There are a lot of variables that impact fat burning from cycling or any exercise regimen.
Seriously, What is the Quickest Way to Lose Belly Fat?
With today’s diet culture, you’ve likely seen numerous articles, advertisements, claims, and cheerleading for how to lose an inch of belly fat in a single month, so you can fit into your favorite jeans, look better at the beach, and feel more confident. And you may have even found yourself asking “What’s the quickest way to lose belly fat?” before a vacation, reunion, or perhaps when your jeans started to feel entirely too tight.
Let’s be honest: You can be beautiful at virtually any size. Your weight has nothing to do with who you are as a person, and there are so many examples of wonderful, attractive people around us who may carry more weight than others. In other words, losing belly fat isn’t about how you look, how confident you are, or your value as a person.
Rather, the concern about belly fat is about how you feel and your general health. You see, excess fat, especially around the belly or waist, can be seriously dangerous.
Health Risks Associated with Excess Belly Fat
Excess belly fat, also known as “visceral fat” or “central obesity,” is a risk factor in a number of diseases, including:
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal blood fat levels
- Heart diseases
- Heart attacks
- Insulin resistance
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Breathing issues
- Cancer (such as breast and colon cancer)
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- And premature death from any cause 1
How Much Belly Fat Is Too Much?
Remember those old commercials from the 1980s, suggesting that if you could pinch an inch, it was time to diet? Well, forget those. Unless you’re a fitness model, you can likely find a place on your body (including your belly) where there’s an inch or more to pinch, especially when seated.
In addition, the trouble with excess belly fat isn’t the soft layer that’s just below the skin (i.e., subcutaneous fat), it’s the fat that resides deep within the abdomen that surrounds the internal organs that’s most concerning.
No matter what you weigh, if you hold excess weight around your belly, that’s when the risks skyrocket. In fact, research has found that even women who had a normal body mass index (BMI) had an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease if they had a wider waistline. 2
How to Determine if Your Belly Fat is Dangerous to Your Health
For both women and men: stand up tall, and wrap a tape measure around your naked stomach or while wearing fitted clothing (that doesn’t compress), just above the hip bones. Ensure the tape measure is level and snug, without pushing into the skin. Resisting the urge to suck it in, relax, exhale, and measure your waist.
For men, if your measurement is more than 40 inches (102 centimeters), you are at a greater risk for health issues.
For women, if the measurement is over 35 inches (89 centimeters), that indicates excess belly fat and therefore an increase in health issues.
However, for an even more accurate reading, you can calculate your waist-to-hip ratio.
As above, you’ll measure your waist by standing up tall and wrapping a tape measure around your naked stomach or while wearing fitted clothing (that doesn’t compress), just above the hip bones. Ensure the tape measure is level and snug, without pushing into the skin. Resisting the urge to suck it in, relax, exhale, and measure your waist.
Next up is to find your hip measurement. Stand tall with your feet directly beneath your hips (hip-width apart) and measure the widest part of your hips and butt.
Then get out a calculator and divide your waist size by your hip size. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), if the ratio is greater than 1.0, then you have a higher risk of developing heart disease. For women, a healthy ratio is under .85 and a healthy ratio for men is .90 or less.
It is important to note, however, that the waist size, hip size, or ratio between the two isn’t the cause of disease. Rather, they are simply guidelines or indicators to help predict the risk of disease.
What Causes Weight Gain Around the Belly?
No matter where you gain weight (on your hips, back, belly, or even arms), it’s largely determined by:
- Calories in i.e., the number of calories you consume throughout the day
- Calories out i.e., how many calories you burn at rest, while exercising, and with non-exercise activity thermogenesis
What is the Quickest Way to Lose Belly Fat?
You can do side bends or sit ups to help tone your abdominal muscles, but it won’t get rid of belly fat. In short, spot reduction doesn’t work. If you are lean, you can help define muscles with targeted exercises, but to lose that belly fat, overall fitness and weight loss are what will lead to success. Here’s the quickest way to lose belly fat:
Evaluate Your Eating Habits
If you don’t know what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, or when you’re eating, then you could be taking in way more calories than you expect. So, the first step in losing belly fat is to assess where you are right now. What are your eating habits?
Eat a Healthy, Mostly Whole-Food Diet
Now that you know what you’re eating, you can make adjustments as needed. One thing virtually all nutritionists agree on is that we need to reduce the consumption of premade, packaged, and highly processed foods in favor of eating more whole-food diets made up of more fruits and vegetables. Five servings of fruits and veggies per day can decrease the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and even early death. And eating ten servings is even better. 3
Good choices include dark green leafy vegetables (like spinach and kale), cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower), as well as berries, apples, pears, and citrus fruits.
Eat More Protein
Protein foods help reduce hunger hormones while increasing satiety (or appetite-reducing) hormones, which can significantly decrease hunger, so you’re more likely to eat fewer calories. Protein can also help boost metabolism as it takes more energy to metabolize protein than it does fat or carbohydrates. Finally, a higher protein diet helps cut cravings and reduces the desire to snack.
In short, eating more protein (i.e., between 1.2 and 1.6 g protein per kilogram per day or about 91 to 122 grams of protein per day for an average 168-pound person) can help you lose weight even without intentionally reducing calorie counts. 4
Consume More Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber, such as beta-glucan and glucomannan, has numerous benefits to rank as one of the quickest ways to lose belly fat. 5 For example, it encourages greater gut bacteria diversity, which ferment the fiber to produce short-chain fatty acids. These fats can then help fight belly fat. In fact, they’ve been shown to increase the rate of fat burning while decreasing the rate of fat storage. In addition, soluble fiber can also help decrease appetite, to help you eat fewer calories. 6
Good fiber foods to include in your diet plan include flaxseeds, oatmeal, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, legumes, and fruits like apricots and oranges. Don’t just go from zero to 100 when you start eating more fiber, though, or you could experience cramps, diarrhea, and bloating. Slowly increase your consumption over time until you’re eating 30 to 38 grams of fiber per day if you’re a guy and 21 to 25 grams per day for the gals.
Eat Mindfully and Honor Your Hunger and Your Fullness
We eat for a number of reasons besides hunger. Perhaps you’re feeling stressed, because it’s “time” to eat, because you’re feeling sad, angry, anxious, or just bored. Now researchers are finding that how you eat can be just as important as what you eat. A simple, though not easy, method to encourage healthier weight and eating habits is mindfulness. 7 Mindful eating is about staying aware in the moment of what you are eating and drinking. It’s about observing rather than judging how the food makes you feel, how it tastes, how satisfied you are, and how full or hungry you are.
Researchers have discovered that mindful eating is linked to less impulsive eating, reduced calorie consumption, and healthier food choices and preferences. 7 With mindfulness, you can discover what drives you to eat and overeat and to focus on quality rather than quantity. Other amazing benefits mindful eaters report is decreased anxiety, chronic stress, as well as belly fat. 8
Keep Portion Sizes in Check
Even if you’re following a healthy diet, if you’re taking in too many calories, you will not be able to drop belly fat. That does not, however, mean you need to go hungry or drop your calorie count to painfully uncomfortable levels (which only makes you feel deprived and more likely to overindulge or binge later).
Some simple ways to keep portions under control include:
- Drinking a glass of water before you eat.
- Bulking up your meals with extra vegetables.
- Choosing different dinnerware: some research suggests that by eating off smaller plates as well as plates that have a high color contrast to the food on them, people tend to eat less. 9
- Slowing down as you eat—you may even want to set the mood by dimming the lights and putting on some relaxing music to help make your meals more leisurely.
- Avoid eating from a bag or box—if you really want chips or pretzels, for example, pull out a single portion before you take a single bite. Researchers have found that people eat up to 50% more when they don’t have the visual cues of how much they’re eating. 10
- Limiting distractions as you eat. Turn off the TV, put down the smartphone, move away from your desk, and allow yourself to just enjoy your meal. 11
Avoid Sugary Beverages, Including Fruit Juice
It makes sense that if you’re drinking empty calories that you’ll have a tough time dropping weight from anywhere, including your belly. In addition, it’s easy to consume more calories than you realized. High-sugar consumption, especially from fructose-sweetened beverages like fruit juices and sodas, has been found to decrease insulin sensitivity, increase belly fat, 12 reduce fat burning, and decrease metabolic rate. 13
In addition, your body doesn’t look at liquid calories the same way it does solid foods. That is, when you drink calories, you don’t get filled up. Thus, you also don’t eat less of other foods to make up for those extra calories you consumed. 14
While moderate drinking, especially red wine, can have some health benefits, research has shown that drinking can suppress fat burning as well as store extra fat in the belly. That’s why we have the term “beer belly.”
Studies, for example, have found that men who drank more than three drinks per day are more likely to have excess belly fat than men who drank less. 15, 16 And people who drink less often but consume greater amounts when they do drink (i.e., four or more) were even more likely to have excess belly fat. 17
Avoid Trans Fats
There are some “unhealthier” foods that can still be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. (We certainly aren’t going to tell folks they can never have a slice of birthday cake again.) Yet there is one food that really should be removed completely from the diet. That is artificially-made trans fats, which are the unhealthiest fat you can find.
Trans fats are made in a lab by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fat. This helps make them more long-lasting and shelf stable. Unfortunately, though, they have been shown to cause inflammation, lead to insulin resistance, increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions, and increase belly fat. 18, 19, 20
Trans fats, as found in pre-made crackers, muffins, and other “goods,” really aren’t fit for human consumption. There are so many other healthier alternatives that they aren’t necessary either.
Enjoy Cardio Exercise Regularly
You can’t just target a specific body part and lose fat. That’s called spot reduction. And, it doesn’t work. What does work, on the other hand, is ensuring you’re burning calories from your entire body. How? By incorporating moderate cardio exercise into your routine for 30 minutes several times a week. You can choose walking, jogging, running, ellipticals, bicycling, or any number of other activities. The key is to choose something you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to mix it up.
If you find yourself short on time, one effective method to try is called HIIT or high-intensity interval training. This is where you start with a short warm up, then alternate between pushing your body with higher intensity and then giving your body a chance to rest and recovery. For example, you can combine walking and jogging. Start by walking briskly for three minutes. Then jog or run for one minute. Then walk for a minute. Repeat the process for a total of 15 to 20 minutes, ending with a final three-minute walk followed by a good stretch session. 21 Because it can be so intense and challenging for the body, it isn’t recommended more than two or three times a week.
Incorporate Strength Training into Your Routine
In addition to cardio conditioning, strength training is also part of the puzzle to help you lose belly fat quickly. Strength training helps you build lean muscle, which increases your metabolic rate. (That means you burn calories even while you’re sitting on the couch.) It also helps increase what’s known as your “exercise threshold.” This allows you to push your body harder during other activities, including your cardio workouts.
Work out with either body-weight resistance or weights at least twice a week. You’ll want to focus on full-body functional and dynamic movements like squats to shoulder presses, reverse lunges with biceps curls, pushups, hip raises, and goblet squats, for example, to keep your workouts efficient and effective.
Get Active Throughout Your Day
If you’re like many people, you find yourself sitting at a desk, staring at a screen for much of the day. Unfortunately, even a regular exercise program isn’t enough if you are sitting still the rest of the day. Fortunately, there’s a neat way to solve it. NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, is one of the biggest parts of the puzzle when it comes to quickly losing belly fat.
In short, NEAT refers to your regular activities outside of scheduled exercise. That can include grocery shopping, keeping up the house, doing yardwork, playing with your kids, walking the dog, pacing while on the phone, or even standing or fidgeting as you respond to emails. The difference between being completely sedentary and staying active throughout the day can add up to as many as 2,000 calories per day. 22
Obese individuals tend to sit 2.5 more hours per day than their leaner counterparts. So, just by standing or moving more throughout our home, school, and work environments may be one of the easiest, most effective, and quickest ways to lose belly fat. 23
Support Your Hormones
If your diet and exercise plan are not helping you lose belly fat, it may because your metabolic hormones, like leptin, are out of balance. In fact, many diet and exercise programs fail because these hormones are out of balance. Once metabolic hormones are balanced again, individuals may find their cravings are naturally reduced, and it’s easier to control portion sizes and enjoy a more active lifestyle.
Nourish a Healthy Gut
Your gut is made up of hundreds of types of bacteria, also known as gut flora or microbiome. Some benefit you and your health. Others are detrimental.
You may have some understanding of the importance of gut health and the immune system to help decrease risk of diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer. But did you know that an unhealthy balance of bacteria can also lead to weight gain and increased belly fat?
Certain types of bacteria like Firmicutes may increase how many calories are absorbed from the food you eat. 24, 25 Other microorganisms are friendly and actually produce nutrients like vitamin K, certain B vitamins, and short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. And studies have found that probiotics may help people lose belly fat. For example, one study gave yogurt that provided Lactobacillus fermentum or Lactobacillus amyovorus to participants, and they lost three to four percent body fat within just six weeks. 26
You can nourish your gut by consuming probiotic-promoting foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, or kimchi or by taking a probiotic supplement.
Manage Stress Levels
Stress isn’t all bad. In fact, the right amount of stress is necessary for a healthy, happy life. Unfortunately, when stress is chronic or overwhelming, the adrenal glands produce cortisol, aka, the “stress hormone.” While cortisol is crucial for our survival, when it’s produced in excess, it can lead to weight gain, especially around the belly. Stress can also drive some people to overeat. Plus, cortisol has been shown to direct fat storage to the abdominal areas. 27
What is the quickest way to lose belly fat? One answer is to manage stress levels by talking with a friend, listening to music, reframing the current situation, laughing, sipping some tea, exercising (even if only for a minute), practicing yoga or tai chi, and being mindful.
Practice Healthy Sleep Hygiene
If you are one of the types of people who believes sleep is an unnecessary waste of time and that you’ll “sleep once you’re dead,” then you may not just be battling (and losing to) exhaustion but also weight gain.
You see, inadequate sleep is strongly linked to decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased cortisol levels, increased ghrelin levels, decreased leptin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. All of this adds up to increased weight gain, especially around the belly. 28
Ensure you are getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night to help lose belly fat.
Bottom Line: What Is the Quickest Way to Lose Belly Fat?
Your weight and the measurement around your waistline are the result of numerous things, so the quickest way to lose belly fat isn’t just one single action. Rather, it’s building a healthy lifestyle that supports greater energy levels, strength, and metabolism.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed with all it takes to lose belly fat. So, focus on the process and getting better every day, rather than getting fixated on a number. In doing so, you’ll feel more successful every day. You’ll increase confidence and health. And before long, you’ll notice how much looser your jeans feel around your belly.
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Mike Dorfman is BS in Biochemistry from the University of Colorado. Mike’s has worked as a personal trainer for Gold’s Gym and helped many clients achieve their weight-loss and fitness goals.
To health first, weight-loss second. Mike and Tetrogen are here to help you make the transition to the healthier, happier, and thinner you!