Do you stick to your diet and hit the gym daily but still can’t lose belly fat? You’re not alone. Most gym goers are struggling with this issue. All those crunches and sit-ups won’t give a flat belly — or a six-pack.
Stomach fat isn’t just unsightly but harmful too. It consists of subcutaneous fat and visceral adipose tissue (VAT), with the latter being a risk factor for heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. As the journal Obesity points out, visceral fat releases dangerous chemicals that mediate insulin resistance. This tissue is metabolically active and affects your health on every level.
Wondering how to lose stomach fat? From clean eating to high-intensity training, there are a couple of tricks you can use to lean out and make your abs pop. Remember, consistency is the key.
The Skinny on Visceral Fat
First things first, let’s talk about visceral fat and its dangers. Unlike subcutaneous fat — which is found just beneath your skin, visceral fat is stored deep in the abdominal cavity and wraps around your internal organs. Subcutaneous fat has the role to maintain your body’s temperature and may have a protective role. Too much of it, though, can be harmful.
Abdominal visceral fat, on the other hand, surrounds your liver, kidneys, gallbladder, and other vital organs. According to Harvard Medical School, it accounts for about 10 percent of a person’s total body fat. Yet, it has the potential to trigger serious health problems, from type II diabetes to chronic inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
This type of fat releases pro-inflammatory cytokines, putting you at risk for insulin resistance, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, dementia, and premature death. A 2016 study published in KoreaMed indicates that visceral fat is a stronger predictor of diabetes and prediabetes than waist circumference. Basically, we’re talking about an endocrine organ that secretes chemicals, proteins, and hormones with adverse health effects.
Retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4), for example, is a cytokine produced by visceral adipose tissue. This substance has been linked to a higher risk of coronary heart disease, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance. A high visceral-to-subcutaneous fat ratio (VSR) may contribute to high cholesterol levels, hormonal imbalances, abdominal obesity, organ dysfunction, and elevated triglycerides.
Another problem with visceral fat is that it’s the last to go. Diet and exercise can help you shed the fat beneath your skin, but it will take you longer to torch stubborn fat (aka visceral fat). Clean eating and training might not be enough. You must also address the root causes of visceral fat buildup, such as stress, metabolic disturbances, or hormonal imbalances.
What Causes Belly Fat?
Belly fat can have a multitude of causes, from bad eating to chronic stress and sleep deprivation. Aging and genetics play a role too. This problem also tends to be more common in men with low testosterone and growth hormone levels and women with high cortisol and androgens.
Let’s take cortisol, the stress hormone. According to Yale University, stress promotes abdominal fat storage even in slender people. When you’re stressed for long periods of time, cortisol levels skyrocket. Basically, your body stays in “fight-or-flight” mode 24/7.
Studies indicate a strong link between stress and belly fat. It appears that school-related stress in children and work-related stress in adults promotes abdominal obesity.
Elevated cortisol levels also affect immune and heart function, trigger inflammation, and contribute to digestive problems, as Today’s Dietician notes. Erectile dysfunction, heart disease, and diabetes are all common side effects.
Cortisol has a direct impact on your T levels. When cortisol levels remain elevated, testosterone production decreases. Low testosterone is a contributing factor to weight gain, infertility, muscle loss, and central obesity in men.
As you probably know, strength training boosts testosterone levels and promotes hypertrophy while raising your metabolism. Certain foods, especially those high in protein and fat, can help too. Tweaking your diet and workout routine can increase testosterone production and help you shed stubborn fat.
How to Lose Stomach Fat Naturally
If you’re wondering how to lose belly fat in a week or two, forget about it. The magic happens when you make fitness your default state. Clean eating and heavy lifting are a must.
Crash diets and cookie-cutter workouts won’t do the trick. If it was that easy, you’d already be lean. The key is to make lasting lifestyle changes. There are some tricks, though, that can speed up this process and help you build the body you’re after.
Let’s take dietary fats, for example. We’ve previously mentioned that a high-fat, high-protein diet helps increase testosterone levels, which in turn, facilitates weight loss and suppresses weight gain. Not all fats are created equal, though.
Health Fat Clinical Studies
Healthy fats, such as those in tuna, mackerel, salmon, avocado, and olive oil, have a positive impact on testosterone levels. In a clinical trial, fish oil supplementation has been shown to increase sperm count and mobility as well as serum testosterone concentrations in dogs. Another study has found that fish oil raised testosterone levels in mice.
Although these studies were conducted on animals, their findings may apply to humans too. Researchers point out that EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and other dietary fats may improve testosterone metabolism and protect against arthritis, obesity, heart disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and other disorders associated to low T levels.
Trans fats, on the other hand, contribute to chronic diseases and promote weight gain. According to the journal Obesity Surgery, overeating trans fatty acids not only elevates bad cholesterol and reduces good cholesterol levels but also promotes visceral fat gain. Furthermore, these compounds increase body fat levels and promote obesity even when there are little or no changes in calorie intake.
Cutting back on trans fats is a good starting point. But what else can you do to get a flat belly and lose stomach fat?
1. Ditch the Sugar
It’s no secret that sugar contributes to weight gain and obesity. Not even the best workout plan can offset its impact. What you may not know is that high-sugar foods promote visceral fat accumulation. In other words, those cookies you love so much may be the culprit behind belly fat.
A 2016 study assessed the effects of sugary drinks on visceral adipose tissue. Regular soda intake has been shown to increase visceral fat volume over the course of six years. Diet soda didn’t cause any changes in abdominal adipose tissue.
Most gym goers already know that junk food, pizza, pastries, soda, cookies, cake, and other goodies are loaded with sugar and simple carbs. The problem is that you might be eating sugar without realizing it.
Remember that protein bar you ate last week or yesterday evening on your way home? It might not be as healthy as you think.
With a few exceptions, most protein bars are chock-full of sugar in one form or another. It’s not uncommon to see fructose, glucose, dextrose, agave syrup, or high-fructose corn syrup listed on the label. Some brands pack more sugar than a Snickers!
This sneaky ingredient has lots of different names. Sucrose, maple syrup, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, ethyl maltol, barley malt, maltose, and galactose are just a few examples. Just because the label says “sugar-free,” it doesn’t mean it’s true.
What about Artificial Sweeteners?
At first glance, artificial sweeteners seem like a better alternative to sugar. After all, they’re calorie-free or low in calories and contain little or no carbs. Unfortunately, they can still make you fat.
A 10-year study conducted on older adults has found that low-calorie sweetener users had a larger waist circumference and higher body mass index compared to those who didn’t use these products. They also had higher rates of abdominal obesity, which shows that artificial sweeteners promote visceral fat deposition.
According to the Endocrine Society, these products contribute to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, diabetes, and overall weight gain. Artificial sweeteners may increase oxidative stress levels in the body, which in turn, slows down your metabolism and causes your cells to store fat.
To stay safe, use artificial sweeteners in moderation. Better yet, replace them with stevia, the only natural sweetener on the market.
2. Fill Up on Protein
Protein does a lot more than just build muscle and help you recover faster from training. You already know that a quality protein formula can take your workouts to the next level and boost your performance. It’s a perfect addition to your muscle-building plan.
But did you know that high-protein foods can help with weight loss and torch belly fat?
A 2012 study published in the journal Obesity compared the effects of normal vs. high-protein diets on body composition and metabolic health in men. Both groups had similar results in terms of weight loss. The high-protein group, though, preserved more lean mass while in a calorie deficit.
High-protein diets have also been linked to lower rates of abdominal obesity. Researchers suggest that swapping carbs for protein may help reduce belly fat and overall body weight. This nutrient requires more energy to digest than fats and carbohydrates due to its high thermogenic effect. Additionally, it increases satiety and curbs hunger, making it easier to stick to your diet.
More on Meats
But that’s not all…
Lean meat, especially beef, and other high-protein animal foods are rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). This fatty acid aid aids in weight loss and balances the hormones that regulate appetite, leading to increased feelings of satiety and fullness.
Furthermore, high-protein diets improve glycemic control and insulin response, leading to a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. Insulin resistance and visceral fat are strongly connected.
People with insulin resistance are more likely to accumulate fat in the midsection compared to healthy individuals. This relationship goes both ways. Visceral fat promotes insulin resistance and may lead to diabetes, which brings us to the next point…
3. Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels
Large meals, high-carb foods, and sugary treats cause insulin and blood sugar spikes. Over time, these fluctuations can lead to insulin resistance, which is a major risk factor for abdominal obesity.
Imagine the following scenario. You’ve just had a great workout and all you want right now is to eat something — anything. Your boss calls and tells you to get to the office ASAP, so eating a full meal is out of the question.
You grab a cheeseburger or an energy bar and head over to work. You’re feeling energized and ready for the day ahead, but only for a short time. About two hours later, the afternoon slump kicks in full force. You can barely stay on your feet and keep your eyes open. You eat a cookie, hoping that your energy will go up. And it does — but just for another hour or so.
What you eat has a direct impact on your mood, energy, and stamina. That cheeseburger you ate after training was chock-full of carbs. The same goes for the cookies you keep at the office.
These goodies cause blood sugar spikes followed by crashes, which can make it difficult to lose stomach fat. In the long run, they affect your body’s ability to use insulin, leading to a host of problems, from metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance to diabetes and weight gain.
4. Check the Glycemic Index
Choose foods with a low glycemic index (GI) to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Fill up on cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, avocados, berries, and small amounts of legumes.
Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and oils contain little or no carbs and therefore don’t have a GI value. This means you can enjoy them as part of a low-glycemic diet.
Research shows that reducing glycemic load may help prevent obesity and protect against heart disease and type II diabetes. In a study, subjects on a low-glycemic diet reported less hunger and experienced a lesser decrease in resting metabolism compared to the low-fat diet group.
What this means is that a low-carb diet can make it easier to torch fat and prevent metabolic slowdown. Plus, you’ll stay full longer and eat less without even realizing it.
5. Train at High Intensity
Now let’s talk about exercise. You’re working out day in and day out, but are you doing it right? Some training methods work better than others for fat loss. High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is your best ally in the battle against the bulge.
In a clinical trial, participants who combined HIIT and conventional training lost more visceral fat and more inches from their waistlines than those who only engaged in conventional training. Additionally, the HIIT group experienced greater improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness.
HIIT can help you torch fat in more than one way. First of all, it triggers the so-called afterburn effect due to its intense nature. As a result, you’ll burn more calories during AND after training.
This form of exercise also helps preserve lean mass and positively alters your hormonal profile. Steady-state cardio, on the other hand, increases cortisol levels and may cause muscle loss when done in excess. A typical HIIT session only takes 10 to 20 minutes, so it’s unlikely to affect lean mass or raise cortisol levels.
Minute per minute, high-intensity interval training is more effective than steady-state cardio for abdominal fat loss. It yields better results in less time and supports metabolic health. Some HIIT protocols, such as Tabata, take as little as four minutes, so you have no excuse to skip your workout.
In fact, any form of high-intensity training — not just HIIT—will do the trick. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise confirms that high-intensity workouts boost growth hormone levels while increasing fat oxidation and post-exercise calorie burn. This training method appears to be effective at reducing both subcutaneous and total abdominal fat.
6. Shorten Your Rest Periods
Whether you’re lifting weights or doing cardio/HIIT, keep your rest periods short. Incorporate drop sets, supersets, compound sets, pyramid sets, and other advanced techniques into your workouts to reach muscle fatigue.
Train at a fast pace, with no more than 45 seconds of rest between sets. This approach will skyrocket your heart rate and get your body into fat burning mode.
Focusing on compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, barbell and dumbbell bench presses and power cleans will burn more calories. The basic movements that utilize several muscle groups at once require more energy and will stimulate the metabolism more than the easier isolation exercises.
Another strategy you can use is to add one or two minutes of high-intensity training between sets or strength exercises.
For example, do a quick sprint on the treadmill after each set of pull-ups. Push-ups, squat jumps, box jumps, mountain climbers, battle rope training, and burpees are all a great choice in between sets.
Still wondering how to burn stomach fat? The strategies listed above can make all the difference, but you must also sleep more and stress less. Sleep deprivation and overtraining raise cortisol levels, causing your body to store fat. Adequate rest is just as important as exercise and clean eating.
Beware that crunches and sit-ups aren’t really that great. These exercises build core strength and improve overall fitness, but have little or no impact on body fat. For best results on how to lose stomach fat, use a mix of strength training, HIIT, plyometrics, and full-body circuits. Take inspiration from these old school bodybuilding workouts and customize them based on your goals and fitness level.