Stomach fat doesn't just affect how you look, it has a serious impact on your health. While the looser fat deposits right under your skin -- called subcutaneous fat -- aren't as harmful, the deeper, visceral fat that surrounds your organs threatens your well-being by releasing pro-inflammatory chemicals that contribute to cardiovascular disease. Getting rid of loose stomach fat involves burning more calories than you eat and toning up your midsection with exercise.
Burn Stomach Fat by Cutting Calories
You can't burn fat from just your stomach, but by reducing your overall body fat percentage, you'll shed loose stomach fat as well. To do that, you'll need to create a calorie deficit -- a gap between the number of calories you eat and the number of calories you burn. To start, use an online calculator or talk to a medical or nutrition professional to estimate how many calories you need to maintain weight. Then, create your deficit by subtracting 250 to 1,000 calories -- your new calorie goal so as to lose 0.5 to 2 pounds per week. If you're carrying a lot of excess weight or you're very active, aim for a 1,000-calorie deficit for fast -- but safe -- weight loss of 2 pounds weekly. If you live a sedentary lifestyle or you're already close to your goal weight, aim for slower weight loss with a deficit of 250 to 500 calories.
Make sure you don't cut calories too much -- if you go too low, your body will think it's starving and resist burning fat. Women and men need a minimum of 1,200 or 1,800 calories, respectively, for healthy weight loss.
Pick the Right Foods to Burn Belly Fat
You'll get the most from your weight loss diet if you get your calories from minimally processed foods. Instead of refined grains -- like white bread and pasta -- opt for whole grains, like whole-wheat bread or brown rice. A diet rich in whole grains helps you shed belly fat. Fruits and veggies also offer loads of nutritional value for relatively few calories, so they should be staples in your diet, and lean protein and healthy fats -- like skinless poultry, fish, nuts and seeds -- boost satisfaction to keep your hunger in check after meals.
Focus on getting more calcium in your diet. One study, published in Obesity in 2010, found that premenopausal women who got more calcium from their diet were less likely to gain belly fat than women with a low calcium intake. Nonfat dairy -- like skim milk and nonfat yogurt or cheese -- up your calcium intake, but you can also get more calcium from greens like broccoli, kale and bok choy, as well as pinto and white beans.
Avoid Stomach Fat Foods
Tighten up loose stomach fat by removing common belly fat triggers from your diet. Avoid fried and processed foods. In addition to being high in calories, these foods often contain trans fats, which are directly linked to belly fat. Not surprisingly, alcohol can also contribute to a loose "beer belly." In addition to being high in calories, alcohol puts added stress on your liver -- so instead of taking time to burn body fat, your liver instead focuses on processing and removing the alcohol. And avoid diet sodas and foods high in artificial sweeteners. While these foods are typically lower in calories than their sugary counterparts, some studies show they're linked to weight gain, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Drink water throughout the day instead of sipping on soda, and add lime or lemon juice for flavor without artificial sweeteners.
Exercise to Tighten Loose Stomach Fat
Stomach fat also responds to exercise, so you should include regular physical activity in your routine. Once you have medical clearance from your doctor, challenge yourself to try higher-intensity exercise, like boxing. A study published in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2015 found that higher-intensity boxing-inspired workouts were more effective for lowering body fat and blood pressure compared to brisk walking in people with excess belly fat. And more difficult workouts might motivate you to stay active, too; the study found that the boxing group attended more workouts and stuck to their program better than the walking group.
You should also include strength training to tone your midsection. Incorporate planks, side planks, twists and wood chops into your routine. While these exercises don't burn many calories -- so they won't melt belly fat -- they will help give your stomach a more toned appearance once you do lose the weight.
Considerations for Loose Skin
While lifestyle changes can tighten up and firm loose stomach fat, it might not get rid of it entirely. If you've already lost a significant amount of weight, your "loose fat" might actually be loose skin that has lost elasticity. If that's the case, lifestyle changes might not get you the toned-looking midsection you desire. However, your loose skin won't necessarily pose a health hazard, and it's really a sign of how far you've come and the investment you've made in your health. If loose skin truly bothers you, though, surgery to remove the excess tissue can tighten your midsection.
- Harvard Medical School: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- Palm Beach State University: Best and Worst Foods for Belly Fat
- Obesity: Dietary Calcium Intake is Associated with Less Gain in Intra-Abdominal Adipose Tissue Over 1 Year
- Linus Pauling Institute: Calcium
- BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation: The Feasibility and Effectiveness of High-Intensity Boxing Training Versus Moderate-Intensity Brisk Walking in Adults with Abdominal Obesity: A Pilot Study
- McKinley Health Center: Breaking Down Your Metabolism
- Harvard School of Public Health: Artificial Sweeteners