Forget fad diets and infomercial promises — unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to whittling your waist. It takes serious work. The good news, however, is that you can reduce unwanted belly fat and achieve a flatter-looking stomach with a little bit of patience, a lot of accountability, and tweaking how you move and what you eat. Below, three experts share their tried and true tips for blasting belly fat for good.
Avoid the three S’s: starch, salt, and sugar.
It’s no secret that junk food can work against your tummy-trimming goals. Specifically, treats that are high in starch, sugar, and salt (think: pretzels, candy, chips) can end up adding extra fat to our stomach area.
“When we release insulin to take up simple sugars, we tend to store [fat] around our middle,” explains nutritionist and Real Nutrition® founder, Amy Shapiro, RD. Vegetables are one of the most obvious counterparts to simple sugars, though you might want to steer clear of certain ones before a big event: cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts — while chock full of vitamins — can cause temporary bloating around the midsection. So, while you should be adding them to your regular diet, you might want to steer clear before big events. Shapiro also notes that kale, beans, lentils, and soy-based foods can also cause similar gassiness.
Instead, the nutritionist advises loading up on foods containing potassium like sweet potatoes, watermelon, and bananas, which can flush out excess (bloat-forming!) water retention. Celery, asparagus, and cucumbers can similarly relieve bloating. As for protein options, Shapiro suggests sticking to lean sources such as eggs, salmon, and sunflower seeds. In addition to fueling your muscles with long-term energy, lean protein is also devoid of fiber — a substance that can contribute to temporary bloating, gas, and cramping when too much is ingested. That said, fiber is part of a well-rounded diet, thanks to its ability to aid digestion. Just go easy on the stuff in the short term if you’re looking to reduce bloat, especially if you’re focused on looking slim for a big night out.
Do not skimp on calories.
Calorie-restricting diets are so passé. Instead, fitness experts like Samantha Ortiz of Triple Threat BootcampTM advocate for focusing on the nutritional value of the foods you eat. “The key to a [slimmer] and flatter stomach starts with your diet,” she asserts. “Fitness and nutrition go hand in hand.” While she does not recommend counting calories, per se, Ortiz does advocate for eating at least 1,200 calories per day. Any fewer, and you’re probably not fueling your body with enough energy — which can ultimately result in a slower metabolism and less effective workouts.
Instead, focus on how your body uses the types of calories you eat. Calories from refined carbs (white bread, sugar, etc.) spike insulin levels. Soaring insulin levels release glucose; excess glucose can be stored in fat cells. Protein, on the other hand, keeps insulin levels stable. Translation: your body will not immediately store protein-derived calories in fat cells. Instead, it’ll use them to build muscle and fuel future sweat sessions. Lowering your carbohydrate intake and upping your protein can fuel your workouts and burn stored fat more effectively.
Case in point: a study published in JAMA found that people who focused on low-carb intake, rather than focusing on calories, lost significantly more weight over the course of a year. Try swapping pasta and white rice for lean proteins like chicken, fish, and tofu. If you are craving starch, opt for complex carbohydrates from foods like quinoa and sweet potato. Generally, these types of starches are broken down more slowly than refined carbohydrates (e.g. white rice, donuts), and will not cause the same insulin spike. For the ultimate pre-workout energy combo, try munching on quality protein (like eggs) combined with a complex carb (like whole grain toast) a few hours before hitting the gym.
Bottom line: don’t worry too much about logging every last calorie (within reason!). As in most things in life, flat tummy foods are measured by quality over quantity.
Does not imply person featured in the photograph had the CoolSculpting treatment.
Work out smarter.
Ortiz swears by planks, sit-ups, flutter kicks, and mountain climbers for a strong stomach — so long as you’re actively engaging those muscles and focusing on proper form. “Correct form is everything for an exercise,” she says. “If done incorrectly, the movements might not benefit your body — or [could] even cause an injury.”
While doing any ab exercise, make sure you’re actively engaging (clenching) your abdominal muscles. One way to determine whether you’re using the right muscles is to check in with your neck. If it feels strained, you probably need to clench your stomach muscles more. In plank position, your neck should align with your back, with your gaze facing the floor. If you’re unsure of proper form for any exercise, consider consulting a personal trainer. Even if its only for a single session, establishing the right form with a pro is worth the investment.
Another consideration: “It is important to focus on your breathing technique while exercising,” Ortiz notes. “Oxygen is super beneficial!” To ensure you’re keeping things steady, Ortiz advises breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Contour your body with non-invasive treatments.
Some areas just can’t be spot-reduced with sweat, which is why many people turn to non-invasive body contouring treatments such as CoolSculpting®. According to Dr. Ellen Marmur, “CoolSculpting [works best] for people who live active lifestyles and are looking to target certain areas of the body that are resistant to exercise and healthy eating habits.” When used on FDA-cleared areas (including the abdomen and love handles), CoolSculpting can reduce fat up to 20-25%.
[Editor’s note: The CoolSculpting treatment is a non-invasive fat freezing treatment that effectively reduces fat in certain self-proclaimed “problem spots” in the submental and submandibular areas, thigh, abdomen, and flank, along with bra fat, back fat, and underneath the buttocks (you know, those bulges that just won’t go away, regardless of how much you sweat it out on the treadmill). While it isn’t a weight loss solution, fat freezing can reduce pouches of fat. As with any procedure, there are risks and side effects, so talk to a licensed provider to see if it’s right for you.]
The treatment works by applying extreme cold on the area via an applicator. Over the course of treatment, this coldness freezes the fat cells to death. CoolSculpting treatments can last anywhere from 35 minutes to an hour, depending on the patient and treatment area, notes Marmur. Generally, patients undergo one or more sessions, and results can start to be seen in as little as three weeks. That said, most people will have to wait two months or more for the full effect, though their bodies will continue to flush out treated fat cells for up to four to six months.
Ultimately, there are no shortcuts to reducing belly fat (not even in-office treatments!), but you do have different options. So keep your gut goals in sight, and you might just notice a change in your waistline by the time spring rolls around.
Individual CoolSculpting® experiences and results may vary depending on the number of treatments and the amount of time after treatments.
CoolSculpting® is an Allergan®-owned non-invasive fat reduction treatment.
CoolSculpting® Treatment Important Information
The CoolSculpting® procedure is FDA-cleared for the treatment of visible fat bulges in the submental (under the chin) and submandibular (under the jawline) areas, thigh, abdomen and flank, along with bra fat, back fat, underneath the buttocks (also known as banana roll) and upper arm. It is also FDA-cleared to affect the appearance of lax tissue with submental area treatments. The CoolSculpting procedure is not a treatment for weight loss.
Important Safety Information
The CoolSculpting procedure is not for everyone. You should not have the CoolSculpting procedure if you suffer from cryoglobulinemia, cold agglutinin disease, or paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria.
Tell your doctor if you have any medical conditions including recent surgery, pre-existing hernia, and any known sensitivities or allergies.
During the procedure you may experience sensations of pulling, tugging, mild pinching, intense cold, tingling, stinging, aching, and cramping at the treatment site. These sensations subside as the area becomes numb. Following the procedure, typical side effects include temporary redness, swelling, blanching, bruising, firmness, tingling, stinging, tenderness, cramping, aching, itching, or skin sensitivity, and sensation of fullness in the back of the throat after submental or submandibular area treatment.
Rare side effects may also occur. CoolSculpting may cause a visible enlargement in the treated area which may develop two to five months after treatment and requires surgical intervention for correction.