Fat: It’s the stuff that gives ice cream its creaminess and pizza its dreaminess. In the right places and in the right amounts, fat is the stuff that makes life worth living. But when your curves start crashing over the bulwark of your beltline, it’s time to start thinking about how to lose body fat. Not losing weight per se, but burning off the soft, jiggly stuff and replacing it with firm, lean muscle. Too much fat isn’t just an aesthetic issue, it’s a health issue: belly fat, in particular, is linked to everything from heart disease and diabetes to liver failure, depression and dementia.
So to help you be less large and more in charge, we surveyed some of the most sought-after fitness, nutrition, and health experts in America to find out what’s happening on the cutting edge of weight loss.
1. Cut the Crap
“When you want to burn fat from your midsection it’s so important to first look at what you’re eating,” says Kit Rich, celebrity trainer and co-owner of SHIFT by Dana Perri. “Before anything else, decrease the amount of sugar, alcohol and processed, starchy foods in your diet. Then replace these foods with high-protein foods and healthy fats like butter, ghee and coconut oil. Not only will this strategy boost satiety, which aids weight loss, it will also help the body burn fat.”
2. Make Time for Tea
“We’ve all heard about the benefits of drinking green tea, but matcha green tea takes it to a whole new level,” says Kristen Carlucci Haase RDN. “It has far more EGCG (an antioxidant that boosts levels of CCK, a hunger-quelling hormone) than standard green tea, and one study also found that drinking the stuff after exercise can increase your fat burn by up to 25%,” she says. “Try a hot cup of matcha green tea or matcha latte made with almond or cow’s milk for a delicious afternoon pick-me-up.”
3. Stock Up on Hemp
“Omega 3 fatty acids found in wild salmon, walnuts, chia and hemp seeds increase lipolysis so you lose fat instead of storing it,” says Slayton.
4. Boost Your Thermogenesis
Lean proteins and cruciferous vegetables are more thermogenic than other types of foods meaning your body burns more calories digesting them, says Juan Carlos Santana, owner of the Institute of Human Performance in Boca Raton, Florida. “If most of your diet came from these two food sources, you’d work off a couple hundred calories per day just digesting your food—which is what you’d burn on an hour-long walk. Ultimately this can help you decrease body fat,” he adds.
“One of the most under-appreciated magic fat-burning elixirs is water,” says Ajia Cherry, personal trainer and Founder at Functional Innovative Training. “As soon as you wake up in the morning, grab a glass. Every time you eat, drink a full glass of water before and during bites. The more water you drink, the fuller you will feel, the easier it is to cut back on unnecessary calories. That’s an essential element of weight and fat loss,” she explains. Other trainers concur. “Every chemical reaction in your body needs water,” celebrity trainer and creator of Methodology X Dan Roberts notes. “Even if you’re just mildly dehydrated, that could affect your fat metabolism and your performance in the gym.”
6. Eat Your Biggest Meal Post Workout
After an intense weight workout, your body needs carbs and starches to replenish blood-sugar levels and stop the breakdown of muscle. This is also the time when your insulin sensitivity and metabolism are at their highest. Enjoying your biggest meal when your body is craving energy and cutting back on the rest of your meals throughout the day will minimize any unwanted fat gains.
7. Plan to Cheat
If you’re going out to dinner or drinks over the weekend, you usually know ahead of time, which is good news for your waistline. This allows you to plan ahead and make smart diet decisions throughout the week. “One meal won’t kill your goals but being consistently inconsistent will. Get constant with good habits and plan ahead if you’re going to cheat,” says Kelvin Gary, founder of New York City’s Body Space Fitness.
8. Ditch Diet
If you want to get a six-pack, you should cut out sugary beverages and replace them with diet versions, right? Wrong. Recent studies have found an association between the consumption of diet sodas and a wider waist circumference. What’s more, diet soda drinkers have a higher percentage of belly flab than those who don’t sip the beverage, a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found. Why? Researchers think diet soda drinkers may overestimate how many calories they’re “saving,” then overeat.
9. Try Circuit Training
Replace your weekly cardio session with circuit resistance training to whittle your middle. “High-intensity circuit training with dynamic movements is one of my favorite ways to build muscle and burn fat all over the body, says Rich. “There is no possible way to spot-reduce fat, so it’s important to train the entire body to lose fat overall. Performing moves like burpees, jump squats, mountain climbers and fast push-ups are great examples. If you have 40 minutes to work out, do twenty minutes of cardio and twenty minutes of circuit resistance training. You’re sure to see the difference in your body.”
10. Move More
“When a client comes to me looking to go down a size or lose fat around their midsection, I’ll often suggest that they do more cardio,” says Cherry. “Many assume that they need to increase their number of abdominal exercises, but the reality is cardio is the most effective strategy—and it doesn’t all have to take place in the gym. Walk more, take the stairs, get up every hour at work. All this extra movement will help to strip away the layers of fat covering your abdominal muscles.”
11. Nosh on Nuts
“Nuts like pistachios aid in fat loss because they’re a good source of protein and fiber, says Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, co-author of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure. “These nutrients stave off hunger and ward off energy crashes that lead to sugar cravings and binges. Plus, they’re one of the lowest-calorie nuts. I suggest opting for the in-shell variety. Seeing the leftover shells is a visual reminder of how much you’ve already eaten, which can potentially curb your intake,” she adds.
12. Make Soup
“Studies suggest a cup of broth-based vegetable soup consumed just prior to a meal can help curb appetite and reduce the total amount of calories consumed,” says Christine M. Palumbo, a Chicago-based dietitian. In the long run, this can aid weight loss, which will help give you that lean look you crave.
13. Mix Things Up
When fat loss is the goal, planning a good mix of workouts is key. Gary suggests incorporating a combination of strength training, high- and moderate-intensity cardio and something to help relax the muscles. “I’ll train my clients hard on the strength training and high-intensity cardio side of things, then suggest they get to a good yoga or pilates class and fit in a run or sign up for a spin class,” he says.
14. Ditch the Juice
It’s natural! It’s packed with Vitamin C! It comes from Florida! What could be wrong? Well, although 100 percent fruit juice is a better pick than sugary drinks like Sunny D, even the all-natural stuff still packs up to 36 grams of sugar per cup—or about what you’d get from popping 4 Krispy Kreme glazed donuts into a blender and hitting frappé. What’s more, most of the sweetness in juice comes from fructose, a type of sugar associated with the development of visceral adipose tissue—yep, that’s belly fat.
15. Keep a Diary
When a client is looking to shed fat, registered dietitian and personal train Jim White will often suggest that they keep a food journal. “This really makes a person more aware of what and how much they’re eating and prevents mindless munching,” says White. “Food diaries also help people identify areas where they can make changes that will help them lose weight and inches. Food diaries can also help people discover patterns that lead to overeating.”
16. Throw Out Your Forks
“While it’s far from conventional, replacing your fork with chopsticks is a simple way to slow down the eating process, which will help you take in less food,” says celebrity personal trainer and diet expert Jay Cardiello. “It takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to register if you’re full, and using a fork is an easy way to overload your stomach. Using chopsticks will help you slow down.”
17. Get More Zzz’s
Believe it or not, sleeping, dieting and training are equally important when it comes to sculpting a sick set of abs. No matter how many calories you cut or miles you log, it won’t get you anywhere near your goal unless you’re also getting enough sleep. In fact, losing a mere hour of shut-eye over the course of three days has been shown to negatively impact the body’s hunger hormone, ghrelin, increasing the number of calories you’re bound to consume each day. Researchers also say that skimping on sleep increases the odds you’ll wind up munching on junk food, especially at night, which can make it difficult to get chiseled abs. Conversely, quality sleep fuels the production of fat-burning hormones that can help you get you that washboard stomach you’ve been working for.
18. Eat Before Bed
“Getting a good dose of morning protein—about 15 to 30 grams—and perhaps right before bed can maximize lean body mass,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Jennifer McDaniel. “However, this must be in conjunction with strength training and adequate calorie intake,” she adds.
19. Nosh More Often
“Eating every two to three hours is crucial when you’re trying to drop a size,” says Lori-Ann Marchese, fitness celebrity and owner of Body Construct LLC. “This ensures your metabolism is humming at all times.” Not sure what to nosh on? Make some of these 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss part of your weekly lineup.
20. Look for Leucine
Foods rich in the amino acid leucine can help build the lean muscle mass that’s needed to trim excess fat from your frame. Leucine is one of the most important amino acids to consume to develop lean muscle mass, says McDaniel. It literally jumpstarts the process. Great sources of the nutrient include beef, chicken, pork, tuna, milk, peanuts, lentils and eggs.
21. Refuse to Give Up
“Trying to lose fat can be very stressful, and depending on the goal at hand, it can take weeks, months or years to see the results you want,” says Marchese. “Being consistent and determined and refusing to give up is everything if you want to be successful.” Some days will be easier than others, which is to be expected, but it’s important to celebrate your wins—so long as it’s not with sweets. Hit the gym four days a week all month long? Why not treat yourself to a massage or a new pair of sneakers? Those are gifts to yourself that will keep you on track towards success.
22. Get More Fiber
Ask any diet expert what they think about fiber, and they’re bound to tell you it’s an imperative part of any fat-loss plan. “According to research from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, eating foods rich in soluble fiber, like oatmeal (one of the Best Carbs for Weight Loss), apples and beans, can reduce belly fat, says McDaniel. Weight management specialist Sarah Koszyk, who’s also a big proponent of eating fiber for fat loss, suggests eating berries. “”Berries like blueberries and raspberries are packed with fiber, low in sugar and calories, and chock-full of vitamins,” she says.”
23. Dial Up The Intensity
“If you are looking to lose weight, then cranking up your workouts is key,” says Certified Personal Trainer Jess Horton. “Weather your workout is 45 minutes or an hour, adding bursts of a raised heart rate increases the quality of your workout and puts your body into fat burning mode. Alternating pushups, sprints, crunches, and burpees on a repeat sequence will put the body into fat-burning mode,” she explains.
24. Scan For Trans
“Diets rich in trans fats not only promote belly fat but also mobilize fat stored in other areas of the body to the stomach,” explains McDaniel. “Sources of trans fats include vegetable shortenings, processed baked goods such as cookies and crackers and fried foods. Avoid foods that contain the ingredient “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list at all costs,” she cautions.
25. Grab a Melon
Watermelon sometimes gets a bad rap for being high in sugar, but the fruit has some impressive health benefits. Research conducted at the University of Kentucky showed that eating watermelon may improve lipid profiles and lower fat accumulation. It’s also one of the 50 Best Foods for Your Sex Lifee—so load up!
26. Cheat Smart
Some cheat meals are better than others. And a high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein meal, however “naughty,” can help you stay on track. The reason: Carbohydrates have the greatest influence on leptin levels, which help you burn fat and feel satisfied. And protein has the greatest influence on satiety because of its influence on appetite-regulating hormones and high thermic effect—the process of digesting protein requires more energy of your body than any other macronutrient. Need an example? How about a few rolls of sushi? Steak and a potato? Pancakes and an egg white omelet? Spaghetti and meatballs? The options are virtually unlimited.
Good news: You might not be as flabby around the middle as you think, says Roberts. “Many people are just bloated,” he says. Focusing on eliminating your bloat can work wonders in terms of achieving a flatter stomach. Some people may need to cut out gluten, while others will see results when they eliminate dairy, he says. And then there are people who without sensitivities who can see results by simply reducing their salt intake and eating foods high in potassium, a powerful mineral that’s been shown help the body rid itself of excess sodium. Bananas, avocados and fresh figs are all potent sources of the nutrient.
28. Hit the Hills
“One of the best ways to build endurance, strength and burn fat during a workout is through high-intensity treadmill power training,” says Jimmy Minardi of Minardi Training. Here’s how: Start the treadmill speed at a slow jog, and once you’re warm, gradually increase the incline to 15%, keeping the speed the same, explains Minardi. After 45 seconds at 15%, start lowering the treadmill and continue to run until it’s completely flat. Do five intervals with a 3 to 5 minute rest in between each, or until your heart rate has returned to normal.
29. Go Wild
The equation is simple: Protein builds muscle. More muscle = more fat burning. And fish is one of the healthiest sources of lean protein—especially wild salmon, says dietitian Lauren Minchen. It’s a rich source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which fuel fat burning, block fat storage and aid weight loss, she explains. But that’s not all: “Getting enough protein and healthy fat also helps to reduce cravings and has been shown to help keep weight off for longer,” adds Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Alissa Rumsey.
30. Stop Being Fake
When you’re trying to flatten your stomach, reducing your intake of artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols and sugar substitutes can help, notes Shay Kostabi, Master Trainer and Creative Director for ReXist360 Resistance Training Systems. “These sneaky devils can wreak havoc on your whole digestive system, which can cause weight gain and bloating. To nix bloating in the long run, Kostabi suggests eliminating the sweeteners altogether. They can be hiding in everything from protein bars to gum, so be sure to read labels carefully. For immediate deflation, she suggests increasing your water intake. Though any H20 will get the job done, she’s a big fan of Essentia, an electrolyte-enhanced water that comes in a BPA-free bottle.
Even if you eat well and exercise, constantly pulling your hair out can prevent your abs from showing. When we stress out, the body starts pumping out the hormone cortisol, which encourages the body to store cholesterol-raising fat around the midsection. The good news is that vitamin C-rich foods like peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts can help keep you trim. How does eating the produce squash stress? According to German researchers, the nutrient can lower levels of cortisol during stressful situations, helping those abs take center stage.
32. Skip Reduced Fat
Yes, you read that right! “Get rid of your low-fat and fat-free yogurts, milk, and cheeses. Full-fat dairy (and many of these 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss) contains anti-inflammatory fatty acids, like butyrate and conjugated linolenic acid (CLA), that can support healthy metabolic function and fat-burning, says Minchen. “Additionally, full-fat dairy contains vitamins A and K, two vitamins that need fats to be absorbed and metabolized.” However, fair warning: full-fat products do carry more calories, so be sure to cut back elsewhere so you don’t up your total calorie count.
33. Crack an Egg
A spatula, a carton of eggs and ten minutes on the clock is all you need to fry some serious flab. Eggs are one of the best sources of choline, a major fat-burning nutrient that helps turn off the genes responsible for belly-fat storage. Sunny side up, scrambled, hard-boiled, or fried—it doesn’t matter. Just set aside the time and whip yourself up a plate for breakfast, lunch or even dinner. Breakfast for dinner is a winner in our book.
34. Snack in the Afternoon
Americans are serial snackers—a habit researchers associate with the accumulation of belly fat. But you don’t have to go snackless to snack less. Just watch the clock. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that mid-morning snackers tended to consume more throughout the day than afternoon snackers. Afternoon snackers, on the other hand, tend to choose healthy snacks. Afternoon munching was associated with a slightly higher intake of filling fiber and fruits and vegetables.
35. Don’t Rely On Your Workouts
“If you already have a regular exercise regimen and aren’t seeing the fat-loss results you want, it’s probably what you’re putting in your mouth that’s holding you back, says Justin Thomas Sanchez, Reebok Sponsored Athlete and trainer at Drill Fitness in NYC. “I’m known for telling my clients that they’re flushing their money down the toilet if they pay me to train them and aren’t sticking to their diet. Results are 70% nutrition and 30% fitness,” he adds.
36. Get Organized
While meal prep is considered a tedious task, sticking to homemade, wholesome meals are key to fat loss success says John Rowley, Certified Personal Trainer and International Sports Sciences Association Director of Wellness. John suggests organizing your grocery list on the weekend and planning each meal out for the week so that when it comes time to cook, you’re ready to roll—and less tempted to indulge in a quick fix on the way home. No time to cook? “Invest in a crockpot. Just add the ingredients in before heading out for the day, and come home to a healthy masterpiece.”
37. Choose Red Over Green
It’s the best color for weight loss. That means Pink Lady over Granny Smith, watermelon over honeydew, red grapes over green ones. The higher levels of nutrients called flavonoids—particularly anthocyanins, compounds that give red fruits their color—calm the action of fat-storage genes. In fact, red-bellied stone fruits like plums boast phenolic compounds that have been shown to modulate the expression of fat genes. And to lose even more flab around your middle—easily and rapidly—don’t miss these essential 25 Best-Ever Nutrition Tips.
38. Amp Up The Heat
Filling up on spicy food when you’re already sweating may sound counterintuitive, but scientists present a solid case for how culinary heat can help us beat the heat — and the bulge. They call it “gustatory facial sweating.” It’s a phenomenon that suggests spicy foods trigger special nerve receptors in our mouths and thermosensors in our stomachs that cause us to sweat — the body’s way of releasing heat via evaporative cooling. You’ll get the same heat-up-cool-down effect from a hot cup of tea, but spicy summer foods have the added benefit of being rich in capsaicin, a fat-burning compound found in chili peppers.
39. Sprinkle Something Sweet
Cinnamon contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that are proven to alter body composition and improve insulin sensitivity. A Metabolism journal study showed that the addition of dietary cinnamon can activate thermogenesis and potentially help you burn fat. Add it to your overnight oats or sprinkle some in your coffee to reap the benefits.
40. Eat Cherries
Tart cherries have been shown to benefit heart health as well as body weight, in a study on obese rats. A 12-week study by the University of Michigan found that rats fed antioxidant-rich tart cherries showed a 9 percent belly fat reduction over rats fed a “Western diet.” Moreover, the researchers noted that cherry consumption had profound ability to alter the expression of fat genes.
41. Skip Happy Hour
Unfortunately for beer lovers, a six-pack of cold ones and six-pack abs are mutually exclusive. “My clients repeatedly hear my reminders that I can’t help them out-train their poor nutritional and lifestyle choices, and this includes drinking alcohol,” says Horton. When you down a drink, be it beer, wine or liquor, your body has to break down the alcohol before it can process all the other food in your system. This slows down the metabolic process, and can make it difficult to strip away the layer of fat that’s covering your abs. What’s more, research suggests that consuming just half a drink (a 6-ounce beer, a 2.5-ounce glass of wine or half a shot of liquor) can significantly increase appetite and the number of calories you subsequently consume—even if you still feel stone-cold sober. The bottom line: Ditch the booze if you really want to see your abs shine through.
42. Try Vinegar
Try adding apple cider vinegar to your daily diet. “Foods that help keep blood sugar stable aid fat loss,” says Lauren Slayton, MS RD founder of Foodtrainer in NYC. “When blood sugar rises, insulin is secreted. The more insulin secreted, the more fat we store.” Slayton recommends mixing 1 tablespoon ACV in water and topping it with a little cinnamon, while Bonnie Micheli and Tracy Roemer, Co-Founders of Shred415, like to mix hot water with 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, ½ tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of honey. “It suppresses your appetite and reduces water retention,” they explain.
43. Make Like Mrs. Dash
As for fresh herbs, a study in the journal Flavour found participants ate significantly less of a wildly aromatic dish than a mildly scented variety. Adding herbs and sodium-free spice blends is an easy take advantage of sensory illusion that you’re indulging in something rich—without adding any fat or calories to your plate.
44. Ask for a Window Seat
When dining out, sit at a well-lit table by a window. According to Slim By Design, those who park themselves in a dark booth are over 70% more susceptible to ordering desserts.