Whether you call it a beer belly, a spare tire, or a muffin top, excess belly fat increases your chances of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic dysfunctions. As your waist to hip ratio increases, hormones in your body like testosterone, insulin, leptin, and ghrelin go through a series of negative changes, creating a vicious cycle that makes it easier for you to store fat, and harder for you to lose it.
When your waist starts getting bigger than your hips, the medical issues start becoming more and more of an inevitable reality. On top of the health issues, having a gut just doesn’t make us look or feel all that great. But the good news is that just by making a few simple changes, you can quickly drop belly fat, reduce the size of your waist, and turn this whole situation around.
Now, usually, the first thing that beginners think of doing is targeting the area with crunches and situps. And the truth is that it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to burn the fat directly from your stomach with exercise.
For example, in one study only one leg was trained for 12 weeks while the other leg was not and there was no noticeable difference in fat loss between the two legs. (1) In another study, only one arm was trained for 12 weeks but there was no major difference in the amount of fat lost from one arm when compared to the other (2). And when looking specifically at training the abs, the studies still show that performing abdominal exercises won’t actually help you reduce the fat that’s covering those abs up. (3)
Now, there was one very interesting recent anomaly study that did show otherwise and it found that participants that trained only their lower bodies experienced far more fat loss from their lower body, while other participants that only trained their upper body lost more fat from their upper body. (4) The researchers concluded that for the potential possibility of spot reduction working you need 3 things.
So, for the abs, that would be training them with heavyweights. This would be done to help release and mobilize the fat stores. But just because the fat stores are mobilized doesn’t mean that the fat will actually be used for fuel and if it’s not burnt through a process known as lipolysis the fat will return right back to where it originally was.
Number two would be to follow up immediately with some kind of workout that burns a lot of calories like cardio or full-body interval training.
And finally, the third condition is that you’ll have to maintain an overall calorie deficit. Now, even though some of you may want to give this a try… there’s still no guarantee that you would burn more fat specifically from your belly because we need more studies to support these results.
The majority of evidence still suggests that spot reduction is a myth and that overall body fat reduction that’s achieved mostly by following a good diet is the best way to lose belly fat. So, the first evidence-based tip is to shift your attention to burning fat by improving your diet rather than concentrating on burning the fat with exercise.
Now, as soon as I say that you need to have a good diet the first question that pops into everyone’s mind is what’s the best diet that’ll make me eat less and help me get rid of this gut? is it low carb or low fat?
Nowadays, most people assume that cutting carbs is the way to go. And the truth is low carb diets do have some unique advantages. Just by going on a low carb diet you’ll probably automatically put your body into a caloric deficit, but on a low-fat diet, you’ll most likely have to still track your calories to make sure.
Also read: How to lose weight while you sleep
Another advantage is that some studies show that low carb dieting is more effective at reducing appetite and hunger than low-fat dieting (5). Low carb diets will also quickly lower insulin levels which is important for fat loss because insulin stimulates the production and storage of fat and it prevents your body from burning previously stored fat.
But, even with all of these supposed advantages, the true determining factor that makes a diet plan efficient is if the person on the plan can stick to it consistently. A study that I’ve mentioned before that involved over 600 people divided between a low-fat group and a low carb group proved that long-term adherence was the key to a successful diet plan.
After a year of dieting, some people in each group lost a lot of weight others lost a little bit of weight and some even gained weight but both charts for total weight loss in the low-fat and the low-carb groups matched almost identically.
This means that you shouldn’t look for the single best diet plan out there because there is no such thing and your goal shouldn’t be to strictly eat less.
Also read: 20 Foods that’ll help you lose belly fat
-Our second evidence-based tip suggests that the plan that you enjoy and that you can stick to best is the one that’s actually best for you.
If you want to be able to stick to a plan that’ll help you burn fat without losing much muscle in the process the plan has to provide three things:
First, you have to enjoy the food options that are available on your plan or else you’re not going to stick to it. Meaning, if you can’t imagine living without carbs don’t go on a really low carb diet.
Second, you have to prioritize protein sources and eat enough of them on a daily basis. This is because protein will help prevent the loss of lean muscle mass while cutting and it’ll help elevate your resting metabolism since protein requires significantly more energy to digest than carbs and fats do.
Finally, the third and most important thing that will help you stick to your plan is going for and eat more strategy rather than the typical eat less strategy. You can do that by selecting foods that fill you up without costing an incredible amount of calories.
In other words, most of the food you eat should not be calorically dense like ice cream and cake but instead, they should have a low-calorie density like vegetables. Doing this is actually also where protein provides another benefit because it’s great at satisfying your hunger and reducing your appetite.
But other than vegetables and protein we can also find other very filling foods by looking at the satiety index which ranks foods based on their ability to satisfy hunger. Now, even though this list is far from perfect because it was based on how people rated the different foods, you could immediately see a common trend shared by the right half of the food so that we’re most filling versus the left half that were least filling.
Almost all the filling foods are whole natural single ingredient foods while the least filling foods were mostly processed.Not only are natural unprocessed foods more filling but just like protein they require significantly more energy to digest which will further elevate your resting metabolism and help you burn more fat. Click To Tweet
This is why if you drink a glass of orange juice and you eat an orange your body will spend significantly more energy digesting the orange in its whole natural state than the glass of process orange juice.
You can clearly see this playing out in a study where researchers compared the effects of eating a processed sandwich to a minimally processed sandwich and even though calories and macros were equally matched the minimally processed sandwich took twice as much energy to digest.
This can ultimately make a huge difference in how many net calories your body actually absorbs over time which will make it much easier to burn fat and maintain a slimmer waist.Your Body absorbs fewer net calories when you eat healthy foods. Click To Tweet
So, bottom line if you want to create a sustainable effective diet plan that you can actually stick to, a high-protein diet full of single-ingredient foods that you actually enjoyed eating is exactly what you need.
Now, our third science-based tip that is absolutely crucial to lose the fat around your midsection and keep it off for the long run is to incorporate progressive strength training.
In a 12 year-long study involving over 10,500 men, researchers found that in the long run, lifting weights was twice as effective as cardio for maintaining a slimmer waist.
Lifting weights and working on getting stronger over time is so powerful because it’s been shown to do amazing things for your body composition.
Not only will weightlifting help you increase your muscle mass and not only will it help you burn more calories during and after your workout but more importantly building that muscle is one of the few things you can do to boost your resting metabolism.
In a study where researchers compared bodybuilders to a similar control group with less muscle mass, the bodybuilders had significantly higher resting metabolic rates to the point that they were burning over 350 extra calories per day at rest than the control group.
If you could burn more calories at rest, it becomes a lot easier to burn body fat and keep it off without having to starve yourself. So, make sure that you’re lifting weights at least three times a week and make sure that you’re training all the muscles in your body with compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses and rows.
Then make it a priority to work on increasing the weight load you lift for all of your exercises and progressively getting stronger because that’s the best way to build more muscle and elevate your metabolism.
Now, on top of the weight training sessions, many people want to also incorporate cardio to help burn belly fat a little faster and while cardio isn’t bad, if your goal is to improve your endurance and conditioning, for fat loss cardio won’t provide the metabolic boosting effects that weight training will provide because it’s just not as effective at building muscle.
In fact, when we look at a number of studies on the subject, we find that there’s something known as the concurrent training effect or the interference effect and in a nutshell, your body isn’t that great at improving at cardio and weight training at the same time.
Three studies (1) (2) (3) in particular showed that combining resistance training and cardio leads to decreased lower body strength gains less, explosive strength gains and fewer strength gains in circuit training. Researchers believe that this is because cardio activates an enzyme known as NPK which increases your endurance but it also inhibits mTOR which is a crucial muscle-building pathway.
So, even though you can do both cardio and resistance training, – to get the optimal results that each of these provide, you will have to lean in one direction over the other. If you’re looking to build a nice physique and lose your belly fat, it’s going to help you a lot more, in the long run, to focus on strength training since once again strength training leads to more lean muscle mass and a faster metabolism.
Also read: 5 Cardio Mistakes Which Make You Fatter
Too much cardio, on the other hand, will decrease strength gains from your weight training workouts. It’ll lead to chronic depletion of your glycogen stores and it’ll limit your ability to progressively lift the heavier and heavier weights. It’ll also change your muscle fiber types from the fast-twitch which is better for strength and muscle growth to slow-twitch which are better for endurance.
So, the bottom line is that you should not be doing cardio only programs to create a nice physique instead; you should be doing the minimum amount of cardio necessary to help the fat loss process along and focus more on unprogressive overload with weights.
I recommend starting with no cardio at all and when you hit plateaus slowly add in one short high-intensity interval training cardio session at a time. The long-term benefits of having a faster metabolism far outweigh the short-term benefits of burning a few extra calories with cardio.
Also read: 5 Running Tips for Beginners 🏃