Belly fat is more than just a nuisance that makes your clothes feel tight.
Fat inside the belly area is also termed visceral fat, and it is seriously harmful.
This type of fat is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, to name a few (1).
Many health organizations use BMI (body mass index) to classify weight and predict the risk of metabolic disease. However, this is misleading.
People with excess belly fat are at an increased risk, even if they look thin on the outside (2).
Although 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.
Soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a gel that helps slow down food as it passes through your digestive system.
What's more, soluble fiber may help fight belly fat. An observational study of over 1100 adults found that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber intake, belly fat gain decreased by 3.7% over a 5-year period (6).
Trans fats are created by pumping hydrogen into unsaturated fats such as soybean oil.
They're found in some margarines and spreads, and they're also added to some packaged foods.
A 6-year study found that monkeys who ate a high-trans-fat diet gained 33% more abdominal fat than monkeys that ate a diet high in monounsaturated fat (10).
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.
Alcohol can have health benefits in small amounts, but it is seriously harmful if you drink too much.
Research suggests too much alcohol can also make you gain belly fat.
Cutting back on alcohol may help reduce your waist size. You don't need to give it up altogether if you enjoy it, but limiting the amount you drink in a single day can help.
In a study of more than 2000 people, 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 did drink (12).
Protein is an extremely important nutrient for weight control.
High protein intake increases release of the fullness hormone PYY, which decreases appetite and promotes fullness. Protein also raises your metabolic rate and helps you retain muscle mass during weight loss (13, 14, 15).
Stress can make you gain belly fat by triggering the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone."
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 (21).
To help reduce belly fat, engage in pleasurable activities that relieve stress. Practicing yoga or meditation can be effective methods.
Sugar contains fructose, which has been linked to several chronic diseases when consumed in excess.
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.
Aerobic exercise (cardio) is an effective way to improve health and burn calories.
Studies also show it is one of the most effective forms of exercise for reducing belly fat. However, results are mixed regarding whether moderate-intensity or high-intensity exercise is more beneficial (27, 28, 29).
Regardless of intensity, how often and how much you exercise is important. One study found postmenopausal women lost more fat from all areas when they did aerobic exercise for 300 minutes per week versus 150 minutes per week (30).
Reducing carb intake can be very beneficial for losing fat, including abdominal fat.
Coconut oil is one of the healthiest fats you can eat.
Controlled studies suggest it may also lead to abdominal fat loss.
To boost belly fat loss, it's best to take about 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil per day, which is the amount used in most of the studies reporting good results.
However, keep in mind that coconut oil is still high in calories. Instead of adding extra fat to your diet, replace some of the fats you are already eating with coconut oil.
Resistance training, also known as weight lifting or strength training, is important for preserving and gaining muscle mass.
In fact, one study in overweight teenagers showed that a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise led to the greatest decrease in visceral fat (43).
If you decide to start weight lifting, it is a good idea to get advice from a certified personal trainer.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are loaded with liquid fructose, which can make you gain belly fat.
Sugary beverages appear to be even worse than high-sugar foods. Because your brain doesn't process liquid calories the same way it does solid ones, you're likely to end up consuming too many calories later on and storing them as fat (47, 48).
To lose belly fat, it's best to completely avoid sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, punch and sweet tea, as well as alcoholic mixers containing sugar.
A 16-year study of more than 68,000 women found those who slept less than 5 hours per night were significantly more likely to gain weight than those who slept 7 hours or more per night (51).
The condition known as sleep apnea, where breathing actually stops intermittently during the night, has also been linked to excess visceral fat (52).
In addition to sleeping at least 7 hours per night, make sure you're getting sufficient quality sleep.
If you suspect you may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, speak to a doctor and get treated.
In addition, food-tracking tools help you see your intake of protein, carbs, fiber and micronutrients. Many also allow you to record your exercise and physical activity.
You can find 5 free apps/website to track nutrient and calorie intake on this page.
Fatty fish are incredibly healthy.
Some evidence also suggests that these omega-3 fats may help reduce visceral fat.
Aim to get 2-3 servings of fatty fish per week. Good choices include salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel and anchovies.
Although fruit juice provides vitamins and minerals, it's just as high in sugar as soda and other sweetened beverages.
Drinking large amounts may carry the same risk for abdominal fat gain (61).
An 8-ounce (248-gram) serving of unsweetened apple juice contains 24 grams of sugar, half of which is fructose (62).
In a controlled study of obese men, those who took 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per day for 12 weeks lost half an inch (1.4 cm) from their waists (67).
Although no other human studies yet exist, taking 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per day is safe for most people and may lead to modest fat loss.
Researchers have found different types of bacteria play a role in weight regulation, and having the right balance can help with weight loss, including loss of belly fat.
Probiotic supplements typically contain several types of bacteria, so make sure you purchase one that provides one or more of these bacterial strains.
Intermittent fasting has recently become very popular for weight loss.
It is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of eating and periods of fasting (73).
One popular method involves 24-hour fasts once or twice a week. Another involves fasting every day for 16 hours and eating all your food in an 8 hour period.
In a review of studies on intermittent fasting and alternate-day fasting, people experienced a 4–7% decrease in abdominal fat within a period of 6-24 weeks (74).
More details: How Intermittent Fasting Helps You Lose Weight and Belly Fat.
Green tea is an exceptionally healthy beverage.
If you do just one of the items on this list, then it won't have a big effect on its own.
If you want good results, then you need to combine different methods that have been shown to be effective.
Therefore, changing your lifestyle for the long-term is the key to losing your belly fat and keeping it off.
When you have healthy habits and eat real food, fat loss tends to follow as a natural side effect.