Women are sort of lucky when it comes to belly fat—we don’t gain it as easily as men. Instead, we’re more likely to gain fat in the hip and thigh area, which is thought to have a protective effect on health.
But the bad news is that when we do gain fat in the belly area, it’s often harder for us to lose it due to metabolic gender differences.
That’s where this article comes in. These tips are spelled out in simple, easy terms and backed up by science so that you can say buh-bye to unflattering excess belly fat once and for all.
#1: Do Sprints.
Sprint intervals are the best method for losing belly fat because they target the root of the problem, which is unbalanced hormones. Here’s how it works:
Sprint interval training leads to the release of growth hormone and the catecholamine adrenaline hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These are your primary fat burning compounds. They not only help mobilize fat stores from the abdominal region, but they elevate energy expenditure in the post-exercise recovery period so that your body burns calories at an accelerated rate.
The power of sprint training for eliminating belly fat is evident from a 2008 study that found that overweight, sedentary women who did 20 minutes of stationary cycle sprints 3 days a week lost an average 2.5 kg of fat, of which a significant portion was from the abdominal region.
Take Away: Try the protocol used in the study: 8 seconds of sprinting followed by 12 seconds of active rest (keep pedaling!) repeated for a total of 20 minutes.
#2: Cut Unhealthy Carbs
Eliminating unhealthy refined carbs is key for belly fat loss because it restores insulin sensitivity. When you are insulin sensitive it means your cells bind readily with the hormone insulin in order to burn sugar (glucose) for energy.
But, when you overload on carbs, too much insulin is released and your cells become resistant. This primes the body for fat storage. It just so happens that your body’s favorite place to deposit fat is around your organs in the abdominal area.
Going low in carbs for a short period will restore insulin sensitivity and repair the body’s ability to use fat for energy. It also leads to a reduction in appetite so that people eat fewer calories, which improves fat loss. For example, in one recent study, Japanese subjects reduced carbs by about 40 percent of the diet—all from lower-glycemic sources—a and they lost 11.2 percent abdominal fat after 3 months.
Take Away: It typically takes two weeks of a very low-carb diet for beneficial metabolic adaptations to take place, at which point you can schedule in higher carb meals every 5 to 7 days to give yourself mental relief. Favor complex carbs (vegetables, fruit, beans) and avoid foods with added sugar and refined carbs (bread, crackers, sweets).
#3: Eat Veggies & Antioxidant-Rich Fruits
Most women probably think of protein as their go-to food for losing belly fat. As awesome as protein is (we cover it below in #4), eating plenty of nutrient-packed fruits and veggies is probably what you most need to improve on.
Fruits and vegetables make your cells more sensitive to insulin, while lowering your blood sugar response from higher carb foods. For example, if you add blueberries to oatmeal, the carbs in the oatmeal will be digested more slowly, leading to a smaller release of insulin, which means the body spends more time in fat burning mode.
Take Away: Always plan meals to include leafy green or dark-colored fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, tart cherries, blackberries, plums, beets, radishes, and red peppers. These foods develop higher concentrations of protective antioxidants during cultivation.
#4: Eat High-Quality Protein At Every Meal
The most consistent indicator of leanness around the waist is a high-quality protein intake. High-quality protein is defined as containing a “threshold” amount of 10 grams of essential amino acids. This sort of protein is typically found in animal protein, dairy, eggs, and whey protein.
Protein is so useful for belly fat loss because it reduces hunger, allowing you to eat less and create a calorie deficit. In addition, a high-protein intake preserves lean muscle mass so that you sustain metabolic rate.
Take Away: Make sure you eat at least 1.6 g/kg of protein a day by planning every meal around high-quality protein. Pad protein intake with a whey protein shake after workouts.
#5: Train With Weights
If you have low muscle mass, particularly in the lower body, you’ll have more belly fat. This is because when you gain even a little bit of belly fat, the fat produces inflammatory markers, which degrade muscle.
As you lose muscle mass, metabolic rate drops and you gain more belly fat. Then, you’re less active and powerful due to less muscle and you gain even more belly fat. It’s a terrible never-ending cycle!
You can nip it all in the bud by doing a total body weight-training routine. First, trained muscle automatically becomes more sensitive to insulin, improving your metabolic hormonal profile. And because you’re building muscle, you’re metabolic rate increases so you burn more calories daily.
Finally, you get the killer afterburn effect so that you burn more energy in the 24-hour recovery period. For example, a recent study found that when overweight women did a weight-training program for 4 months, they gained 1.2 kg of muscle and lost 1.75 kg of body fat, at least half of which was from the abdominal region.
Take Away: The most effective total body routines should be multi-joint with moderately heavy weights and short rest periods. Alternate upper and lower body exercises in a circuit-like fashion for greater fat burning hormone release.
#6: Love Your Body—Don’t Obsess About Your Weight
A little known factor that can increase belly fat is anxiety about your body. Dislike of your body can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In response to high cortisol levels, the body likes to deposit fat around the organs because it’s an easy energy source during times of stress.
A similar effect occurs when you try to lose weight by slashing calories. Low-calorie diets that require you to monitor every single calorie are inherently stressful and trigger an abnormal cortisol curve, which backfires by increasing hunger and stimulating food intake.
Take Away: Embracing your body in all its perfection (and imperfection) is not easy, but it’s essential for reducing stress levels. Working out can help because it allows you to feel your strength—don’t feel limited to running or lifting weights. Martial arts, yoga, dancing, or whatever exercise you enjoy can help improve body image and lower cortisol.
#7: Avoid Caloric Beverages Like They’re The Plague
Time and again, research overwhelmingly shows that people who drink caloric beverages have significantly more belly fat.
The reason liquid calories go right to your waistline is that they often contain large amounts of fructose, which can only be metabolized by the liver. When fructose overloads the liver, it deposits the energy as fat in the abdominal area. Another factor is that liquid calories don’t register in the brain in the same way as food, so they don’t satisfy hunger and we compensate by eating more.
You can see the negative effects of sugary beverages with the following study: A Spanish study found that for every 100 calories subjects drank in soft drinks daily they had a 1.1 cm increase in belly fat. Naturally, over ten years, those who drank more soft drinks had a much greater increase in abdominal obesity than those who didn’t.
Take Away: If you’re only able to do one thing on this list, eradicate sugar-sweetened beverages from your life. Soda, juice, sports drinks, and sugar-sweetened coffee and tea all should be avoided.
#8: Get Enough Sleep & Improve Your Circadian Rhythm
Everyone knows that lack of sleep is linked with a high body fat, but you might be surprised to learn that the association is strongest with belly fat.
Lack of sleep causes elevations cortisol that leads the body to gain belly fat. In addition, growth hormone is one of the most powerful hormones for preventing belly fat gain and it is released at night when you sleep. When you frequently don’t sleep, you don’t get the protective GH release.
Take Away: Optimize your circadian rhythm by practicing good sleep hygiene. For example, adopt a regular bedtime and avoid electronics and other simulating activities in the hour before bed.
#9: Wildcards: Vitamin D, Daily Walking, Bad Eating Habits & Poor Estrogen Metabolism
There are many other factors that can have a huge impact on your ability to lose belly fat. Here are a few things you want to make sure aren’t falling by the wayside:
Get Enough Vitamin D: Women with low vitamin D tend to have more belly fat. One recent study found that women who took vitamin D in addition to a weight-training program for 12 weeks lost more belly fat than those who trained but didn’t take the supplement.
Try A Daily Walking Program: Low-intensity physical activity can do wonders for keeping fat off because it lowers stress, while burning calories. For example, in one recent study, women who walked a few miles 3 times a week for 3 months had significant reductions in belly fat and improvements in metabolic hormone levels.
Banish Bad Eating Habits: Randomly skipping meals, eating a high-carb diet, and relying on fast food are all habits that will prevent belly fat loss
Too Much Estrogen: Excessive estrogen, either due to exposure to chemical estrogens in plastics and other industrial compounds, or from poor elimination of estrogen, can hamper belly fat loss. Cut down on your toxic estrogen exposure by using natural personal care products and avoiding plastics. Improve estrogen metabolism with a high-protein, antioxidant-rich diet that contains plenty of healthy fats.