Muffin top. Belly pooch. Love handles. There are plenty of ways to describe extra belly fat, most of them with less-than-desireable nicknames.
Whether you’ve struggled to lose belly fat after having kids, have recently hit menopause, or life (and cupcakes) have simply gotten in the way, most of us have dealt with carrying extra weight around our middle before.
However, if you want to get rid of lower belly fat for good, it’s not enough to try a few sit-ups and call it a day.
The hard truth is: you can’t spot reduce belly fat. If you want to lose fat, you have to lose it all over.
Getting rid of belly fat and sculpting the muscles underneath requires both changing your diet and ramping up your workouts. This article covers 9 helpful lifestyle and exercise tips to get rid of lower belly fat:
- Get 150 minutes of cardio per week
- Do HIIT 1-2 times per week
- Do ab-toning workouts
- Create a calorie deficit
- Increase protein and fiber intake
- Limit simple sugars and refined carbs
- Drink more water
- Minimize stress levels
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep
And don’t forget to check out our intense 15-minute flat ab workout filled with moves to help you define the most important (and overlooked) muscles in your core!
1. Get 150 Minutes of Heart-Pumping Cardio Per Week
As we said above, if you want to lose belly fat, you have to lose weight all over. You have to shed your “extra layer” to see the muscles underneath. Cardio is a part of the weight loss equation.
The CDC recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week, which can include anything from jogging, jumping rope, cycling, or a spin class. There is no one right way to raise your heart rate, so pick what you like to do.
The bottom line is: you need to create a calorie deficit to lose weight (more to come on that below) so doing some cardio will help with that math equation. The bonus is you will strengthen your heart muscle and your stamina. Since heart disease is the number one killer of women in America, taking care of your heart should be high on your self care list for overall health and calorie burning.
To get started with cardio, try these 7 best cardio workouts for weight loss.
2. Fit in HIIT 1-2 Times Per Week
If you are willing to give HIIT a try as part of your cardio prescription, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a top choice for anyone looking to burn fat. HIIT helps burn fat and torch more calories in a shorter amount of time than other workouts.
Here’s how it works: You give maximum effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise followed by short recovery periods. HIIT workouts train and condition both your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. This kind of exercise gets your heart rate up and improves your cardiovascular fitness level while burning more fat and calories in less time.
Consider HIIT your intense workouts, while your cardio workouts are more steady-state. You need a mix of both!
3. Do Ab-Toning Workouts
Like we said above, you can’t spot reduce fat in any area of your body. However, you can absolutely work to tone specific areas by using specific exercises.
First things first: it’s important to understand the different types of abdominal muscles. To get rid of belly fat, you have to target all the muscles of your stomach, not just one. You need to do exercises that target the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus and the obliques.
The rectus abdominus muscle is that straight-down-the-middle muscle that, if strengthened enough, is where your “six pack” shows up. The basic crunch is great for working this muscle but not the only worthy ab exercise.
You should also aim to strengthen your transverse abdominus, the muscle that sits deep and low in your belly. By taking time to strengthen this muscle properly, you are creating a built-in “corset” for your body that holds the abs in tight and protects your low back. Pilates is an example of a workout that can help you work your transverse abdominus. My favorite Pilates exercise to start with is a full body roll up.
Finally, you should also target your obliques, which are your side abdominals. They help you bend side to side, rotate right and left, and stabilize and protect your spine. Your obliques have to work in harmony with all of your abdominal muscles to truly give you a tight tummy and a strong, stable back. Check out this Russian Twist exercise or side plank to work your obliques.
Note: If you are pregnant, consult your doctor to decide if it’s safe for you to do ab exercises. If you have recently given birth and have any abdominal wall separation, check out our 10 minute workout for Diastasis Recti to help you ease back into exercise. Also read our article on how to ease back into abdominal work after a baby.
If you’re ready to start moving, jump to our ab-toning workout below!
4. Create a Calorie Deficit
It’s fairly straightforward: If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. This is what is referred to as a “calorie deficit”.
You can reduce calories by lowering your calorie intake, increasing physical activity, or a combination of both.
For most people, a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day is sufficient for weight loss and unlikely to significantly affect your hunger or energy.
However, it should be noted that women generally should not consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day, and men no fewer than 1,500 calories.
A good tip to use when creating a calorie deficit with diet is to fill half of your plate with veggies—and the remaining parts with lean protein (salmon, chicken) and some healthy carbs (quinoa, rice.) This will help you with portion control.
For increasing physical activity, you’ll be more motivated if you pick something you like to do. I always suggest walking, especially for beginners, because most people are willing to try power walking. Power walking doesn’t require a trip to the gym or a lot of extra time – it can burn up to 200 or more calories per 30-minute walk. The key to walking for weight loss is to walk fast. Walk like you are in an airport and late for a flight.
Just because these tips are simple, does not mean they are easy. Here are some tips to stay motivated during your weight loss journey.
5. Increase Protein and Fiber Intake
In order to lose weight, including from your lower belly, you should consume an adequate amount of fiber and protein.
Fiber has a wide range of benefits, including aiding weight loss. Some types of fiber slow the absorption of nutrients, allowing you to feel full longer, therefore consuming less calories throughout the day and helping achieve a deficit.
Men need between 30 and 38 grams of fiber per day, and women need between 21 and 25 grams per day.
Some good sources of fiber include: avocados, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.
Protein is made up of amino acids and helps feed and repair our muscles, among other parts of our body. However, it’s where you are getting your protein that matters most.
Choose good sources of animal protein, like fish, poultry, eggs and low-fat dairy. Vegetables also provide ample amounts of protein – look for dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli and asparagus. And don’t forget quinoa, a grain that mimics the same amino acid profile as an animal protein. A good choice for vegetarians and vegans.
6. Limit Added Sugars and Refined Carbs
It’s true, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. And you may not want to hear it, but limiting or better yet eliminating added sugars and refined carbohydrates is key to hitting your weight loss goals, including decreasing belly fat.
Added sugars like those in soda, juice, cookies, muffins, processed meals, and candy are the enemy. (Don’t be afraid of natural sugar found in foods like fruits, vegetables and dairy products, which contain healthy fiber and don’t affect your insulin in the same way.)
Added sugars increase your hunger and desire for more sugar, neither of which make weight loss easier. Also, drinking a lot of sugary beverages is linked to an increased amount of visceral fat, a kind of deep belly fat associated with conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Refined carbohydrates are typically found in processed, packaged foods like frozen pizza or food made with white flour like pasta and bagels. These carbs act just like added sugar in your body. Refined carbs release glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream much faster than complex carbs like quinoa, sweet potatoes and whole grains. This results in blood sugar spikes, which lead to crashes that can trigger hunger and cravings for more high-carb foods.
Refined carbohydrate foods also usually lack essential nutrients and can be considered “empty” calories.
Note: In addition to added sugars and refined carbs, alcohol also contributes to weight gain: it stops your body from burning fat, it’s high in calories, it can make you feel hungry, and it can lead to poor food choices. Remember to drink in moderation – women should have no more than one drink a day, and men should have no more than two per day.
7. Drink More Water
Water has plenty of benefits, several of which involve maintaining a healthy weight, like improving energy and reducing hunger.
And consider this: in a living, moving body, skeletal muscle is more than 70 percent water. In order to put healthy muscle on your body, water is a necessity.
On average, you should be drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water a day. If you exercise regularly, add another glass or two to that.
8. Minimize Stress Levels
High cortisol (the stress hormone) levels have actually been linked to belly fat retention.
Although it’s not necessarily the first step in reducing belly fat, chronic stress can definitely cause some people to hold on to more visceral fat.
Manage stress through meditation, yoga and self-care, and see if you notice a difference.
9. Get 7-9 Hours of Sleep
You may not think of sleep as being connected to your weight loss journey, but research shows otherwise: study participants who were put on a sleep-deprived diet experienced a 55 percent reduction in fat loss compared to the well-rested participants.
Lack of sleep can also change your fat cells by disrupting your body’s ability to properly use insulin. Excess insulin can cause your body to store fat in the wrong places, which can cause weight gain and even diabetes.
Adults should regularly get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep to stay healthy, alert and energized.
15-Minute Workout To Burn Lower Belly Fat
Now that you’ve learned the diet and lifestyle changes needed to reduce fat, here is the 15-minute workout that completes the picture. Perform 2-3 times per week to melt off belly fat.
This workout will tone and sculpt all the muscles in your core, including your transverse abdominus (low abs), rectus abdominus (vertical ab muscle), and oblique muscles.
Do this workout first thing when you get up, while the kids are eating breakfast, or at the gym on your lunch break—whenever you have time to squeeze it in.
Perform each of these moves for 1 minute. Take a 1-minute rest afterwards—then start from the beginning and do another 1 minute for each move.
1) Stand with feet a little wider than hip distance apart, knees bent, and hands held behind the back of your head.
2) Bend to the right, reaching right hand toward floor behind your leg. Keep spine long.
3) Return to center and repeat on the left side.
1) Start lying on mat with fingers at the base of your head and elbows pointed out. Bring the soles of your feet together, knees pointed outward.
2) Tilt your chin slightly forward and squeeze abdominals to lift chest upward. Keep arms and neck relaxed. Slowly lower down and repeat.
1) Start by laying on your right side with forearm below shoulder, body lifted and legs long and feet stacked. Keep body straight, abs tight and place left hand on hip.
2) Dip your hips down towards the mat and lift back up, using your obliques and core muscles.
1) Start lying on the mat with arms over your head and legs long.
2) Sweep arms out to sides and bring head, neck, and shoulders off the mat reaching arms long and lift one leg up and in towards the chest. Reaching arms forward on the sides of the leg. Roll back to mat lowering the leg, and repeat on the other side.
1) Lie on mat and extend your legs straight up towards the ceiling.
2) As you exhale, tighten your low belly to push your feet straight into the air. Hips will lift slightly off the mat.
3) Return you hips and lower back to the mat with control. Use your abdominals vs. momentum to create the movement and avoid rolling onto the neck
1) Begin in a forearm plank position with your body in a straight line and abdominals contracted.
2) Step your left foot out to the left; step your right foot out to the center.
3) Step your left foot back to center; step your right foot back to center.
1) Kneel on the mat on all fours. Reach one arm long, draw in the abs, and extend the opposite leg long behind you.
2) Bring the elbow and knee in towards your center as you round your back remember to draw in your abs. repeat on other side.