The internet is rife with articles promising that you can get a flat belly in one week. Don't believe the hype. The only way to flatten your tummy is to lose excess belly fat with diet and exercise, and that takes time. Whether you can get a flat tummy in 30 days depends on where you are when you start and how dedicated you are to eating healthy and exercising.
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Work toward getting a flat stomach in 30 days by reducing your calorie intake and increasing your activity level.
Belly Fat Basics
You probably haven't always had that extra belly fat. Maybe you had the usual baby fat but lost it as you grew into a toddler. At some point it returned, in either your adolescence or adulthood. Where did it come from?
There are many causes of stomach fat — genetics, hormones, medical conditions, medications and age, among others. But, in general, people gain belly fat — and total body fat — because they consume more calories than they burn on a regular basis.
In a calorie surplus, your body can't use the extra energy, so it converts it to fat and stores it for a potential energy shortage at a later time. When that energy shortage doesn't happen, and you remain in a calorie surplus, your fat stores grow.
Burn It to Lose It
To lose belly fat, you have to reverse the process. You need to create a calorie deficit so you burn more calories than you consume, which will force your body to call on those fat stores for energy. Do this long enough and you'll flatten your tummy.
But wait! It's not that simple. You could lose belly fat quite quickly, or it could be a long process in which you see fat loss from every other area of your body first before your belly starts to shrink. That's because you can't target a certain part of your body for fat loss. You have to lose total body fat, some of which will eventually come from your abdominal area.
That's why it's nearly impossible to plan to get a flat stomach in four weeks — because fat loss is unpredictable.
How Much to Lose?
How much belly fat and total body fat you have to lose also determines your fat-loss timeline. According to weight loss and fitness expert Michael Matthews, women need to achieve a total body fat percentage of about 21 percent to have a flat belly, and men need to get to about 16 percent body fat.
Do you know your current body-fat percentage? Probably not, unless you recently had it tested. But let's say you have what's considered average body fat — according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) — of between 25 to 31 percent if you're a female and 18 to 24 percent if you're a male. Depending on where you are in that range, you have to shed between 2 and 10 percent of your current body fat.
According to ACE, a 120-pound woman who has a current body-fat percentage of 25 percent but wants to get to 20 percent needs to lose 7 pounds of body fat. Using the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says losing about 1 to 2 pounds a week is a "safe" and sustainable rate of weight loss, you could certainly reach your goal in a month.
If, however, you have a little further to go from your starting point, you might need another few weeks — or a few months. The important thing is to set your goal and then focus on taking steps to achieve it rather than obsessing about specific timelines.
Create a Calorie Deficit
Your diet is the most important component of banishing belly fat. You can exercise all you want, but if you're eating a poor diet that is too high in calories, you'll never achieve a flat stomach in 30 days — or ever. Plus, if you're one of the many people who would like to spend as little time as possible exercising, you can make a real impact and decrease your time in the gym by being careful with your food intake.
According to the Mayo Clinic, 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound of fat. Theoretically, if you created a daily calorie deficit of 1,000 calories, you could lose 8 pounds of fat in one month. To do that, you would need to cut 500 calories from your diet and burn 500 through exercise, or cut 750 calories from your diet and burn 250 with exercise each day.
This is a nice way of packaging the concept of caloric deficit, but it's not that simple. According to author and registered dietician Densie Webb, fat loss simply doesn't work this way. She says that this might be somewhat accurate for short-term weight loss (of, say, 30 days?), but it falls apart over time, with actual fat loss being significantly less than this.
Still, you get the basic idea.
Cut the Bad Stuff
The easiest place to start cutting calories is with the less-than-healthy foods and beverages in your daily diet. You know the ones — the muffin at breakfast, the midmorning flavored coffee, the chips and soda with lunch and the late-night ice cream treat. You could cut 750 calories or more just by getting rid of these unhealthy treats each day.
Take a good look at your diet and identify the foods that are high in sugar, refined carbs and fat. In addition to those mentioned above, common culprits include:
- Cakes, candy and cookies
- Fried foods
- White rice, bread and pasta
- Flavored yogurts (hidden sugars)
- Cereal (hidden sugars)
- Fruit juice (concentrated source of sugar)
- Fast food
- Added sweeteners, including natural sweeteners like agave and honey
- Processed meats
Give these foods the axe and replace them with healthier foods that provide satiety and nutrients.
Read more: The Best Cardio Exercise to Lose Belly Fat
Eat the Good Stuff
Maybe you've seen lists of individual foods you should eat to get a flat tummy in 30 days — eggs or avocado, for example. Nothing in those particular foods will cause you to magically shed belly fat. They're just healthy foods. They're rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as satiating nutrients such as fiber, protein and healthy fats.
These are the foods that should play the starring role in your diet to get a flat stomach in 30 days:
- Fresh vegetables
- Low-sugar fruits (like berries)
- Whole grains
- Lean meats and fish
- Dairy (in moderation)
- Nuts and seeds (in moderation)
Eating these foods in proper portions will help you easily create the calorie deficit you need to reach your target body-fat percentage.
Get Your Body Moving
While it's possible to get a flat stomach in 30 days just by eating a healthy diet, most people need the extra help that comes from increased activity. It helps to burn excess calories and build lean muscle. Plus, exercise is good for your health.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week. That might mean a 30-minute brisk walk five times a week, or three 25-minute interval training sessions. For even greater health and fat loss benefits, expert suggest increasing that goal to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio or 150 minutes of vigorous cardio every week.
It doesn't really matter what you do, as long as you do it regularly. Hiking, cycling, swimming and running are all beneficial exercise activities that can help you burn 200 to 500 calories in just 30 minutes, according to Harvard Health Publishing. However, keep in mind that the more challenging your workout is, the more calories you'll burn. For example, running burns a lot more calories than walking for the same amount of time.
If you significantly increase your activity level, doing several sessions of intense cardio and weightlifting each week, you may need less of a calorie deficit than if you're doing only light or moderate activity a few days a week. You need to be sure to balance your calorie intake with your activity level so you get the nutrients needed for energy and proper recovery.
Add Resistance Training
In addition to aerobic exercise recommendations, the Department of Health and Human Services says adults should perform strength-training exercise for all the major muscle groups twice a week. Believe it or not, working your arms, shoulders, chest, back and legs — not just your abdominals — can help you reach the goal of getting a flat tummy in 30 days.
Lean muscle — the hard tissue that lies beneath fat — is metabolically active. When you're strength training, your body expends a lot of energy repairing and building muscle. This increases your body's energy expenditure — not only while you're exercising, but around the clock.
In fact, according to Paige Kinucan and Dr. Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico, muscle tissue accounts for 20 percent of total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), including your physiological function and daily activities and exercise. Fat makes up only 5 percent of TDEE.
30-Day Ab Workout
Heavy compound weightlifting is the best plan of attack for battling the belly bulge in the weight room, according to Michael Matthews. These multijoint exercises give you more bang for your buck than isolation exercises like biceps curls, which use only a single joint. They activate more muscle fibers and burn more calories while you're doing them.
Examples of compound exercises include:
- Dead lifts
- Bench press
- Military press
- Lat pulldowns
Choose three to five exercises for your upper body and three to five for your lower body. Do three sets of eight to 12 repetitions with a weight that feels challenging, but that still allows you to execute the move with proper form.
And what about crunches? Since you can't spot-reduce, crunches aren't going to help you get a flat stomach. However, you can add two or three core exercises, such as planks, Russian twists and bicycle crunches, to build your abdominal muscles. Once you reach your target body fat percentage, you'll start to see your well-developed ab muscles make an appearance.
Read more: The 3 Secrets to Losing Belly Fat
- Muscle for Life: The “Secret” to Losing Your Face Fat and Double Chin
- Precision Nutrition: All About Energy Balance
- ACE: What Are the Guidelines for Percentage of Body Fat Loss?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Losing Weight
- Mayo Clinic: Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics
- Today's Dietitian: Farewell to the 3,500-Calorie Rule
- Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
- Harvard Health Publishing: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights