If you're ready to lose inches off your waist, then put away your measuring tape and put on some workout clothes: It's time to get serious. You're going to set out on a program of healthy diet and energizing physical activity that's designed to take off some serious inches. There's just one catch: You can't only lose inches from around your waist. This workout program is going to whittle extra fat off your entire body.
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If you want to lose inches around your waist, you need to do two things — increase your physical activity and shift your diet to focus on nutrient-rich foods, which naturally helps control your calorie intake.
The Recipe for Losing Inches
Whether you're measuring weight loss by the inch or by the pound, the key to success is establishing a calorie deficit. To put it another way, you need to burn more calories than you take in. Although it's hard to predict exactly where the weight will come off your body or how long it'll take for it to go, as long as that calorie deficit is present (and barring any medical conditions or other extraordinary circumstances), it will go.
Did you catch that you can't predict where the weight will come off your body? That's because the idea of spot reduction, or targeting exercises to remove fat from just one part of your body, is a complete myth propagated by late-night infomercials and people with something to sell.
Instead, genetics and hormones play a large role in governing where your body puts fat on and where it takes it off. Just keep your eyes on the prize of that calorie deficit and you'll lose weight and inches everywhere — including your waist.
Lose Inches Off Your Waist
The first ingredient you need to lose inches off your waist is movement — and lots of it. There's no single exercise that will magically whittle your waist in a fortnight. Instead, look for exercises that are convenient, affordable and enjoyable enough that you'll actually stick to them.
A good first goal for physical activity is to satisfy the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) physical activity guidelines for Americans. Those guidelines — which start with 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week — are for health, not weight loss.
If you're already eating an appropriate, nutrient-rich diet, that might be enough to tip you into a calorie deficit and start the weight loss going. If not, you can always adjust your diet and/or add more physical activity — ideally both.
What should that moderate or intense exercise look like? All the cardio machines in the gym are fair game (think treadmill, elliptical, stair climber and exercise bike), but that's just the beginning.
You can also walk, run, bike or inline skate outside. Go swimming at a lake or a swimming pool. Replace the easy chair in front of the TV with a home exercise machine. Join an adult sports league for softball, soccer, Frisbee or even Quidditch (yes, that's a thing); tackle outdoorsy adventures like kayaking or hiking.
It's not uncommon to do roughly double the HHS's physical activity guidelines — so, 300 minutes of moderate physical activity or 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity — before you see the needle start to budge on your weight loss.
But, hey, there's a silver lining: Doubling those initial recommendations also gives you even more health benefits than simply meeting them.
Bonus Points for Lifting
The HHS physical activity guidelines also recommend strength training your major muscle groups at least twice a week — and that physical activity can contribute to weight loss too. Not only will you burn calories while lifting weights, but you'll also build lean muscle mass (translation: muscle), which is four times more metabolically active than fat.
Strength training can mean going to the gym and pumping iron or using weight machines, but it doesn't have to. Your options include free weights (at home or in the gym), weight machines, elastic resistance bands and bodyweight resistance exercises. Whichever approach you take, make sure to target all your major muscle groups.
Compound exercises that engage multiple muscles at once are more efficient in terms of time and calorie burn, and they have the added advantage of mimicking real-world movements. Think squats, lunges, leg presses and deadlifts for your lower body — and bench presses, push-ups, pull-ups, lat pull-downs, rows and overhead presses for your upper body. Core workouts, such as planks and crunches, are also beneficial.
Eat to Lose Inches
The other "magic" ingredient for losing those inches is right in the kitchen. If you're a calorie counter, the HHS's table of estimated calorie needs per day is very helpful as it breaks down ideal calorie intakes according to age, gender and physical activity level. For example, an active 30-year-old man should eat roughly 3,000 calories, while an active 30-year-old woman only needs about 2,400 calories.
While counting calories can be helpful, you don't necessarily have to break out the calorie tables to lose weight. Instead, focus on building your diet around the key elements of a healthy eating pattern, which include:
- Say "no" to refined grains and highly processed foods, which tend to be high in calories but low in nutrients.
- Limit your intake of added sugar, sodium and unhealthy saturated and trans fats.
- Focus on eating plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits plus whole grains, low-fat dairy, healthy saturated fats and high-quality protein sources.
Tips to Turbocharge Weight Loss
Measuring the circumference of different body parts (waist, hips, arms and so on) is an inexpensive and effective way of tracking your fat loss — but don't fall into the trap of measuring your waist every single day. Instead, aim to "tape in" (instead of "weighing in") at most once a week, so that you can focus your energy on building the healthy habits that create that calorie deficit instead of obsessing over natural daily fluctuations in weight and fluid retention.
You can also get a better calorie burn — and thus more fat loss — for your time investment by incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your workouts. This training method alternates between high-intensity sprints and slower recovery intervals.
A meta-analysis published in a February 2018 issue of the journal Sports Medicine showed that HIIT is a very effective belly fat burner. To put it another way, HIIT workouts are a time-efficient method for reducing body fat, including the subcutaneous abdominal fat and visceral fat that will quickly affect your waist measurements.
- ExRx.net: "Spot Reduction Myth"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- University of New Mexico: "Controversies in Metabolism"
- Sports Medicine: "Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total, Abdominal and Visceral Fat Mass: A Meta-Analysis"