Belly fat is more than a nuisance that makes your clothes feel tight.
It’s seriously harmful.
This type of fat — referred to as visceral fat — is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other conditions (1).
Many health organizations use BMI (body mass index) 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 on the outside (2).
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.
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 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 (6).
Summary Soluble fiber may help you lose weight by increasing fullness and reducing calorie absorption. Try to include plenty of high-fiber foods in your weight-loss diet.
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.
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 (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.
Summary Some studies have linked a high intake of trans fat with increased belly fat gain. Whether or not you are trying to lose weight, limiting your intake of trans fat is a good idea.
Alcohol can have health benefits in small amounts but is seriously harmful if you drink too much.
Research suggests that 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 but limiting the amount you drink in a single day can help.
In a study in more than 2,000 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 drank (12).
Summary 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.
Protein is an extremely important nutrient for weight control.
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 retain muscle mass during weight loss (13, 14, 15).
Summary High protein foods, such as fish, lean meat and beans, are ideal if you’re trying to shed some extra pounds around your waist.
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.
Summary Stress may promote fat gain around your waist. Minimizing stress should be one of your priorities if you’re trying to lose weight.
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.
Summary 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.
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-intensity or high-intensity exercise is more beneficial (27, 28, 29).
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 to those who exercised 150 minutes per week (30).
Summary Aerobic exercise is an effective weight loss method. Studies suggest it’s particularly effective in slimming your waistline.
Reducing your carb intake can be very beneficial for losing fat, including abdominal fat.
Summary 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.
Coconut oil is one of the healthiest fats you can eat.
Controlled studies suggest it may also lead to abdominal fat loss (39).
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.
Coconut oil is still high in calories. Instead of adding extra fat to your diet, replace some of the fats you’re already eating with coconut oil.
Summary Studies suggest that using coconut oil instead of other cooking oils may help reduce abdominal fat.
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 lifting weights, it’s a good idea to get advice from a certified personal trainer.
Summary 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.
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.
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.
Summary Avoiding all liquid forms of sugar, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, is very important if you’re trying to shed some extra pounds.
A 16-year study in more than 68,000 women found that those who slept less than five hours per night were significantly more likely to gain weight than those who slept seven hours or more per night (51).
The condition known as sleep apnea, where breathing stops intermittently during the night, has also been linked to excess visceral fat (52).
In addition to sleeping at least seven 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.
Summary Sleep deprivation is linked to an increased risk of weight gain. Getting enough high-quality sleep should be one of your main priorities if you plan to lose weight and improve your health.
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.
Summary As a general weight-loss advice, it’s always a good idea to keep track of what you’re eating. Keeping a food diary or using an online food tracker are two of the most popular ways to do this.
Fatty fish are incredibly healthy.
Some evidence suggests that these omega-3 fats may also help reduce visceral fat.
Aim to get 2–3 servings of fatty fish per week. Good choices include salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel and anchovies.
Summary Eating fatty fish or taking omega-3 supplements may improve your overall health. Some evidence also suggests it may reduce belly fat in people with fatty liver disease.
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 of abdominal fat gain (61).
An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of unsweetened apple juice contains 24 grams of sugar, half of which is fructose (62).
Summary When it comes to fat gain, fruit juice can be just as bad as sugary soda. Consider avoiding all sources of liquid sugar to increase your chance of successfully losing weight.
In a 12-week controlled study in obese men, those who took 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of apple cider vinegar per day lost half an inch (1.4 cm) from their waists (67).
Taking 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 ml) of apple cider vinegar per day is safe for most people and may lead to modest fat loss.
However, be sure to dilute it with water, as undiluted vinegar can erode the enamel on your teeth.
Summary Apple cider vinegar may help you lose some weight. Animal studies suggest it may reduce belly fat.
Researchers have found that different types of bacteria play a role in weight regulation and that 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.
Summary Taking probiotic supplements may promote a healthy digestive system. Studies also suggest that beneficial gut bacteria may promote weight loss.
It’s 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 consists of fasting every day for 16 hours and eating all your food within 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 6–24 weeks (74).
Summary Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that alternates between periods of eating and fasting. Studies suggest that it may be one of the most effective ways of losing weight and belly fat.
Green tea is an exceptionally healthy beverage.
Summary Regularly drinking green tea has been linked to weight loss, though it’s probably not effective on its own and best combined with exercise.
Just doing one of the items on this list won't have a big effect on its own.
If you want good results, 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.
Summary Losing weight and keeping it off is impossible unless you permanently change your dietary habits and lifestyle.
There are no magic solutions to losing belly fat.
Weight loss always requires some effort, commitment and perseverance on your behalf.
Successfully adopting some or all of the strategies and lifestyle goals discussed in this article will definitely help you lose the extra pounds around your waist.