You’re doing crunches, swearing off fast food and sweating on the treadmill. But is your stubborn belly fat going away?
If you’re trying to whittle down your waist, you’re not alone. Turns out, ‘How to lose belly fat’ is one of the most searched terms on the Internet.
The trouble is, you can’t tell your body where it’s going to burn fat in your weight loss journey, experts say.
“You can’t pick and choose where fat is lost from. There’s some evidence that body fat is preferentially lost from the midsection, but it doesn’t just come from one area. Your body takes fat from wherever it most wants to take fat from,” said Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, director of the Human Performance Lab at New York City’s Lehman College.
READ MORE: How to lose weight and get fit
“There’s no such thing as spot reduction. Lose weight and some will be from the belly no doubt, but there’s no special formula,” Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, one of North America’s leading weight management experts, told Global News. He’s a physician at the University of Ottawa and the Bariatric Medical Institute.
So if you want to tighten up your midsection, it’s going to be a full body effort.
In our guide on how to lose belly fat, we sought wisdom from scientists to doctors, certified personal trainers and registered dietitians. Here’s what they had to say.
How to eat
For starters, the experts agree: what you eat is more important than how you’re working out.
“Abs are made in the kitchen. You can’t out-train a diet,” Jim White, a certified personal trainer and registered dietitian, told Global News.
Freedhoff suggests that 80 per cent of a person’s weight is modifiable by food, while only 20 per cent is affected by fitness.
Load up on protein
Protein is your No. 1 when you’re prioritizing what’s on your plate at meal time. No, it doesn’t mean that you need to overload on it. It means you need to make sure it’s present at each meal.
Protein comes with plenty of benefits: it helps with weight management, reduces blood pressure, and, most importantly, it keeps you feeling full.
Lean protein is your best friend, according to Christine Hopaluk, a certified personal trainer who lost 129 pounds and 14 dress sizes — and kept it off.
She turned to fish, chicken, turkey, bison, beans and lentils, eggs, tofu, nut butters and protein powders for her protein fix. She had boiled eggs, ground turkey and chicken breast already cooked in her fridge at all times so she’d have healthy options when she’d get hungry.
Don’t forget your fibre, healthy fats and complex carbs
Don’t make fat and carbohydrates the villain, advises Dr. Sean Wharton, an internal medicine specialist focusing on diabetes and weight management.
Your job is to choose wisely instead. High-fibre foods keep you full. They include pears, strawberries, broccoli, apples, raspberries, Brussels sprouts, and celery, for example.
“A pound of broccoli is 120 calories. It’ll keep you full and cut your desires to binge on cheesecake,” Schoenfeld said.
Complex carbohydrates include brown rice, quinoa and sweet potatoes. Healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds.
“It looks like chicken breast and broccoli with a salad and olive-oil based dressing. It doesn’t look like milky fettuccine and cheese or a hamburger with the bun,” Wharton said.
Cut out processed food, fast food and hidden sugars
Freedhoff calls these “low-hanging fruit” because they’re obvious culprits in your healthy eating goals.
“Calories in restaurants and fast food chains are shown to be markedly higher. There’s lots of temptation,” Freedhoff said.
Tracking down hidden sugars in your diet is tricky, too. It’s in bread, tomato sauces, your morning coffee and beer at the end of the day.
How to work out
Weight loss is boiled down to a simple equation: take in fewer calories than you expend. It’s “over-simplistic,” the experts agree, because there are many other factors at play, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
Exercise also helps with your heart health, mental health, sleep, focus and discipline, Schoenfeld notes. You’re less likely to blow your diet if you’ve put in a good workout.
It also helps with strengthening and toning your midsection.
If you’re time-strapped, turn to high-intensity interval training, White said.
“It’s my top pick when it comes to burning fat because you’re burning as many calories as you can in a small time frame. It’s getting the most bang for your buck,” he explained.
Look into boot camp-style workouts with burpees, jumping jacks, sprints, and other short bursts of activity.
Strength training needs to be in your workout regime. When you’re shedding pounds, you need to make sure you’re burning fat and not muscle mass.
“From a functional standpoint, if you don’t resistance train, your diet will result in muscle loss of about 25 per cent,” Schoenfeld said. If you lose four pounds, one pound will come from muscle, he warned.
Strength training also gives your body a metabolism boost. Your body keeps burning calories even after you’ve finished working out.
Run, jog, skip — do what you can to get off of the couch and on your feet, the experts say.
White asks his clients to try to burn 100 calories for every 10 minutes of cardio.
About 10 minutes of abdominal training needs to be in your workout, too. It’ll help to keep your core strong, your muscles will tighten, and ideally, you’ll trim down.
White is referring to crunches, reverse crunches, bicycle kicks, planks, and sit-ups — anything that’ll activate your core muscles.
“There are hundreds of exercises that can help you get toned around the area,” White said.
How to stay focused
Aside from eating right and heading to the gym, there are other ways you can help your cause.
“These are nothing earth shattering with body fat, but every bit counts,” White said.
Sleep well and keep stress levels low: If you aren’t sleeping well, your metabolism takes a hit, along with your eating routine. You could be grappling with more cravings or even a loss of appetite.
Stress doesn’t help either. It comes with a hormone called cortisol, which is tied to higher levels of fat in the body. Aim for about seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Drink lots of water and green tea: Keep yourself hydrated. At times, you may be mistaking thirst with hunger pangs and a glass of water may be enough to tie you over.
White turns to green tea to help with metabolism, too. It’s low in calories and packed with antioxidants.
Keep a food journal: The very first step in Hopaluk’s weight loss journey was investing in a notebook to log what she was eating, when, and how she was feeling to try to find any patterns that needed to be broken.
Studies have suggested that people who use them lose twice as much weight as those who don’t, Freedhoff said.
If you’re keeping a food journal, you have a record of how often you’re grabbing fast food, when you’re eating in front of the television, or even how often you’re skipping breakfast.
Understand other factors are at play: You can control what you eat and how often you work out, but some things, such as genetics, are out of your hands.
“People just have trouble losing weight and that’s specific to the individual. Different people will lose fat from different places and that’s predetermined,” Schoenfeld said.
Age and body composition play a part, too: pre-menopausal women tend to hang onto fat in the lower half of their bodies (such as their thighs). After menopause, fat is diverted to their midsection.
Be patient and don’t fixate: None of the experts want readers fixating on the scale and finding extreme ways to melt the pounds away.
Stick to forging long-term habits and your new lifestyle will reflect in your figure, they say. It’s an uphill climb, they concede.
“It’s really difficult to burn fat. You have to be disciplined and it takes time,” White said.
“There is no quick and easy way to do any of this. Healthful living is not about weight management,” Freedhoff said.