8 Healthy Ways to Burn Body Fat — and Keep It Off

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A woman eating a healthy meal at home

The reasons to rid your belly of that inch (or more) you can pinch aren't just about looks. Being overweight or obese comes with serious health risks, including chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, per the American Heart Association. If you think you may be overweight or obese, you can find out by determining your body fat percentage.

And if you want to drop down to a healthy weight, keep this in mind: Gimmicky shortcuts to reduce body fat percentage fast at best won't really work, and at worst aren't safe. Instead, follow these 10 steps for real, long-lasting fat loss and better health.

The reasons to rid your belly of that inch (or more) you can pinch aren't just about looks. Being overweight or obese comes with serious health risks, including chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, per the American Heart Association. If you think you may be overweight or obese, you can find out by determining your body fat percentage.

And if you want to drop down to a healthy weight, keep this in mind: Gimmicky shortcuts to reduce body fat percentage fast at best won't really work, and at worst aren't safe. Instead, follow these 10 steps for real, long-lasting fat loss and better health.

1. Clean Up Your Diet

A plate of homemade chickpea salad with tofu

It's true: You really can't out-exercise a bad diet. Case in point: A 150-pound person would have to jog for an hour to burn 500 calories — just about the amount in a large chocolate chip muffin. So the first step to any fat-loss plan is upgrading what you eat. Start by cutting back on processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners and refined carbs. Yes, that includes cakes, cookies, ice cream, crackers, croissants, bagels and white pasta. Next, add more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish into your diet.

Read more: 10 Surprising Flat-Belly Foods

Credit: AD077/iStock/Getty Images

It's true: You really can't out-exercise a bad diet. Case in point: A 150-pound person would have to jog for an hour to burn 500 calories — just about the amount in a large chocolate chip muffin. So the first step to any fat-loss plan is upgrading what you eat. Start by cutting back on processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners and refined carbs. Yes, that includes cakes, cookies, ice cream, crackers, croissants, bagels and white pasta. Next, add more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish into your diet.

Read more: 10 Surprising Flat-Belly Foods

2. Drink More Water

Woman taking a break during workout to hydrate with water

Skip high-calorie beverages with little to no nutritional value and grab a glass (or two) of water instead. This means forgoing flavored lattes, dessert-like coffees, juices, sweet tea, sugary cocktails and soda. Water not only helps keep your body hydrated and functioning optimally, but it also continually flushes your system and can help boost your metabolism, per the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Plus, drinking a full glass of water about 30 minutes before a meal can help prevent overeating, according to a study published August 2015 in Obesity. And remember to continue to drink water throughout the day. Many times, hunger and thirst signals can feel similar. So when you feel like snacking, drink a glass of water and see if the urge dissipates before noshing.

Read more: How Many Glasses of Water Should You Drink a Day to Lose Weight?

Skip high-calorie beverages with little to no nutritional value and grab a glass (or two) of water instead. This means forgoing flavored lattes, dessert-like coffees, juices, sweet tea, sugary cocktails and soda. Water not only helps keep your body hydrated and functioning optimally, but it also continually flushes your system and can help boost your metabolism, per the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Plus, drinking a full glass of water about 30 minutes before a meal can help prevent overeating, according to a study published August 2015 in Obesity. And remember to continue to drink water throughout the day. Many times, hunger and thirst signals can feel similar. So when you feel like snacking, drink a glass of water and see if the urge dissipates before noshing.

Read more: How Many Glasses of Water Should You Drink a Day to Lose Weight?

3. Pace Your Meals

Family Sitting At Outdoor Cafe Table Having Lunch

The research behind how many meals to eat each day and when to eat them is contradictory at times. Some studies suggest that grazing on small meals spaced two to three hours apart can help prevent you from pigging out come dinner time. Others point to intermittent fasting (which basically means eating all your daily meals in a shorter timeframe) as being a good way to jumpstart fat loss and prevent overeating. Adherents typically stop eating for the day somewhere between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., depending on how early in the day they start. Of course, it's still crucial to choose healthy foods during the "eating window." If nothing else, intermittent fasting eliminates late-night snacking, which is almost always a boon for fat loss and weight control.

Read more: The Beginner's Guide to 16:8 Fasting for Weight Loss

Credit: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

The research behind how many meals to eat each day and when to eat them is contradictory at times. Some studies suggest that grazing on small meals spaced two to three hours apart can help prevent you from pigging out come dinner time. Others point to intermittent fasting (which basically means eating all your daily meals in a shorter timeframe) as being a good way to jumpstart fat loss and prevent overeating. Adherents typically stop eating for the day somewhere between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., depending on how early in the day they start. Of course, it's still crucial to choose healthy foods during the "eating window." If nothing else, intermittent fasting eliminates late-night snacking, which is almost always a boon for fat loss and weight control.

Read more: The Beginner's Guide to 16:8 Fasting for Weight Loss

4. Indulge Smarter

Two Baked Chocolate Lava Cakes with Raspberries and Red Wine

You've likely heard that antioxidants are good for your overall health, thanks to their ability to fight inflammation. But certain kinds of antioxidants — catechins, found in green tea, berries and apples, and flavonoids in dark chocolate — can help burn fat. "These antioxidants can help boost metabolism, improve glucose control and even promote gut health, all of which contribute to weight control," says Melissa Schuster, RDN, CDN and owner of Schuster Nutrition in New York City. Yep, here's your permission to eat chocolate! The caveat: Keep it to 1 ounce of chocolate that is at least 70 percent cacao per day, advises Schuster. Or try adding raw cacao nibs to your oatmeal or yogurt. "They are less processed than chocolate bars, naturally low in sugar, rich in minerals and antioxidants and a good source of fiber," she says.

Credit: Lauren King/iStock/Getty Images

You've likely heard that antioxidants are good for your overall health, thanks to their ability to fight inflammation. But certain kinds of antioxidants — catechins, found in green tea, berries and apples, and flavonoids in dark chocolate — can help burn fat. "These antioxidants can help boost metabolism, improve glucose control and even promote gut health, all of which contribute to weight control," says Melissa Schuster, RDN, CDN and owner of Schuster Nutrition in New York City. Yep, here's your permission to eat chocolate! The caveat: Keep it to 1 ounce of chocolate that is at least 70 percent cacao per day, advises Schuster. Or try adding raw cacao nibs to your oatmeal or yogurt. "They are less processed than chocolate bars, naturally low in sugar, rich in minerals and antioxidants and a good source of fiber," she says.

5. Become a Menu Master

Man sitting at cafe reading menu

Restaurants are known as the nemesis of the healthy eater. But it is definitely possible to enjoy meals out while sticking to your resolve to reduce body fat. You might be giving up some control by not cooking the meal yourself, but you can still make smart choices. Scan the menu carefully before ordering, and ask your waiter if you're unsure how something is prepared. Stick with foods that are boiled, broiled, baked or steamed rather than fried, per the Mayo Clinic. And choose entrees that come with veggies or a salad instead of fries. Avoid excess dressing (ask for it on the side), cheese-centric dishes, cream sauces and anything fried, according to the ChooseMyPlate site.

Read more: The 5 Worst Chain Restaurant Options and 5 Better-for-You Picks

Credit: Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images

Restaurants are known as the nemesis of the healthy eater. But it is definitely possible to enjoy meals out while sticking to your resolve to reduce body fat. You might be giving up some control by not cooking the meal yourself, but you can still make smart choices. Scan the menu carefully before ordering, and ask your waiter if you're unsure how something is prepared. Stick with foods that are boiled, broiled, baked or steamed rather than fried, per the Mayo Clinic. And choose entrees that come with veggies or a salad instead of fries. Avoid excess dressing (ask for it on the side), cheese-centric dishes, cream sauces and anything fried, according to the ChooseMyPlate site.

Read more: The 5 Worst Chain Restaurant Options and 5 Better-for-You Picks

6. Spice Up Your Life

Row of spices in mini spice viles

If you're battling belly fat, it may pay to spice things up just a bit. A December 2017 study in Metabolism found that cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives cinnamon its distinctive taste, induces fat cells, or adipocytes, to start burning calories through thermogenesis (body heat production). While the researchers cautioned that further study is needed to determine how much is too much to avoid adverse effects, it can't hurt to sprinkle a little in your morning cup of joe. And while you're at it, you might try adding a little spice to everything you cook. "There is some evidence to suggest that certain spices, such as red and black pepper and ginger, can help with weight loss and weight maintenance," says Schuster. "These spices also have anti-inflammatory effects, which is beneficial for overall health, and especially for diseases like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes." Still, while adding spices to food might help in a small way with weight loss and anti-inflammation, they are only one piece of a much larger picture, cautions Schuster. "It's also important to focus on lifestyle and behavior changes with weight loss, such as portion control, increasing fruits and vegetables and incorporating exercise."

Read more: 9 Herbs and Spices to Help You Lose Weight

If you're battling belly fat, it may pay to spice things up just a bit. A December 2017 study in Metabolism found that cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives cinnamon its distinctive taste, induces fat cells, or adipocytes, to start burning calories through thermogenesis (body heat production). While the researchers cautioned that further study is needed to determine how much is too much to avoid adverse effects, it can't hurt to sprinkle a little in your morning cup of joe. And while you're at it, you might try adding a little spice to everything you cook. "There is some evidence to suggest that certain spices, such as red and black pepper and ginger, can help with weight loss and weight maintenance," says Schuster. "These spices also have anti-inflammatory effects, which is beneficial for overall health, and especially for diseases like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes." Still, while adding spices to food might help in a small way with weight loss and anti-inflammation, they are only one piece of a much larger picture, cautions Schuster. "It's also important to focus on lifestyle and behavior changes with weight loss, such as portion control, increasing fruits and vegetables and incorporating exercise."

Read more: 9 Herbs and Spices to Help You Lose Weight

7. HIIT It!

Fit young female working out on gym bike

Getting your diet in check is just one part of the fat-loss equation, but exercise is important, too. To maximize fat burn, spend two or three days a week doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT). In a study published April 2012 in the Journal of Obesity, researchers found that this type of workout can help reduce body fat, improve aerobic fitness and help preserve lean body mass (aka muscle). To mix things up, apply this method to any form of cardio you enjoy the most — running, cycling, stair-climbing, jumping rope, elliptical training or rowing. Start your workouts with a light, five-minute warm-up, and then alternate back and forth from high to low intensity. For example, you can sprint for 30 seconds, and then jog or walk for one to two minutes, repeating for 15 to 20 minutes. Finish with an easy five-minute cool-down.

Read more: The Perfect 20-Minute HIIT Workout You Can Squeeze In Anywhere

Credit: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images

Getting your diet in check is just one part of the fat-loss equation, but exercise is important, too. To maximize fat burn, spend two or three days a week doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT). In a study published April 2012 in the Journal of Obesity, researchers found that this type of workout can help reduce body fat, improve aerobic fitness and help preserve lean body mass (aka muscle). To mix things up, apply this method to any form of cardio you enjoy the most — running, cycling, stair-climbing, jumping rope, elliptical training or rowing. Start your workouts with a light, five-minute warm-up, and then alternate back and forth from high to low intensity. For example, you can sprint for 30 seconds, and then jog or walk for one to two minutes, repeating for 15 to 20 minutes. Finish with an easy five-minute cool-down.

Read more: The Perfect 20-Minute HIIT Workout You Can Squeeze In Anywhere

8. Build Muscle to Burn More Fat

Focus on the lift

Cardio isn't the only way to help your body burn fat. Adding muscle to your body means you'll burn more calories at rest, per the Mayo Clinic. In your strength-training sessions (aim for two or three a week), do multi-joint exercises, such as bench presses, upright rows, bent-over rows, squats and deadlifts. These compound exercises work more than one muscle at a time and promote fast muscle gain, according to the ACE. Plus, they more closely mimic everyday activities (as opposed to isolation exercises, like biceps curls), helping prevent injury and building stamina. Start with three to five sets of 10 to 12 reps of each exercise.

Read more: The "Burn Fat Faster" Workout

Credit: UberImages/iStock/Getty Images

Cardio isn't the only way to help your body burn fat. Adding muscle to your body means you'll burn more calories at rest, per the Mayo Clinic. In your strength-training sessions (aim for two or three a week), do multi-joint exercises, such as bench presses, upright rows, bent-over rows, squats and deadlifts. These compound exercises work more than one muscle at a time and promote fast muscle gain, according to the ACE. Plus, they more closely mimic everyday activities (as opposed to isolation exercises, like biceps curls), helping prevent injury and building stamina. Start with three to five sets of 10 to 12 reps of each exercise.

Read more: The "Burn Fat Faster" Workout

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