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6 ways to lose belly fat — and actually keep it off

Practical tips on how to lose belly fat — and keep it off, for good.

How To Lose Belly Fat (And Actually Keep It Off) | Juniper

So, you've been eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and have even successfully managed to lose some weight. And yet, that stubborn layer of belly fat around the middle still won't seem to budge.

Yes, belly fat can be a tricky thing to conquer, especially for women. There are many different factors that can cause unwanted abdominal fat to hang around like a bad flatmate — including stress, hormones, and metabolic issues.

The good news is, by understanding the ins and outs of belly fat, you can reap the benefits of all your hard work. Here's everything you need to know about how to lose belly fat — and keep it off, for good.

What are the different types of belly fat?

Making matters even more complicated is the fact that there is more than one type of belly fat [1]! These are:

Visceral fat

Also known as 'deep' or 'hidden' fat, this is the layer of fat wrapped around organs in the abdominal chamber. While it tends to be quite hard, you can't always see or feel it.

However, excess visceral fat can be harmful to your health, as it's linked to serious health problems like metabolic disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and insulin resistance [2].

Subcutaneous fat

Sitting just beneath your skin, this is what most people picture when they think 'belly fat'. It tends to feel quite soft, and you can grab and pinch it with your fingers.

Believe it or not, it plays an important role in your health — providing padding to important organs, and storing calories for energy. However, excess abdominal fat can cause health issues.

White fat

As we go deeper into the cells, there are also 2 different types of adipose tissue. One of these is white fat or WAT (white adipose tissue), which is made up of large lipid droplets that store energy and produce hormones like leptin and adiponectin. The main purpose of this fat is to act as storage for the excess calories we consume.

Brown fat

BAT (brown adipose tissue) is a type of body fat that breaks down glucose and fat molecules to regulate body temperature. It's often located around the neck, kidneys, adrenal glands, and chest [3]. We have a very small amount of brown fat, compared to white fat.

Too much belly fat of any kind typically has health implications, but typically visceral and white fat are the types of fat to focus on losing (not brown fat).

Can you target belly fat?

You've likely heard that you can't 'spot reduce' body fat. That is, you can't choose which areas of your body you lose weight from. Your genetics and gender largely determine where you store fat, and the reverse is also true when you lose it.

So, unfortunately, you can't wave a magic wand, and choose to lose body fat from your belly, but keep it in your face, breasts or buttocks.

However, what you can do is specifically target some of the factors that cause excess belly fat (like stress, poor sleep, and hormonal imbalances). Making these lifestyle changes can help you reduce abdominal fat, while maintaining muscle mass or volume in other areas.

How long does it take to lose belly fat?

If you've ever Googled "how much belly fat can I lose in [your timeframe here]?", it's important to know that it depends on a variety of factors. Different people lose weight at different rates — and this can be related to how much excess weight they have to lose, their diet, lifestyle, activity level, metabolic rate, and much more.

As a general rule of thumb, a calorie deficit of 500 calories should lead to a weight loss of around 0.5 kilos per week [4]. However, many people find that their belly is the last area they lose weight from.

What is the best exercise to lose belly fat?

As mentioned, unfortunately, you can't cherrypick which areas of your body you lose weight from. However, there are certain types of exercise that are better at burning fat in general.

Research shows that HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is one of the most effective training styles for fat loss. This is when short, sharp bursts of exercise are alternated with rest breaks. One study compared a 30-minute HIIT class to other styles of training, like weights, running, and biking, and found it burned 25-30% more calories [5].

Not only that, but HIIT has been found to spike metabolic rate for hours after training (meaning, you burn more calories, even at rest) [6]. Plus, it's been found to shift the body's energy source from calories to fat.

Thanks to the simplicity of the HIIT training style, it can be applied to almost any type of exercise. So, whether you prefer spin class, running on a treadmill, or dance class, you can reap the fat-burning benefits.

What are foods that help burn belly fat?

When it comes to burning fat, not all foods are created equal. Certain foods have a higher thermic effect, meaning they temporarily increase how many calories you burn at rest.

Examples of foods and drinks with a high TEF (thermic effect of food) include:

  • Chilli and spices, such as red chilli peppers, cumin, cinnamon and turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Seaweed
  • Dark chocolate
  • High-protein foods like poultry and eggs
  • Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts (just look out for the high-calorie content)
  • Beans and legumes
  • Coffee and tea

It's important to note that the impact these foods have on your metabolism is minimal — it's estimated that TEF only makes up around 10% of the intake of a healthy adult [7].

However, if you're trying to lose overall body fat, adding these foods to your plate can certainly give you an advantage.

How to reduce belly fat

Looking for practical strategies for losing belly fat, so you can feel like the best version of yourself when you look in the mirror? Give these practical tips a go.

Eat a high-protein diet

As mentioned, different foods have different thermic effects — and protein has the highest TEF of all the macronutrients. It has a TEF of 20-30%, compared to just 0-3% for fat, and 5-10% for carbohydrates [8]. At the same time, it provides the lowest amount of calories per gram, meaning you get more bang for your buck when you consume high-protein foods.

Not only that but protein has been found to keep you fuller for longer. It's also essential for gaining lean muscle mass.

Some of the best sources of protein include meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. If you're plant-based, opt for nuts, tofu, tempeh, and quinoa.

Reduce alcohol intake

Many of us like to enjoy a tipple or 2 after a long day of work. However, if you're trying to shift belly fat, booze can work against you.

Various studies have found a strong association between alcohol consumption and abdominal fat. Specifically, spirits and beer have been found to increase body fat and BMI more than wine (hence the term, beer belly) [9].

There are a few different reasons why alcohol is linked to belly fat. Firstly, alcohol consumption has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause the belly to cling to fat (more on that next!).

It's also not possible to lose belly fat with booze in your system, because your liver is busy burning alcohol, not fat. Alcohol also tends to be high in calories, while providing little-to-no nutritional value to the body. Combine these factors with the food cravings experienced during or after drinking and it's not hard to see why it's the enemy of fat loss.

If you're serious about losing weight, consider reducing alcohol consumption to a few drinks a week, or cutting it out entirely.

Monitor your stress levels

While it might not always seem like it, our bodies are smart. When we're stressed, it signals to the body to go into survival mode — preserving our resources so we can make it through the long, cold winter with limited food (as our early ancestors might have done). Burning fat isn't exactly part of that equation!

The problem is, in these modern times, our daily stressors look more like passive-aggressive emails from our boss, than fighting off wolves for food. However, our bodies don't know the difference, so they release the stress hormone cortisol regardless.

This, in turn, causes the body to cling to fat for dear life regardless. This is one of the reasons many people find they can't lose weight on crash diets— their body freaks out at the drastic reduction in calories, and stops burning fat.

To set your body up to reduce body fat, keep an eye on your stress levels throughout the week. If you find you're running on high alert, look for opportunities to prioritise your mental health, such as meditation, yoga or talking it out with a therapist.

Work it out

We've all heard the term 'abs are made in the kitchen'... And while it's true that eating fewer calories than you consume is the key to fat loss, exercise plays an important role, too.

As mentioned, exercise can help increase the amount of calories you burn, and spike the metabolism. Plus, exercise helps you increase and maintain lean muscle mass, which not only makes you look stronger and more toned but increases the number of calories you burn each day.

Then, there are the stress-busting benefits of exercise. Research shows that those who exercise regularly experience less anxiety and depression, and a better mood on average [10]. Combine that with the other health benefits, and it's not hard to see why you should make it a priority.

Not a huge fan of cardio? Try strength training exercises, or resistance training which uses just your own body weight.

Prioritise sleep

Yes, you can sleep your way to reducing belly fat!

There's plenty of research supporting the link between sleep and body fat. In one study, researchers found that when dieters cut back sleep over a 14-day window, the amount of fat they lost dropped by 55%, despite their calories staying the same [11].

In another, dieters who got 8 hours of sleep lost more fat than those who slept 5 hours per sleep (who lost mainly non-fat mass, like lean muscle) [12].

Much like stress, a lack of sleep can stimulate cortisol. This puts your body into survival mode and signals that it needs to conserve energy to fuel you during your waking hours. As a result, any fat-burning that would normally happen during to the night comes to a screeching halt.

Not only that, but sleep deprivation negatively impacts nearly every mechanism in the body. For example, a lack of sleep can create an imbalance of our hunger hormones (ghrelin and leptin), leaving us craving sugary drinks, trans fats, and processed foods.

Plus, even a small sleep deficit can drastically impair executive function, leading us to make poor food decisions.

So, if you're looking to lose fat, consider how you can sneak in some more high-quality sleep. It might involve going to bed earlier or improving your sleep hygiene (such as implementing a wind-down routine or wearing blue light-blocking glasses before bed).

Make lifestyle changes

The best way to lose belly fat isn't through quick fixes — but rather, by implementing lasting lifestyle changes. Whether it's working towards a healthy diet or increasing physical activity, these changes don't have to have overnight. By building up small-yet-meaningful steps, you can achieve a healthy lifestyle and set yourself up for sustainable weight loss.

It's also important to tackle weight loss from the inside out. Weight loss is largely determined by genetics, and factors like metabolism and hormone play a huge role. This is why a one-size solution to losing belly fat often doesn't work.

With Juniper's Weight Reset Programme, we create a personalised weight loss plan, tailored to your individual biology and lifestyle. We combine a number of weight loss solutions (including weight loss medication) with lifestyle coaching, to help you achieve your goals.

Ready to see how Juniper can help you change your body composition (including belly fat), for good? Take the quiz and start your journey towards a healthy weight.