A muffin top and large belly don't just affect your wardrobe choices. This fat is dangerous to your health as well as deleterious to your appearance. All the situps in the world won't reduce your waist circumference or rid you of a muffin top. Only a comprehensive exercise plan and a sensible, low-calorie diet can help you slim this area. These strategies take time but make it more likely you'll get lasting results. Know that shrinking your belly's overall girth may prove easier than trimming the last bit of pinchable fat on your tummy.
The Fat That Makes Up Your Muffin Top and Belly
Your belly consists of both visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat gives you a wide waistband and is considered a health risk if you measure wider than 40 inches around as a man or 35 inches around as a woman. Visceral fat lies deep within your belly and surrounds your internal organs, pushing your belly outward. It's metabolically active so it releases compounds that increase bodily inflammation and raises your risk of chronic diseases, including some cancers, heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
Subcutaneous fat is the vast majority of fat found on your body. It's the fat that lies right under the skin and creates the pinchable inch -- or more -- that creates a muffin-top appearance. Because it's more metabolically active, visceral fat tends to respond faster than subcutaneous fat to efforts to lose it. Subcutaneous fat is notoriously stubborn, so you may notice the circumference of your belly reduce relatively expediently, but your muffin top or pinchable fat on your abs hangs on for longer.
A Calorie Deficit to Lose Weight
You lose visceral and subcutaneous belly fat using the same strategy: Eat less and move more. A pound is equal to 3,500 calories, so if you create a 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit daily for a week, you lose 1 or 2 total pounds over those seven days. For most people, simply eating less to create the deficit puts them at too low of a calorie intake. You don't want to dip below 1,200 daily calories if you're a woman or 1,800 calories if you're a man, because it's usually nutritionally deficient and unsustainable. Such a low intake often results in a loss of valuable calorie-burning muscle mass, too.
Instead, create a deficit using a combination of diet and exercise. For example, plan to exercise off 250 extra calories and trim 250 calories from your meals every day. This adds up to a 500-calorie-per-day deficit that results in a pound lost each week. You may want to slim down your belly faster, but fast weight loss is more likely to be regained. Quick-fix methods also use unhealthy, unsound weight-loss strategies that cause the loss of a lot of muscle and water, rather than actual fat.
Targeting Abdominal Fat
Usually, targeting a specific part of your body for fat loss isn't realistic. Your body mobilizes fat from all over your body for loss when you experience a calorie deficit, not just the one place you want. Belly-widening visceral fat is somewhat different, though. Your body doesn't see visceral fat as a storage depot, but as a health risk, and responds relatively quickly to efforts to reduce it. Some of the first fat you lose when you become more physically active is visceral fat.
Subcutaneous fat, however, isn't as easy to lose. You find it on your hips, thighs, upper arms and, of course, your muffin top. It produces more molecules that are beneficial, and your body uses it as a guard against starvation, even if that isn't a real modern-day worry. Because about 90 percent of your body fat is subcutaneous, it has a lot of stores from which to draw when you're losing weight. You usually reduce fat proportionally -- a little from your thighs, a little from your tum. Your muffin top may be one of the last areas to hold on, even when you become considerably leaner.
An Eating Strategy for Fat Loss
Trimming daily caloric intake to between 1,200 and 1,800 helps most people lose weight. Exactly how many you need depends on your size, weight-loss rate goal, activity level, gender and age. Consult with a dietitian to determine your ideal intake for weight loss.
Once you know your calorie intake, plan a menu made up of whole foods. Vegetables, fruits and lean proteins, such as white-meat chicken, fish and lean steak, should be staples in your diet. Limit creamy salad dressing, full-fat dairy and rich sauces. Opt for vinegar, citrus juice, olive oil, herbs and spices as alternative ways to punch up flavor.
Moderate servings of whole grains, instead of refined ones like white bread or white rice, round out your meals. Whole grains don't encourage the development of belly fat like refined grains do, showed a study published in a 2010 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
Processed snacks may be convenient, but they're usually heavy in sugar and refined grains. Instead of chips, white crackers and cereal bars, choose fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt or nuts as a healthier option to support weight loss.
A diet based on these foods will help reduce visceral fat initially and subcutaneous fat in the long run.
Revise Your Beverage Intake
Soda, fancy coffee and energy drinks contain considerable calories that can easily make you overshoot your daily calorie goal, so you put on extra weight. Beverages sweetened with sugar and high-fructose corn syrup also contribute to the development of visceral fat and liver fat, reported a review published in a 2013 issue of Diabetes Care. Sugary drinks don't make you feel full, so you eat calories from food in addition to them.
Although fruit juice has some nutritional value, it's easy to drink large servings and take in a lot of excess calories. Juice is also missing the fiber of whole fruit, and fiber is what slows your digestion. It keeps you feeling full for longer and moderates the impact the sugar in the fruit has on your blood sugar. Most of the time, drink water or unsweetened tea instead of calorie-laden beverages..
Strength-Train to Tone Your Midsection
Magazine ads and fitness gadgets promise that their exercises will eradicate your muffin top. Exercise can't melt or burn fat from a specific area; it can only strengthen and grow the muscles there, under the fat. A comprehensive training program that works your entire body to increase the amount of lean muscle on your body and cardiovascular training that burns excess calories help you get rid of visceral and subcutaneous fat.
Strength-train at least twice per week and target all the major muscle groups -- the hips, thighs, arms, shoulders, back and chest, as well as the abdominals. Multijoint exercises such as squats, lunges, pulls and presses work multiple muscles at once to expedite your session. Go for eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise you choose, and use a weight that feels heavy by the last couple of efforts. Start with just one set, but work up to two or three over time.
Burn Calories to Drop Weight
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly to promote good health. More cardio exercise is necessary for weight loss -- at least 250 minutes per week, says the American College of Sports Medicine. A brisk walk, water aerobics, dance fitness or gentle cycling all count toward this goal.
Make two or three of your weekly cardio sessions consist of high-intensity interval training to expedite the loss of visceral and subcutaneous fat. This type of exercise, which involves alternating short bouts of high-intensity work with equal bouts of less intense work, improves fitness while lowering insulin resistance and causing better fat oxidation, or burning, reported a review published in the Journal of Obesity in 2011. A sample HIIT session consists of a five-minute warm-up and then alternating two-minute segments of sprinting with two minutes of walking, five times. End with a short cool-down.
Add small movement whenever you can anytime during the day, too. Walk or bike to work, do household chores, pace while on the phone and select the staircase over the elevator. Although these movements seem minor, the calories they use add up and increase your overall daily calorie expenditure to burn off your belly.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- Ask the Dietitian: Overweight & Weight Loss
- Rush University Medical Center: Is There 'One Trick' to Losing Belly Fat?
- Go Ask Alice: Ideal Caloric Intake
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Whole- and Refined-Grain Intakes Are Differentially Associated With Abdominal Visceral and Subcutaneous Adiposity in Healthy Adults: The Framingham Heart Study
- Diabetes Care: Potential Health Risks From Beverages Containing Fructose Found in Sugar or High-Fructose Corn Syrup
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Position Stand on Physical Activity and Weight Loss
- Journal of Obesity: High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss