If you have extra fat in your stomach, a situation that's lovingly referred to as a "pot belly," you may be looking for some ways to get rid of it. While there's no surefire way to "spot reduce" or lose fat only in certain areas, there are some things that may help.
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One of the things you can do is avoid high-carbohydrate foods that cause a pot belly and incorporate lots of healthy foods, like nonstarchy vegetables, that don't. You can also incorporate strength training, stop smoking (if you're a smoker) and do your best to reduce your stress levels.
Foods That Cause Pot Belly
Although overeating any type of food regularly will likely lead to weight gain, there are certain foods that tend to affect your stomach area more than others. Researchers from a study that was published in the Journal of Nutrition in January 2015 set out to look at how different types of diets affected stomach fat, specifically.
They found that participants with overweight who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost more fat in their bellies than participants who followed a low-fat diet for the same amount of time (16 weeks). They also found that the low-carbohydrate diet improved glucose and insulin levels and started to reverse insulin resistance, a condition that makes it easier to gain weight in your stomach.
The researchers went on to say that when you're eating a lot of processed carbohydrates, like ice cream, pizza and white bread, your body tends to store more fat, and a lot of that goes directly to your stomach, creating the look of a pot belly. On the other hand, when you remove these carbohydrates from your diet, your body starts to burn fat more effectively, instead of storing it, so you lose weight in your stomach and in general, too.
Read more: How to Trim Fat From Stomach for Men
Get More Exercise
In addition to watching what type of carbohydrates you eat, it's also beneficial to get more exercise and to maintain that exercise routine throughout your life. It probably comes as no surprise that exercise is good for you, but moving more can directly target stomach fat and help you get rid of your pot belly and keep it off.
That was the finding in an older study that was published in the journal Obesity in October 2009, where researchers followed a group of pre-menopausal women (the language used in the study) for an entire year after they had successfully lost some weight. They found that participants who exercised on a regular basis for the year after losing weight were more successful at keeping that weight off than participants who didn't stick to their exercise plans.
But even more fascinating was that participants who stuck to the exercise routine had no significant increase in belly fat over the year, while the participants who didn't exercise increased their belly fat by 25 to 38 percent.
The participants who were most successful at keeping stomach fat at bay were the ones who incorporated both aerobic exercise and strength training. But the good news is that exercise didn't have to be excessive for them to see these results. They were able to get rid of their belly fat and keep it off with as little as 80 minutes of exercise per week, which translates to just over 11 minutes per day.
Incorporate Strength Training
Harvard Health Publishing notes that, while exercise is immensely beneficial, aerobic exercise, like running or getting in a half-hour on the elliptical, is not enough to get rid of a pot belly on its own. Researchers from a study that was published in the journal Obesity in December 2014 looked at the difference in effects between weight training and aerobic exercise and what would happen to the body composition of participants if one was replaced with the other.
While researchers found that moderate to vigorous aerobic or cardiovascular activity had a more significant effect on weight loss, they also noted that weight training targeted belly fat better. In other words, participants who incorporated weight training exercises, like lifting free weights or utilizing weight machines, lost more fat around their bellies and decreased their waist size more significantly than those who did aerobic activity.
The researchers noted that this effect was seen because aerobic activity prompts you to lose weight all over, but this weight comes from both fat and muscle. On the other hand, weight training retains your muscle mass, but helps you lose fat in areas where you have excess. The overall conclusion from the study was that it's most beneficial to follow an exercise routine that includes both strength training and aerobic exercise to reduce belly fat and achieve your ideal body composition.
Read more: How to Shrink Belly Fat Fast
Other Lifestyle Changes
In addition to incorporating strength training and paying attention to what you're eating, you may be able to reduce the fat in your stomach by engaging in stress-reduction exercises. When you're experiencing chronic stress, your body produces excess amounts of cortisol, a hormone that promotes the storage of fat in your stomach.
Figuring out ways to manage your stress helps reduce and balance cortisol, which can help you get rid of that extra fat. You can try things like deep breathing, journaling, meditation and yoga for your pot belly.
If you're a smoker, it's also a good idea to quit. Quitting smoking has several benefits, of course, but it may also help you shed those extra pounds in your stomach. According to Harvard Health Publishing, the more you smoke, the more likely you are to store fat in your stomach, rather than other places on your body, like your hips or thighs. If you need help quitting, it may be a good idea to seek help from your doctor or a medical professional who specializes in treating addiction.
Proper sleep is also important. According to a study published in Obesity in January 2014, people who don't get adequate amounts of sleep tend to have more stomach fat than people who are well-rested. Although everyone's needs may be slightly different, the sweet spot seems to fall somewhere between six and eight hours per night.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Add Weight Training to Control Belly Fat, Say Harvard Researchers"
- Journal of Nutrition: "A Lower-Carbohydrate, Higher-Fat Diet Reduces Abdominal and Intermuscular Fat and Increases Insulin Sensitivity in Adults at Risk of Type 2 Diabetes"
- Obesity: "Change in Sleep Duration and Visceral Fat Accumulation Over 6 Years in Adults"
- Obesity: "Exercise Training Prevents Regain of Visceral Fat for 1 Year Following Weight Loss"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Taking Aim at Belly Fat"
- Obesity: "Weight Training, Aerobic Physical Activities, and Long-Term Waist Circumference Change in Men"