trusted Source).
Though losing fat from this area can be difficult, there are several things you can do to reduce excess abdominal fat.
Here are 20 effective tips to lose belly fat, backed by scientific studies.
Photography by Aya Brackett
1. Eat plenty of soluble fiber
Soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a gel that helps slow down food as it passes through your digestive system.
Studies show that this type of fiber promotes weight loss by helping you feel full, so you naturally eat less. It may also decrease the number of calories your body absorbs from food (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
What’s more, soluble fiber may help fight belly fat.
An observational study in over 1,100 adults found that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber intake, belly fat gain decreased by 3.7% over a 5-year period (6Trusted Source).
Make an effort to consume high fiber foods every day. Excellent sources of soluble fiber include:
Soluble fiber may help you to lose weight by increasing fullness and reducing calorie absorption. Try to include plenty of high fiber foods in your weight loss diet.
2. Avoid foods that contain trans fats
Trans fats are created by pumping hydrogen into unsaturated fats, such as soybean oil.
They’re found in some margarines and spreads and also often added to packaged foods, but many food producers have stopped using them.
These fats have been linked to inflammation, heart disease, insulin resistance, and abdominal fat gain in observational and animal studies (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
A 6-year study found that monkeys who ate a high trans fat diet gained 33% more abdominal fat than those eating a diet high in monounsaturated fat (10Trusted Source).
To help reduce belly fat and protect your health, read ingredient labels carefully and stay away from products that contain trans fats. These are often listed as partially hydrogenated fats.
Some studies have linked a high intake of trans fat to increased belly fat gain. Regardless of whether you’re trying to lose weight, limiting your intake of trans fat is a good idea.
3. Don’t drink too much alcohol
Alcohol can have health benefits in small amounts, but it’s seriously harmful if you drink too much.
Research suggests that too much alcohol can also make you gain belly fat.
Observational studies link heavy alcohol consumption to a significantly increased risk of developing central obesity — that is, excess fat storage around the waist (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).
Cutting back on alcohol may help reduce your waist size. You don’t need to give it up altogether, but limiting the amount you drink in a single day can help.
One study on alcohol use involved more than 2,000 people.
Results showed those who drank alcohol daily but averaged less than one drink per day had less belly fat than those who drank less frequently but consumed more alcohol on the days they drank (12Trusted Source).
Excessive alcohol intake has been associated with increased belly fat. If you need to reduce your waistline, consider drinking alcohol in moderation or abstaining completely.
4. Eat a high protein diet
Protein is an extremely important nutrient for weight management.
High protein intake increases the release of the fullness hormone PYY, which decreases appetite and promotes fullness.
Protein also raises your metabolic rate and helps you to retain muscle mass during weight loss (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
Many observational studies show that people who eat more protein tend to have less abdominal fat than those who eat a lower protein diet (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source).
Be sure to include a good protein source at every meal, such as:
High protein foods, such as fish, lean meat, and beans, are ideal if you’re trying to shed some extra pounds around your waist.
5. Reduce your stress levels
Stress can make you gain belly fat by triggering the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone.
Research shows that high cortisol levels increase appetite and drive abdominal fat storage (19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).
What’s more, women who already have a large waist tend to produce more cortisol in response to stress. Increased cortisol further adds to fat gain around the middle (21Trusted Source).
To help reduce belly fat, engage in pleasurable activities that relieve stress. Practicing yoga or meditation can be effective methods.
Stress may promote fat gain around your waist. Minimizing stress should be one of your priorities if you’re trying to lose weight.
6. Don’t eat a lot of sugary foods
Sugar contains fructose, which has been linked to several chronic diseases when consumed in excess.
These include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease (22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
Observational studies show a relationship between high sugar intake and increased abdominal fat (25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source).
It’s important to realize that more than just refined sugar can lead to belly fat gain. Even healthier sugars, such as real honey, should be used sparingly.
Excessive sugar intake is a major cause of weight gain in many people. Limit your intake of candy and processed foods high in added sugar.
7. Do aerobic exercise (cardio)
Aerobic exercise (cardio) is an effective way to improve your health and burn calories.
Studies also show that it’s one of the most effective forms of exercise for reducing belly fat. However, results are mixed as to whether moderate or high intensity exercise is more beneficial (27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source, 29Trusted Source).
In any case, the frequency and duration of your exercise program are more important than its intensity.
One study found that postmenopausal women lost more fat from all areas when they did aerobic exercise for 300 minutes per week, compared with those who exercised 150 minutes per week (30Trusted Source).
Aerobic exercise is an effective weight loss method. Studies suggest it’s particularly effective at slimming your waistline.
8. Cut back on carbs — especially refined carbs
Reducing your carb intake can be very beneficial for losing fat, including abdominal fat.
Diets with under 50 grams of carbs per day cause belly fat loss in people who are overweight, those at risk for type 2 diabetes, and women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).
You don’t have to follow a strict low carb diet. Some research suggests that simply replacing refined carbs with unprocessed starchy carbs may improve metabolic health and reduce belly fat (34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source).
In the famous Framingham Heart Study, people with the highest consumption of whole grains were 17% less likely to have excess abdominal fat than those who consumed diets high in refined grains (36Trusted Source).
A high intake of refined carbs is associated with excessive belly fat. Consider reducing your carb intake or replacing refined carbs in your diet with healthy carb sources, such as whole grains, legumes, or vegetables.
9. Replace some of your cooking fats with coconut oil
Coconut oil is one of the healthiest fats you can eat.
Studies show that the medium-chain fats in coconut oil may boost metabolism and decrease the amount of fat you store in response to high calorie intake (37Trusted Source, 38Trusted Source).
Controlled studies suggest it may also lead to abdominal fat loss (39Trusted Source).
In one study, men with obesity who took coconut oil daily for 12 weeks lost an average of 1.1 inches (2.86 cm) from their waists without intentionally changing their diets or exercise routines (40Trusted Source).
However, evidence for the benefits of coconut oil for abdominal fat loss is weak and controversial (41Trusted Source).
Also, keep in mind that coconut oil is high in calories. Instead of adding extra fat to your diet, replace some of the fats you’re already eating with coconut oil.
Studies suggest that using coconut oil instead of other cooking oils may help reduce abdominal fat.
10. Perform resistance training (lift weights)
Resistance training, also known as weight lifting or strength training, is important for preserving and gaining muscle mass.
Based on studies involving people with prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease, resistance training may also be beneficial for belly fat loss (42Trusted Source, 43Trusted Source).
In fact, one study involving teenagers with overweight showed that a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise led to the greatest decrease in visceral fat (44Trusted Source).
If you decide to start lifting weights, it’s a good idea to get advice from a certified personal trainer.
Strength training can be an important weight loss strategy and may help reduce belly fat. Studies suggest it’s even more effective in combination with aerobic exercise.