Stomach fat comes in two varieties. There's the under-the-skin "pinchable" fat, which affects how you look without posing a major health risk, and the deep-abdominal visceral fat, which pushes your abdominal wall out and releases chemicals that cause disease. Because people who tend to carry weight in their midsection typically gain visceral fat as well as the under-the-skin kind, keeping your stomach and waist trim is important for good health. Tweak your diet and up your activity level, and you'll burn away the extra fat that's expanding your stomach and waist.
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Cut Calories From Your Diet
A calorie deficit -- burning more calories than you eat -- should underpin your diet and exercise plan. Your body needs to make up for that energy gap somehow, and it does so by releasing and burning fat from your fat cells, and this lowers your overall body fat percentage. You can't choose exactly where your body takes this fat from. Though the harmful deep-abdominal fat is typically first to go, the rest comes proportionately from all over your body. But if you lower your body fat enough, you'll get lean abs and a trim waistline.
How many calories you should eat to lose weight varies from person to person, so use an online calculator to get an estimate based on your activity level, weight and body size. Take the number you get from the energy needs calculator -- this is how many calories you need to maintain your weight -- then subtract 500 or 1,000 calories to lose 1 or 2 pounds weekly.
For example, a 27-year-old woman who is 5-feet-6-inches tall, weighs 140 pounds and is active for about an hour daily needs 2,467 calories to maintain her weight. She could go for more aggressive weight loss by cutting her calories to 1,467 to lose 2 pounds weekly or opt for a more modest 1-pound weekly weight loss by eating 1,967 calories.
Plan to eat at least 1,400 calories each day at a minimum. If you regularly go below this intake, you'll dip into a semi-starvation mode that will make it very difficult to shed pounds.
Burn More Calories to Lose Weight
You can increase your calorie deficit with cardiovascular exercise. As a bonus, regular aerobic exercise will improve heart health, naturally relieve stress and trigger the release of endorphins that boost your mood.
The more vigorous the cardiovascular activity, the more calories -- and fat -- you'll lose. For example, a 155-pound person running at a 10-minute-mile pace for 30 minutes will burn 372 calories, while upping the pace to a seven-minute mile burns 529 calories per half-hour. Moderate-intensity exercise can still burn a significant amount of calories, however, along with being safer if you're new or returning to exercise, or you have existing injuries or joint issues. For example, an hour spent swimming or an hour-long walk-jog around the neighborhood will burn 446 calories for a 155-pound person, while walking for an hour at 4 miles per hour will burn 334 calories.
The important thing is to find cardio that you enjoy -- even the toughest workout won't make you lose weight if you won't stick to it, whereas more moderate exercise practiced several times weekly will help you shed pounds.
Stay Slim With a Healthy Diet
Once you've created your calorie deficit via calorie control and cardiovascular exercise, you should plan to fill your diet with nutritious foods. With their low calorie count and high nutritional value, veggies should be a staple at every meal. Serve your lunches and dinners with salad -- experiment with roasted veggie salads for variety -- and add veggies to breakfast smoothies or omelets. Opt for filling sources of healthy fat, like nuts and avocado, that also contain fiber to keep you satisfied, and serve whole grains -- like oatmeal, quinoa and brown rice -- instead of refined versions, like white rice and white pasta.
Including protein at your meals can make it easier to stick to your diet, according to a 2011 study published in Obesity. The study authors compared the effects of a higher-protein weight-loss diet, with protein accounting for 25 percent of the calorie intake, and a lower-protein weight-loss diet -- 14 percent of the daily calories -- on hunger and weight loss. They found that dieters following the higher-protein diet reported feeling less hungry and less preoccupied with thoughts of food compared to the lower-protein group.
Try adding eggs or egg whites to your breakfast; serve lunch and dinner with grilled chicken breast, grilled tofu, sauteed tempeh, or chunks of salmon or tuna; and snack on a hard-boiled egg, nuts or low-fat cheddar cheese to increase your protein intake.
Exercise Your Stomach and Waistline
Exercises that work your waistline don't necessarily make you thinner because they aren't major calorie-burners, but they can make your midsection look more trim. Do medicine ball trunk rotations -- sometimes called Russian twists -- along with wood chops to exercise the sides of your waist, and tone the front of your abs with stability ball crunches and pikes. Practice yoga and regular or vertical Pilates to work the muscles in your abdomen, develop your sense of balance and improve your posture. While good posture doesn't actually make you lighter, it can visually flatten your stomach when you're sitting and standing and help you avoid stomach rolls when sitting down, especially if you typically hunch forward.