The first and most important tip to get a flat stomach in a month is to be realistic about what you can achieve in such a short time frame. To flatten your belly, you have to lose stomach fat, and that takes time. If you only have a little bit to lose, you might be able to get there in a month with the right diet and exercise plan; if you have more to lose, it may take you more than four weeks to reach your goal.
Combining increased activity with a healthy diet will help you get a flat stomach; however, it may take longer than a month.
Set Realistic Goals
How long did it take you to gain your belly fat? Probably more than four weeks. The truth is that losing fat takes as long — or longer — than putting it on, so patience is key. Setting unrealistic goals leads to failure, disappointment and frustration, which can cause you to ditch your goals altogether.
Getting a flat stomach typically means reducing your total body fat to a body fat percentage of about 21 to 24 percent. This leads to a "fit" body with a below average amount of fat mass, according to the American Council on Exercise. Do you know where you are now?
If not, it might help to get your body composition measured. There are plenty of methods to do this — some are more accessible and others are more accurate. On the accessible end of the spectrum, you can ask a personal trainer to do a skin fold test at the gym; for more accuracy you can seek out body composition testing with air displacement plethysmograph or hydrostatic weighing.
Once you have that number, you can plug it into an equation to see how much fat you need to lose to get to your goal body fat percentage and a flat stomach. That formula is:
Desired body weight = Lean body weight/(1-desired body fat percentage)
As an example, Janine weighs 150 pounds and has 28 percent body fat. Her goal is 22 percent body fat. So, she needs to lose 11.5 pounds of body fat. If you have a similar amount of weight to lose, it's likely to take a little longer than a month.
Create a Calorie Deficit
Weight loss isn't an exact science and, like the future, you can't predict it. Your genetics, fluctuating hormones, your age, sex, activity level and more all play roles in how easily and quickly you can lose fat. So all you can do is roughly estimate how long it will take you based on the calorie deficit you are able to create.
Except for certain medical conditions, medications and genetic tendencies, people gain weight because they consume more calories than they expend. Thus, to lose weight, you have to turn the tables and start consuming fewer calories than you expend. Generally, creating a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day can help you lose 1 to 2 pounds of fat per week.
For Janine, it would mean that, assuming she only lost fat mass and not muscle, she could reach her goal body fat percentage — and potentially a flat stomach — within a little less than 6 weeks to three months. The good news is that, according to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, weight loss is often quicker at the beginning of a diet and exercise program, which means Janine could lose even more in the first month.
However, keep in mind that losing too much weight too quickly isn't safe and can lead to nutritional deficiencies, low energy and other unwanted side effects. Also, losing weight gradually generally has a better outcome for keeping the weight off long term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Read more: The Truth Behind 20 Diet and Exercise Myths
Cut Out Sugar
Arguably, the most effective way to reduce your calorie intake to get a flat stomach in a month is to reduce your sugar intake. Sugar has no nutritive value — it's just empty calories. If you currently eat a lot of sugar, just making this one change could help you reach your calorie deficit goal. Take, for example, the sugar and calorie counts of some common foods and beverages you might consume on a regular basis.
Even some foods you might not expect to have a lot of sugar can be chock-full of the sweet stuff. Some examples include:
Cutting out sugar, especially sugar-sweetened beverages, may also have specific benefits for reducing belly fat. According to a cross-sectional analysis published in the Journal of Nutrition in August 2014, consumption of sugary beverages is linked to an increase in visceral fat, a dangerous kind of fat that sits deep in the abdominal cavity. In the data analyzed, those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages on a regular basis had a 10 percent higher volume of visceral fat than non-consumers.
Increase Your Activity Level
To lose belly fat in a month, exercise is also key. Reducing your intake of certain foods goes a long way towards creating the deficit you need to banish belly fat, and becoming more active bridges the gap.
Exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise burns calories while you are doing it. If you cut 600 calories from your daily diet and you burn 400 calories through exercise, you've created the 1,000-calorie deficit you need to lose 2 pounds per week.
Any type of exercise will help you burn calories and fat. Walking, biking, swimming, rowing, dancing, yoga, aerobics and using the elliptical machine or stair climber at the gym are all effective forms of exercise. The key is to do them at a high enough intensity to burn the number of calories you desire.
For example, brisk walking is an enjoyable moderate-intensity cardio activity that burns calories; however, it doesn't burn as many calories as jogging or running. According to Harvard Health Publishing, in 30 minutes a 155-pound person burns 167 calories walking at a pace of 4 mph or double that running at a pace of 5.2 mph. That's a significant difference and one that could get you closer to your flat belly goal more quickly.
How much should you do? As much as you can fit into your schedule. The more exercise you can fit in, the more calories you'll burn and the faster you'll shed the weight. This doesn't mean it has to be a second job, but a good goal is to plan to exercise for 30 to 60 minutes five or more days a week.
Read more: The 17 Most Effective Moves for Fat Loss
Build Muscle Mass
To lose belly fat in a month, a workout plan should include both cardio and resistance training. Resistance exercises, such as squats, lunges and pushups, don't typically burn as many calories as cardio while you are doing them; however, they build muscle mass, which will help you lose fat. Muscle is metabolically active, meaning it requires energy, or calories, to maintain and build new muscle. This increases your resting metabolism, which is the rate at which your body burns calories even while you are at rest.
Second, just dieting and doing cardio can cause you to lose muscle mass. This may make you think you're losing more fat than you are, because the number on the scale is going down; however, the cause of this is often muscle mass loss. According to an article published in March 2014 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the majority of the weight (scale weight) lost during the beginning of a diet is not fat mass, but a pool of stored carbohydrates, water and protein (muscle mass).
After several days or weeks, the body will begin burning fat at a higher rate; however, it is important to counteract this muscle loss with strength training because of its beneficial effects on metabolism — and for the overall strength and health of your body. Aim to strength train all your major muscle groups twice weekly.
- ACE: "What Are the Guidelines for Percentage of Body Fat Loss?"
- Georgia State University: "Body Composition"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight-loss Program"
- CDC: "Losing Weight"
- USDA: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45214526, Gourmet Banana Nut Muffins, UPC: 051933339798"
- USDA: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45249090, Snickers, Bar, Milk Chocolate, Peanuts, Caramel & Nougat, UPC: 040000492290"
- Starbucks: "Caffè Mocha"
- USDA: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45233541, Naturetrails, Chewy Dipped Chocolatey Covered Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars, Chocolate, UPC: 051933443310"
- USDA: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45295565, Lowfat Yogurt with Fruit Mousse, Upc: 030000320822"
- USDA: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45318237, Frosted Whole Grain Oat Cereal, Upc: 042400176794"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Is Associated With Abdominal Fat Partitioning in Healthy Adults"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- University of New Mexico: "Controversies in Metabolism"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Time to Correctly Predict the Amount of Weight Loss With Dieting"