Your upper belly balloons when you have an abundance of visceral fat that weaves in and around your internal organs. The fat actually acts like an endocrine organ, causing inflammation and releasing compounds that contribute to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other health concerns. Thankfully, this upper abdominal fat is quite responsive to classic weight-loss efforts including diet and exercise. Although you can't target any fat on your body directly for burning, visceral fat's biologically active nature makes it easier to lose.
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A Diet to Lose Upper Abdominal Fat
To burn fat, including what's in your upper abdomen, you must create a calorie deficit so you're using more energy than you're eating. A daily deficit of 250 to 1,000 calories yields a loss of about 0.5 to 2 pounds per week. Losing at a faster rate usually isn't sustainable because you'd have to reduce calories to a point that's unhealthy for your body. If you'd like to figure your exact calorie needs, an online calculator or a dietitian can help you target a goal.
An easy way to reduce calories and encourage your body to burn fat is to cut back on non-nutritive foods. Cookies, ice cream, alcohol, soda and processed snacks pad your diet with "empty" calories -- containing just energy with few nutrients -- that make your belly expand.
Also work on refining your eating habits so you consume mostly whole grains, lean proteins, fresh vegetables and fruit and low-fat dairy. Watch your portion sizes to keep calories in check. A typical belly-fat burning meal might include a palm-sized serving of grilled chicken breast with 1/2 cup of brown rice and two large fistfuls of steamed broccoli. Season with a sprinkle of toasted almonds, lemon juice and fresh herbs. Nuts, like the toasted almonds, provide essential fats. Enjoy a few small servings of healthy fats each day; 2 teaspoons of olive oil, a quarter of an avocado or a few nuts are good choices.
Get Physically Active to Burn Fat
Physical activity goes a long way in helping you burn upper abdominal fat. Duke University researchers found in a 2011 study that cardiovascular exercise, such as jogging, is most effective when it comes to losing visceral fat. In the study, people jogged an equivalent of 12 miles per week to significantly reduce visceral fat. Covering the same mileage at a lower-intensity brisk walk will likely provide the same benefits.
Resistance training in addition to cardiovascular activity improves your strength and helps you build lean muscle mass. When you have a greater amount of muscle mass, your metabolism burns stronger, which makes weight loss easier. Do at least two strength workouts per week that address every major muscle group with a minimum of one set of eight to 12 repetitions. Crunches, twists and planks can help you develop a stronger abdomen, but no exercise will target belly fat directly.
Adding more movement all day long further adds to your abdominal fat-burning efforts. Fidget, pace while on the phone and do household chores whenever possible. The calories used through these small movements add up to help you burn more calories overall.
Lifestyle Steps to Reduce Upper Abdominal Fat
Quitting smoking affords numerous health benefits, one of which is less development of upper abdominal fat. Smoking increases the likelihood that excess calories will be stored in your belly.
Learning to deal with the stress in your life, whether it's from bills, work or social interactions, helps your body be more efficient at burning belly fat. Stress causes you to pump out the hormone cortisol, which, when present in excess, drives you to crave fatty, sugary foods and to store the extra calories as unhealthy abdominal fat. Yoga, meditation, delegation of tasks and journaling are ways to help you stress less and potentially drop pounds.
Sleep Well to Reduce Fat
Sleep isn't just about feeling alert and rested; it can affect your body fat, too. Regularly sleeping fewer than five hours per night or more than eight can lead to an accumulation of visceral fat. A study that covered five years of analysis, published in a 2010 issue of the journal Sleep, showed that people under the age of 40 who consistently slept too little or too much gained more belly fat than people who got between six and eight hours. The National Sleep Foundation notes that older adults may also experience health complications related to too little sleep, including an association with diabetes.
Poor sleep habits make it hard to focus on belly-fat burning. Being sleepy triggers hormones that make you feel hungrier and suppress ones that make you feel satisfied. Feeling tired can make you skip exercise and extra movement, too.
To improve your ability to burn upper belly fat, make sleep a priority. Get to bed at a decent time and create a positive atmosphere for sleep. Your room should be dark, cool, quiet and without technological distractions.
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- Duke Medicine: Aerobic Exercise Bests Resistance Training at Burning Belly Fat
- AARP: How to Lose Your Spare Tire
- American Council on Exercise: 6 Strategies for Losing the Spare Tire
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- Sleep: Sleep Duration and Five-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: Rhe IRAS Family Study
- National Sleep Foundation: Sleep Linked to Gains in Abdominal Fat
- National Sleep Foundation: Nutrition, Exercise and Sleep