It’s impossible to target belly fat specifically when you diet. But losing weight overall will help shrink your waistline; more importantly, it will help reduce the dangerous layer of visceral fat, a type of fat within the abdominal cavity that you can’t see but that heightens health risks, says Kerry Stewart, Ed.D. , director of Clinical and Research Physiology at Johns Hopkins.
Good point: Even if a weight or body fat percentage is achievable, at a certain point, the investment required to make it happen or sustain it just isn’t worth it, Moore says. And as Albers explains, the ultimate goals are to have energy, be healthy, be able to lead the life you want, and feel that your healthy habits add to, rather than take away from, the quality of your life.
Want to blow away your belly without logging months of mind-numbing hours on the treadmill? High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) will kickstart your metabolism like no other workout, burning more than twice the calories as a lighter and longer session, according to a study from Southern Illinois University. And the total amount of time you need to dedicate to HIIT: 20 minutes. It really is the least time exercising for the biggest results.
A diet that’s low in fat and carbohydrates can improve artery function, according to a 2012 study by Johns Hopkins researchers. After six months, those on the low-carb diet had lost more weight, and at a faster pace. But in both groups, when weight was lost—and especially when belly fat shrank—the arteries were able to expand better, allowing blood to travel more freely. The study shows that you don’t have to cut out all dietary fat to shrink belly fat. For heart health, simply losing weight and exercising seems to be key.
But before we get into how to go about losing weight, please consider this: Weight loss isn’t a healthy goal for everyone, Susan Albers, Psy.D., a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic specializing in body image and eating issues, tells SELF. “I work in a medical facility,” she says. “I have access to people’s blood work. You can be healthy or unhealthy at every size.”
Don't get me wrong — exercising at any time is good for you. But evening activity may be particularly beneficial because many people's metabolism slows down toward the end of the day. Thirty minutes of aerobic activity before dinner increases your metabolic rate and may keep it elevated for another two or three hours, even after you've stopped moving. Plus, it'll help you relax post-meal so you won't be tempted by stress-induced grazing that can rack up calories.
Just figure out what works best for your schedule and your lifestyle. Most people wait a while after they wake up to start eating; for me, it's easier to hold off for a few hours in the morning than it is to go, say, from 3 or 4 p.m. until bedtime without eating. Plus, if you work out in the morning before you eat, you get to double-dip on fat burning, since your body will use even more of your stored fat for energy.
Don’t work out later than three days before your event. If your party’s on Saturday, for example, do your last workout of the week on Wednesday—muscles bulge most when they’re flush with glycogen (the carbohydrates stored in muscle), so you need to give your body time to recover and replenish its glycogen stores before your unveiling. If you train too close to the big day, the carbs stored in your muscles will be depleted, and you’ll end up looking flat and soft. Furthermore, make sure this last workout focuses on the areas you want to highlight, such as chest and arms. Glycogen is replenished fastest in muscles that need it most—i.e., the ones that have just been worked—so if you want your pecs and biceps to pop, you have to make sure they soak up as many of the carbs you’re taking in as possible (explained in the next step).
You might feel silly, but it works. When Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, tried this with 3,000 volunteers, he found that the more frequently people sniffed, the less hungry they were and the more weight they lost—an average of 30 pounds each. One theory is that sniffing the food tricks the brain into thinking you’re actually eating it.
Do you even lift, bro? If you’re serious about getting rid of that belly fat fast, resistance training might just be the key. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that adding weight training to adult male test subjects’ workouts significantly reduced their risk of abdominal obesity over a multi-year study period, although doing the same amount of cardio had no such effect. Research from the University of Maryland even found that just 16 weeks of weight training boosted study participants’ metabolic rates by a whopping 7.7 percent, making it easier to ditch those extra inches around your middle.
"Feeling stressed can wreak havoc on our bodies. It can cause our body to produce the steroid hormone cortisol, which can make you crave sugary foods that provide instant energy and pleasure. Short-term bursts of cortisol are necessary to help us cope with immediate danger, but our body will also release this hormone if we’re feeling stressed or anxious. When our cortisol levels are high for a long amount of time, it can increase the amount of fat you hold in your belly."