Healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes!
However, did you know that extra fat around your belly – referred to as belly fat or visceral fat – may pose some dangerous health risks? If you carry more weight around your stomach, we’ve got some tips and tricks to help you unlock your best self.
Read on to learn about belly fat, causes, potential health risks and helpful tips to lose it. Plus, check out the best foods and drinks for burning belly fat.
What is belly fat and is it bad for my health?
It’s completely natural to have fat around the belly! Fat helps store energy and protects our organs from physical injury.
But unlike the fat that you can pinch with your fingers (i.e., subcutaneous fat), the unhealthy type of fat that covers your stomach is called visceral fat.
Ultimately, these health factors can contribute to the risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, even if you’re at a healthy weight!2 Read more about why belly fat is harmful to your health.
Causes of belly fat
There are many reasons why you might gain belly fat. If you have some extra cushion around your belly, don’t worry — there are factors in your control!
Genetics: To a certain extent, your DNA can affect where and how much you store fat. A study on twins showed that variance in abdominal fat in individuals with a healthy weight is partially influenced by hereditary factors.3
A heavily-processed diet with empty calories: Many diets consist of empty calories from soda, refined carbs and high-sodium foods. One Danish study showed a high intake of refined carbs may result in greater belly fat in women.4 In another study, consumption of fructose-sweetened beverages can contribute to stomach fat accumulation.5
Inadequate exercise: Our modern lifestyles offer convenience but can make us more sedentary throughout the day, which can result in a larger waistline.
Too much stress: We all experience stress in our lives. But long-term stress may result in elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Research suggests women with higher levels of cortisol tend to accumulate more abdominal fat.6 Here’s why it’s important to monitor your stress levels — and how to relieve stress.
Smoking and drinking: According to a review of metabolic studies, alcohol prefers to be stored in the belly as fat.7 As for smoking, an observational study showed that smoking may increase abdominal fat even for those at a healthy weight.8
7 tips to help lose belly fat
There is no magic formula when it comes to losing belly fat. Each small, sustainable change can support your goals.
1. Eat a nutrient-rich diet
Focus on eating plenty of balanced, nutrient-dense meals that consist of fruits, starchy and non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, which are foods that can help reduce belly fat.
Also, try to reduce your consumption of empty calories from sweets, soda and refined carbs.
Photo by K15 Photos on Unsplash
2. Reduce your overall calorie intake
Cutting back on calories can help you shed some weight. And some of that weight loss can be in your abdomen area.
3. Be smart with your portions
In addition to the types of foods you eat, try to be mindful of how much you eat!
One way to help you stay on track is to let your body rest after a day’s work of eating. One pilot study showed that intermittent fasting can help reduce abdominal fat.9
Jenny Craig’s Rapid Results Max integrates an easy-to-follow intermittent fasting plan to give your metabolism a break and includes your favorite foods in smart portions with no counting or cooking required.
4. Get moving
Current guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, including two resistance training days.10 After all, all the crunches in the world won’t help if you don’t eat healthily and exercise regularly!
Just getting started? Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Exercise for fun (and simple) ways to add more movement to your day and help reduce fat around your middle.
Photo by m-imagephotography on iStock
5. Cut back on boozy drinks
Alcoholic beverages with mixers can be high in added sugars, syrup and total carbs. Plus, alcohol tends to be stored as belly fat. If you drink often, try to have fewer drinks for a healthy waistline. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends women consume one drink or less per day and men have two drinks or less.11
6. Stop smoking
Regardless of your weight, smoking may contribute to more belly fat (among a host of other health complications). If you’re a smoker, quitting can support your lung health and keep visceral fat away.
7. Find ways to destress
Whether you take a vacation or pick up a relaxing hobby, try to find ways to reduce stress and get enough sleep. Keeping cortisol levels low can help you keep your waist look incredible. Check out these 8 surprising ways to de-stress.
Best foods to reduce belly fat
Step one: eat nutritious, balanced meals. Step two: try incorporating some fat-burning foods into your diet. While no one food will help your belly fat disappear, these foods are great to add to a balanced diet.
Chili pepper flakes
Chili pepper contains capsaicin, which can boost your metabolism.12 Sprinkle some chili pepper flakes on your next meal!
Ever heard of kimchi, tempeh, or sauerkraut? These foods are rich in probiotics, which are good bacteria that can help you digest food and support your gut.13
Nuts and seeds
Rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats, lightly salted or unsalted nuts and seeds make great snack substitutes instead of unhealthy salty snacks that contribute to belly fat.
Jenny Craig’s revolutionary Recharge Bar is made with simple ingredients like nuts and a touch of honey. Designed to increase fat burn on Rapid Results Max, this bar helps break your hunger without breaking your fast!
Nonfat plain Greek yogurt
Similar to fermented foods, Greek yogurt contains probiotics that can support your digestion.13 It’s also high in protein to help you stay full. Aim for a 6-ounce serving to support weight loss.
Fresh berries are high in fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. They’re easy to add to smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal or enjoy as a standalone snack. Plus, the sugar in berries is naturally occurring (vs. added sugar). Try raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries or any other variety!
Beans and lentils
Powered by plant protein, beans and lentils can help you build and retain muscle (including your ab muscles!).
They’re also a good source of soluble fiber which can slow down your digestion, help you feel fuller and support weight loss.14
As one of the most nutrient-dense fruits, avocados are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Best of all, they are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) that lower your bad cholesterol and are extremely filling.
For more ideas, check out some of these stomach fat-burning foods for men.
Drinks that burn belly fat
As part of a healthy diet, make sure to aim for at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water per day! If you’re bored with water, try adding fresh-cut fruit and herbs to flavor it.
For other ways to stay hydrated while burning belly fat, try some of these healthy fat-reducing drinks.
Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins that can boost your metabolism and may help you reduce body fat.15
If desired, you can lightly sweeten with lemon so that it’s not so bitter.
Compared to drinking a caffeine-matched control beverage, drinking black tea helped participants reduce waist circumference over three months.16
You can pair this British staple with almond milk for a tasty morning drink to start your day.
Photo by TeaCora Rooibos on Unsplash
Kombucha is a fermented, sweet-and-sour beverage made with tea. The varieties made with green tea are rich in antioxidants that may support your metabolism.15
Plus, it’s rich in probiotics that can help introduce more healthy bacteria to your gut.
This traditional Chinese tea is little known but packed with health benefits!
One study showed that oolong tea supported the reduction of body weight in all participants, as well as a decrease in body fat and waist circumference in women.17
Kefir is a fermented, probiotic yogurt drink that may support weight loss and reduce your waist circumference.18
If you’re drinking kefir for the first time, gradually increase your consumption or you may find yourself making extra trips to the bathroom!
The bottom line
Too much belly fat can put you at risk for various chronic diseases. Causes of belly fat include genetics, a highly-processed diet, inactivity, stress, smoking and drinking.
To reduce your stomach fat, try eating a nutrient-dense diet rich in fat-burning foods and drinks, move more and manage your stress.
Jenny Craig’s newest and most effective program ever provides healthy dietitian-approved menu plans that follow many of the tips we’ve shared to help you lose belly fat. Learn more about Max Up!