Although a bit of body fat is necessary to keep us in good health, too much of the stuff can have the opposite effect on life expectancy and wellbeing—especially when it collects around the midsection. Not only does belly fat, or visceral fat, make it difficult to zip up your jeans, it also increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes—even if you're not particularly overweight.
To help rid yourself of the dangerous fat around your middle, we surveyed some of the best after fitness and nutrition experts and delved into scientific journals to discover the most effective ways to lose those love handles and trim your midsection. From exactly which foods you should eat to things you can do each day that make all the difference, and which exact exercises to try out, here's how you can shrink your gut now. And while you're making these changes, be sure to try out any of the 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
Eat like a dinosaur
Kale is known for being acclaimed and enjoyed by millions. If you find the prospect of yet another kale salad as exciting as plain chicken, opt for dinosaur kale, aka black or lacinato kale. Its dark, curly leaves are sweeter-tasting and more tender than the regular variety, but it has the same nutritional properties, like satiety-boosting fiber and other nutrients that can turn off your belly-fat genes and lead to quick weight loss.
Sip white tea
Think of white tea as Spanx in a cup. It actually works with your body in four different ways to promote fat-burning, as reported in The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse: It blocks the formation of new fat cells while simultaneously boosting lipolysis, the body's process of breaking down stored fat, according to a study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism.
Another group of researchers found that white tea is also a rich source of catechins, a type of antioxidant that triggers the release of fat from the cells and—bonus!—helps speed the liver's ability to turn fat into energy. Brew this and burn fat.
Sprinkle on pepitas
It's the Spanish term for pumpkin seed, and if you consider them just jack o'lantern innards, you're in for a treat. One ounce of seeds has five grams of protein, according to the USDA—just under the amount of protein you'd find in an egg—and is rich in flat-belly nutrients like fiber, zinc, and potassium, which are key to muscle building and recovery. Sprinkle them in salads or over oats.
Use a dash of cinnamon
Cinnamon contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that are proven to alter body composition and improve insulin sensitivity. But that's not all: The powerful spice was also shown to ward off weight gain and visceral fat in animals fed a sugar-enhanced diet. That doesn't give you free rein to eat all the sweets you want without consequence (the study was only on critters, after all), but it couldn't hurt to add some cinnamon to your coffee or oatmeal if you've been having a tough time staying away from sugary indulgences.
Cook with cayenne
Now this next spice that can shrink your middle is one we don't suggest you add to your morning cup of Joe. Cayenne, commonly used to Mexican dishes their signature kick, has been connected to abdominal fat loss when eaten daily. Though there are various mechanisms at play, one group of researchers says that the spice may diminish appetite. In their study, they discovered that men who ate spicy appetizers consumed 200 fewer calories at later meals than those who did not. You can find capsaicin in hot sauce, but just a couple of shakes of some popular varieties can provide nearly 20% of your daily sodium limit. For a less aggressive, salt-free kick, try seasoning grilled fish, meats, and eggs with just a pinch of cayenne.
Brew pu-erh tea
This fermented Chinese tea might do to your fat cells what the New England Patriots allegedly do to their footballs—deflate them! To discover the brew's fat-crusading powers, Chinese researchers fed groups of rats varying diets over a two-month period. Those who had a high-fat diet while also receiving pu-erh tea extract had lower levels of fat in their blood and lower levels of belly fat than those who did not. While the effects aren't proven in humans, this tea has true fat-blasting potential. Sip a cup in the morning, and get even skinnier with the best ways to boost your metabolism.
Crack an egg
Want your metabolism stoked all day long? Of course, you do—and making it happen is as easy as sitting down to a protein-rich breakfast. In a 2010 study of 21, half were fed a breakfast of bagels while half ate eggs. The egg group was observed to have a lower response to ghrelin (the "hunger hormone") and was less hungry three hours later, and they consumed fewer calories for the next 24 hours! Bonus: Egg yolks contain choline, a nutrient with powerful fat-burning properties
Looking for some flat-belly breakfast inspiration? Check out these best breakfast foods for weight loss.
Do more prying
Oysters are one of the best food sources of zinc, a mineral that works with the hormone leptin to regulate appetite. Research shows that overweight people tend to have higher levels of leptin and lower levels of zinc than slimmer folk. A study published in the journal Life Sciences found that taking zinc supplements could increase leptin production in obese men by 142%! A half-dozen oysters only have 43 calories but provide 21% of your RDA of iron—deficiencies of which have been linked to a significant increase in fat gene expression.
Get a nutcracker
Omega-3 fatty acids, the nutrients that make fatty fish such nutritional champs, play a key role in reducing belly fat storage, all while keeping us full and satisfied. But thankfully you don't have to down an entire fillet or even turn on the stove to reap their stomach-flattening benefits. Just 1/4 cup of walnuts packs more than two day's worth of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a type of omega 3. And bonus: Walnuts have also been shown to reduce blood pressure and decrease inflammation in the blood vessels during times of stress. Add them to any of these overnight oats recipes to get the flat-belly benefits stat!
Wash some berries
Raspberries may be small, but they're awful mighty—think of them as nature's magical weight loss pill. Not only do they pack more fiber and liquid than most other fruits, which boosts satiety, but they're also a rich source of ketones, antioxidants that may aid trim down efforts by incinerating stored fat cells. What's more, like other berries, raspberries are packed with polyphenols, powerful natural chemicals that have been shown to decrease the formation of fat cells and zap abdominal fat.
Go for some acorn squash
Besides serving up a third of the day's fiber, a one-cup serving of this highly nutritious, naturally sweet veggie contains 30% of your daily vitamin C needs. The body uses the nutrient to form muscle and blood vessels, and it can even boost the ab-uncovering effects of exercise, according to Arizona State University researchers.
Munch on blueberries
It's finally time to give the humble blueberry proper praise—and add some to your daily diet. What makes them so great? Blueberries may help blast away stubborn belly fat by turning on your get-lean genes, according to University of Michigan researchers. After a 90-day trial, the rats fed a blueberry-enriched diet showed significantly reduced belly fat than the control group. But that's not all! The sweet fruit also contains compounds that ward off and reverse age-related loss of memory and motor coordination. And for more waist-trimming tips, check out these ways to lose body fat!
Load up on oat bran
If you like to start your day with oatmeal, it's time to give yourself an upgrade. While oatmeal is a terrific breakfast, with 12 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per cup, oat bran is a whole other level. It packs a whopping 20 grams of muscle-building protein and 18 grams of fiber, for the same number of calories. And all that fiber is good news for your belly. Intake of the nutrient was found to be negatively associated with belly fat, according to a Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Just don't mess it up by dumping brown sugar or syrup on it. Low-fat milk and cinnamon are the best accompaniments.
Stock up on pickles
Pickles are low-cal, filled with fiber, and covered in vinegar—which is all good news for your waistline. In fact, just one large pickle has 15 calories and 2 grams of belly-filling fiber, so eating three or four can actually leave you feeling pretty satiated for less than 100 calories! Every dieter knows that eating filling snacks is paramount to weight-loss success, but how does the vinegar help the fat-fighting cause? A Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study showed acidic foods help increase the rate at which the body burns off carbs by up to 40%—and the faster you burn off carbs, the sooner your body starts incinerating fat, which can help you get that lean look you crave. Add these tangy, pickled cucumbers to sandwiches and burgers or munch on them solo to start feeling more confident.
It's not carbs, per se, that lead to belly fat; but the type, researchers say. In fact, whole grains are a dietary staple of people with the littlest middles. A Tufts University study found that participants who ate three or more servings of whole grains per day (oats, quinoa, brown rice, wheat) had 10% less belly fat than people who ate the same amount of calories from refined carbs (white stuff: bread, rice, pasta). Further research is required to figure out exactly why this is the case, but the hypothesis is it has to do with the high fiber and slow-burn properties of whole grains. When it comes to diet, being unrefined is a good thing!
Go for ground
While whole flaxseeds are high in the fat-shrinking nutrient ALA, their hard exteriors often resist digestion, meaning you don't necessarily get the nutritional bang for your buck. Go for the ground version (also known as flax meal), which has about 2.3 grams of ALA per tbsp, or get nearly a week's worth of the good stuff by drizzling a little of the oil onto your salad. Studies have found flax to be helpful for cardiovascular disease symptoms like hypertension, according to a recent study in the journal Current Hypertension Reports.
Snack on almonds
A handful of almonds packs a serious fat-burning punch: One study of overweight adults found that eating about a quarter-cup of almonds for 6 months led to a 62% greater reduction in weight and BMI. And eating just 1.5 ounces of almonds daily led to a reduction in belly and leg fat, a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed. For added effect, eat almonds before working out: The amino acid L-arginine can help you burn more fat and carbs.
Cook with coconut
What smells like an exotic vacation and can shrink your waist faster than your favorite Zumba class? You got it: coconut oil. A study of 30 men in the journal Pharmacology found that just 2 tablespoons per day reduced waist circumference by an average of 1.1 inches over the course of a month. What makes coconut oil superior to other fats is its medium-chain triglycerides. Unlike the long-chain fatty acids found in animal sources of saturated fat, coconut oil doesn't seem to raise your cholesterol and is more likely to be burned as energy than stored as blubber. At roughly 117 calories per tablespoon, it's a near-identical caloric swap for olive oil. Plus, its high smoke point makes coconut oil great for just about every dish, from eggs to stir-frys.
Snack on seeds
Sunflower seeds make a healthy and filling addition to any diet. A quarter-cup serving packs just over 200 calories and provides 3 grams of fiber. The seeds also serve up a fair share of magnesium, a mineral that helps boost lipolysis, a process by which the body releases fat from its stores, which is just one of the reasons weight loss experts love the stuff. "Sunflower seeds and Sunbutter are two great belly-busters, says registered dietitian Lauren Slayton, MS, RD of Foodtrainers. The type of fat in the seeds has been shown to reduce abdominal fat in women with no other change in diet," says Slayton.
Light a candle
Have trouble cutting yourself off after you've eaten your fill? Light a candle when you sit down at the dinner table and blow it out after you've finished your meal. This simple action sends a message to your brain—and your mouth—that it's time to stop noshing. Not only will this strategy keep the temporary food baby that develops when you overeat at bay, over time, eating fewer calories adds up major weight loss.
Throw a toothbrush in your bag
Have you ever eaten something right after brushing your teeth? It didn't take too appetizing, did it? For this reason, brushing your teeth right after meals is a great way to keep yourself out of the kitchen, and subsequently, hundreds of waist-expanding calories out of your mouth.
Cut back on salt
"The fastest and easiest way to shrink your tummy is to cut back on salty foods and drink more water," says celebrity trainer and creator of Methodology X, Dan Roberts. "Even if you do have a few pounds to lose, you're likely retaining fluids, due to mild dehydration. Flushing out the salt and drinking more water is a really effective way to counteract the bloat. The results can be almost immediate," says Roberts.
Swap carbs for proteins
"Although there is no magic cure for getting rid of belly fat, eating adequate protein and cutting down on refined high glycemic carbs can help," says Martha McKittrick, a New York City-based registered dietitian. "Protein helps keep you feeling full longer and the body burns more calories breaking them down compared with carbs and fat. Lastly, protein doesn't cause insulin spikes like refined ("white" or sugary) carbs do. High levels of insulin have been linked to more belly fat—and this is especially true as we get older," says McKittrick. Swap white toast for greens or fruit salad at brunch, pick Greek yogurt over a bagel for breakfast when you're dining out, and opt for grilled chicken or fish instead of a pasta dish.
Pre-portion your snacks
Can't imagine giving up your favorite chips and cookies in the name of weight loss? You don't have to. Just pre-portion your snacks into small baggies to ensure you stick to just one serving size. It's the easiest way to eat your favorite snack and have it, too!
Go to the water cooler
Not only can your office water cooler help you stay looped in to all the latest gossip, but it can also help you trim the waistline too—especially if you make a point to fill your cup before digging into your snacks and meals. According to a 2015 study, sipping 16 ounces of water before each meal can lead to significant weight loss. To make this discovery, researchers rounded up 84 obese adults for a 12-week experiment. After all of the participants received general weight loss advice, they were assigned to one of two groups. The first group was told to drink 16 ounces of water half an hour before each of their meals while the other group was told to imagine that they were already full before digging in. At the end of the study, the water group had lost about 9 pounds while their less hydrated peers shed about three pounds less. The researchers say that drinking H20 before meals is an effective weight loss strategy because it helps increase satiety, which makes it easier to dine smart.
And for more ways to drop the pounds, check out how to lose 10 pounds.
Have a low-carb dinner
"When clients come to me wanting to lose weight around their midsection, the first thing I look at is their carb intake," says Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN. "Going really low carb is not necessary to lose belly fat, but I generally find cutting out starches, fruits, and desserts at dinner is effective for belly fat loss. Plus, it's easier than having to tally your carb number throughout the day!"
When you go out to eat, avoid fattening freebies like bread and chips at all costs. If you're ravenous when you arrive, ask your server for a side salad, or a vegetable-based appetizer or side dish. Grilled asparagus, sautéed spinach, marinated mushrooms, and hummus with crudites are all examples of smart picks.
Limit your sugar
One of the fastest ways to burn belly fat is to cut back on the added sugar in your diet, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages. Numerous studies suggest that excess fructose—found abundantly in soda and packaged snacks—increases the accumulations of belly fat—especially in men. If you want to indulge in a soda, pick up one of our best sodas for weight loss. Or, better yet reach for one of these weight loss teas. And for the best weight loss results, limit yourself to 25 grams of the added sugar a day.
Walk this way
You've likely heard that moving more is beneficial for general wellness, but did you know that adding a structured walking program to your fitness routine can help you scorch serious belly fat? It's true! In an International Journal of Obesity study of 113 subjects at high risk for type 2 diabetes, researchers found that three weekly hour-long walks significantly lowered participants' cholesterol levels and accumulation of belly fat, compared to the control group. Lace up your sneakers and hit the streets with Fido, or go to the gym and break a sweat while you're catching up on Shark Tank. Super easy yet extremely effective.
"Stress has been shown to directly influence weight gain," says Lashaun Dale of 24 Hour Fitness. "For some stress triggers poor eating habits, while other people's bodies start to store fat in response to the influx of stress hormones. And then there are those who get hit with both.
To deal with your belly fat, you have to first deal with your stress. Carve out time to take naps, get a good night's rest and meditate. Even just taking a 10-minute movement break with conscious breathing can shift your physiology for the better and help diminish your stress."
Don't skip meals
Skipping a meal is never a good idea. Not only does doing so increase the chance you'll binge eat later in the day, but it also puts your body into a catabolic state, meaning it starts to break down lean muscle for energy and hoards fat—which is exactly what you don't want when you're trying to whittle your middle.
Snack on veggies
Non-starchy vegetable consumption has been linked to decreased belly and liver fat and improved insulin resistance in overweight youths. In fact, one Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study found that consuming more non-starchy veggies resulted in a whopping 17% decrease in visceral fat in overweight kids. And although you may be all grown up, it's safe to assume adding more veggies can help adults trim their belly fat, too! Broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, spinach, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes are all considered non-starchy vegetables, and make delicious additions to any snack-time treat! For a double belly-shrinking whammy, look for veggies rich in vitamin C, like bell peppers. The nutrient has been shown to counteract stress hormones which trigger fat storage around the midsection.
Yes, you want guac with that, and yes, you know it's extra. Why should you spend your hard-earned cash on the stuff? According to a study in Nutrition Journal, avocado eaters had significantly lower body weight, BMI, and waist circumference, than those who don't nosh on the creamy green fruit.
"There is no way to spot reduce belly fat, but if a client comes to me looking to lose fat around their middle, I would tell them two things: Ditch the boredom snacking and move," says Ajia Cherry, personal trainer and Founder at Functional Innovative Training. "We often find ourselves in situations where we are mindlessly eating because we're bored. If you find yourself bored and grabbing for a bag of chips, go for a quick walk around the block, running in place or do some push-up or planks," says Cherry. "Not only does this eliminate mindless snacking, it adds more movement into your day."
Increase your intensity
"One of the best ways to build endurance, strength, and burn off fat is through high intensity, treadmill power training," says Jimmy Minardi of Minardi Training. "You can do it anywhere you go, any time of the year. Proper form (and a good coach to guide you) can make all the difference in your performance; keep your shoulders back and down and remember not to hunch as you run. You should wear a heart-rate monitor so you can accurately track when you've reached your maximum heart rate," explains Minardi. "Start the treadmill speed at a slow jog, as you work up to a warm sweat and gradually increase the incline to 15, keeping the speed the same. In 45 seconds, you should be at your maximum heart rate; at that point, start lowering the treadmill, continuing to run until it's completely flat. Do five intervals with a 3-5 minute rest in between or until your heart rate has completely recovered."
Do the boat pose
Yoga's time-honored benefits include flexibility and mindfulness, but an assemblage of asanas is excellent for muscle toning and growth. Not to mention, some serious abdominals to shrink your waist. Boat pose is probably the best pose that you can do to simultaneously work on your posture and your lower abdomen. Most people compensate by using their upper abdominal muscles and neglect the lower ones that are so important to lower back flexibility. Starting with the most basic variation of this pose (with feet lightly resting on the ground) is one of the best ways that you can build up your lower core strength, improve your posture, and increase your lower back flexibility.
How to do it:
• From a seated position, plant the feet as close as possible to your butt.
• Sit up as straight as possible; no slouching in the lower back.
• Lightly grip the thighs or shins to assist in straightening the spine.
• Lean back slightly through the chest and keep the sternum lifted to prevent arching in the back.
• Lift the legs, knees squeezing together.
• Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
Tips: Start with just steps 1 – 3 before progressing to steps 4 – 6. Use your hand to check whether or not your back is flat. Depending on core strength, hamstring flexibility, and hip flexor strength, further extend the legs.
Get in some low planks
"I absolutely love the low plank exercise because it creates a lot of stability around the entire core," says Brian Flynn, owner of Flynn Fitness Solutions. "This helps you run a lower risk of back pain. It's also a fantastic exercise to help slim down your waistline."
How to do it: Set your forearms on the floor with elbows directly under your shoulders and legs fully extended behind you, with your knees locked out. The trick to this exercise is to be as parallel to the ground as possible, so try not to let your hips drop or your head push toward the ground. The more aligned you are, the more effective it is. Draw your navel in, squeeze your butt and try to pull your elbows toward your feet (this will engage your lats). If you are doing this exercise properly, you will probably only be able to hold it for 20 seconds. That's OK—put your knees back down on the ground with your forearms in place, rest for a few seconds, and have at another rep.
"If weight loss is the goal, I recommend learning how to properly deadlift," says personal trainer and Co-Founder, Excelerate Wellness Victoria Viola. Andre Crews, a trainer, agrees: "Deadlifts are a gym session must because they essentially work everything south of your neck: Traps, lats, pecs, abs, glutes, quads—the list goes on. It's the most fundamental movement in the history of man. By building a solid foundation of lean muscle mass, your body will burn more fat while at rest, explains Crews.
Lift first, than cardio
By running, biking, or rowing after you've hit the weights—when your body is already tired—the same speed or intensity will have a greater effect on your fat and calorie burn than had you done it beforehand.
Up your weight
If you can do more than 5 reps of an exercise, up your weight—especially when you're working bigger muscle groups through exercises like squats, suggests Roberts. "This will burn fat, in the belly and other areas, quicker than any ab exercise."
The hanging leg raise targets the transverse abdominus (the front and side of the abdominal walls located below your internal obliques), which is a significant part of achieving core strength.
How to do it: Find a pull-up bar. While holding yourself up (pulling the shoulders down and back as much as possible), keep your feet together and exhale to bend the knees and pull them up to just above a 90-degree angle. Pause for a second at the top, and slowly lower the legs back to the hanging position. For an added challenge, perform the leg raises with straight legs (pointing the toes away from you) and add in a twist to the right and left (alternating on each rep) to hit not only the transverse abs but also the internal obliques. To stimulate the heart rate even more, perform a pull-up between each hanging leg raise. Be sure not to swing the legs and to stay in control of the motion! Perform 3 sets of 10-12 raises. —Eric Sand, National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer, lead instructor at Bespoke Premium Cycling Studio in downtown Los Angeles
Do your burpees
"Burpees are such a great way to activate multiple muscles, get the heart rate up and burn mega calories," says Kit Rich, celebrity trainer. "In one single burpee, you work your legs, arms and abs and you also elevate the heart rate to increase cardiopulmonary strength. If you're looking to lose weight, incorporating them into your workout routine is a must." Lori-Ann Marchese, fitness celebrity and owner of Body Construct LLC agrees: "This exercise will burn major calories, diminish fat and reveal your muscle tone. There is no other exercise that works as many muscle groups as the burpee."
How to do it: Begin in a standing position with your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Lower your body into a squatting position and place your hands on the floor out in front of you. Then, kick your feet back so that you are in a push-up position. Lower your chest to do a push-up and then raise back up to a push-up position. Next, kick your feet back to their original position, stand up and jump while bringing your arms overhead.