Chances are you didn't gain all your stomach fat in three weeks, so you can't expect to lose it all that quickly. If you do nothing, your risk of health problems remains high. Fat deep in your middle surrounding your internal organs -- called intra-abdominal obesity or visceral fat -- is particularly dangerous. It acts like an endocrine organ, secreting inflammatory chemicals that increase your risk of developing chronic disease, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Belly fat responds well to a low-calorie diet and exercise, but you can't lose more than about six pounds in three weeks. Use the three weeks to jump-start a process of weight loss so you can slim down safely and for good.
How You Lose Stomach Fat
You can't target certain areas for weight loss. Visceral stomach fat, though, is somewhat unique. Because it's metabolically active, it breaks down faster than subcutaneous fat that lies just under the skin on the torso, hips, arms and thighs. Visceral fat will be some of the first fat you lose when you start a weight-loss plan.
Reducing your calorie intake and moving more spurs weight loss. When you consume 3,500 calories fewer than you burn, you lose a pound. A 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit per day thus creates a manageable 1- to 2-pound per week weight loss. You might want to lose weight faster, and could in the first few weeks of making big changes, but maintaining a high rate of weight loss for any length of time can lead to health concerns such as gall stones and nutritional deficiencies. Even when you do lose a notable amount of weight in the first week or two of beginning a diet, a lot of it is water weight -- not stomach fat.
Dietary Changes to Reduce Calories
Eat at least 1,200 calories per day, or you could stall your metabolism and lose valuable muscle mass. Before you reduce calories by limiting the healthy food you eat, limit your intake of sugary sweets, caloric beverages and refined grains. Plan your meals so they consist of lean proteins, whole grains and fresh, fibrous vegetables. Snack on fresh fruit, low-fat cheese or yogurt, a handful of nuts or cut-up vegetables. Watch your portion sizes and have just 3 to 4 ounces of protein, a cup or two of vegetables and about 1/2 to 1 cup of whole grains at meals.
White bread, white pasta and soda should be off the menu. Limit full-fat dairy and fatty cuts of meat, too -- they have a lot of saturated fat -- and avoid foods with trans fats, such as margarine, fried foods, snack crackers and store-bought baked goods.
Exercise Away Stomach Fat
Three weeks of exercise isn't enough to prompt significant fat loss, but it is long enough for you to get into an exercise routine. A physically-active lifestyle combats stomach fat, asserts Rush University Medical Center. You may need to participate in at least an hour of moderate-intensity exercise daily to create the deficit required to lose belly fat. Add calorie-burning activity throughout the day by fidgeting, pacing and doing active chores.
Crunches and other abdominal-specific exercises strengthen and build endurance in the abdominal muscles, but they do nothing to make the fat itself go away. A comprehensive strength-training program helps you build a greater amount of lean muscle mass, which increases your metabolism at rest to help you burn more fat. Hit the weights at least twice per week, but know that building muscle takes more than three weeks of consistent work to see real results.
Settle Into Sleep and Stress Less
Create a bedroom that promotes a quality seven to nine hours of sleep per night; good sleep promotes a healthier body weight. A study published in 2014 in the journal Obesity found that switching participants from a sleep schedule of less than six hours per night to one that involved seven to eight hours led to decreases in visceral fat. The participants changed their sleep habits over six years -- not three weeks. Getting too little sleep can cause you to crave more fatty and sugary foods and makes it hard to stick to a weight-loss plan.
Lack of sleep can exacerbate stress, which also plays a role in the development of belly fat. When bills, work deadlines and family pressure builds up, your body produces more of the hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol drives the storage of excess calories to the abdomen. Although stress is sometimes inevitable, find non-food ways to deal with it. Experiment with yoga and meditation; delegate work duties; and spend social time with friends.
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What To Do About It
- Rush University Medical Center: Is There 'One Trick' to Losing Belly Fat?
- Shape: Ask the Diet Doctor: Is Losing 10 Pounds a Week Safe?
- Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom: Body Fat Percentage
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Weight-loss and Nutrition Myths
- Obesity: Change in Sleep Duration and Visceral Fat Accumulation Over 6 Years in Adults
- AARP: How to Lose Your Spare Tire