At some point in our lives, we’ve all frantically Googled, “how to get rid of lower belly fat.” Whether you want to lose belly fat for aesthetic purposes or you hope to improve your health, trimming your waistline often conjures images of endless sit-ups and strict calorie counting.
The truth: You can’t spot reduce your lower belly fat.
We know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s true. Sit-ups and crunches can build abdominal muscle strength, but training this area won’t specifically shift fat deposits off your stomach.
So, unfortunately, the answer to, how to get rid of lower belly fat in a week is… you can’t.
To reduce your body fat, and keep it off for good, you need to find a sustainable fat loss regimen. So many modern diets and lifestyle changes focus on quick results, but more often than not, once you go back to your old ways of eating and exercising (or not working out), you’ll regain the weight you lost.
So, how can you burn off lower belly fat? Keep reading to find out.
What Contributes to Belly Fat?
Eating a diet high in refined, high-glycemic carbohydrates<sup>3</sup>; highly processed foods<sup>4</sup>; glucose- and fructose-sweetened beverages<sup>5</sup>; and sugar-sweetened drinks<sup>6</sup> can contribute to belly fat accumulation. Similarly, taking in more calories than you burn and not using that surplus can result in storing more fat.
Smoking<sup>7</sup> and alcohol use could increase body fat around the abdominal area<sup>8</sup>, although some studies in these areas are still inconclusive. It’s worth noting that drinking alcohol and smoking can have other health effects outside of fat gain, so consider cutting down or quitting if you’re concerned about your health.
However, it’s not all down to diet and exercise. Stress and a lack of sleep<sup>9</sup> can increase body fat, particularly because these two factors increase the hunger hormone ghrelin and the stress hormone cortisol<sup>10</sup>.
Another study found that genetics<sup>11</sup> can play a significant role in how much body fat a person has, but given the complex nature of human genetics, the results here are still inconclusive.
Researchers understand that while genetics can play a role in belly fat accumulation, the nature of a person’s environment and genetic selection across generations make it difficult to determine whether increased belly fat is linked to nature or nurture.
Belly Fat and Health
When we talk about belly fat, there are two main types:
- Subcutaneous, or belly fat that sits just beneath the skin
- Visceral, or belly fat that surrounds your organs.
Everyone has both visceral and subcutaneous belly fat, and a degree of fat is necessary for survival.
While excess fat carries a health risk regardless of location, one study suggests that visceral belly fat can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease<sup>12</sup> and other metabolic health conditions.
Having a larger waist size has also been associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension, type 2 diabetes, joint pain, lower back pain, and hyperuricemia<sup>13</sup>.
Visceral adiposity is correlated with the accumulation of excess lipids in the liver, which results in impairment in cells’ response to insulin signaling<sup>14</sup>. If the cells don’t respond to insulin’s efforts to move glucose into them to create energy for the body to use, more insulin gets released by the pancreas to funnel glucose into the cells. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance.
It’s currently understood that not all people with excess fat develop insulin resistance<sup>15</sup>. Regardless, the current consensus is that the best way to tackle insulin resistance is to improve your diet, exercise more, and lose fat<sup>16</sup>.
How to Get Rid of Lower Belly Fat
Exercise remains one of the most effective methods of losing excess abdominal fat. One study shows that even without weight loss, high-intensity exercise can significantly reduce visceral belly fat<sup>17</sup>. Running HIIT-style workouts can also reduce belly fat, particularly when combined with a real-food, high-quality nutrition plan.
As mentioned before, you can’t spot target belly fat with exercises like sit-ups, crunches, and planks. However, these do have a place in a well-rounded exercise program that helps you build muscle and lose fat.
If you’re not a fan of HIIT, one study found that resistance training shows great belly fat-reducing benefits<sup>18</sup>. It’s worth noting this study was only conducted on male participants, but it’s potentially good news if you prefer lifting weights to burpees.
Sustainable Weight Loss
Weight loss will help you reduce body fat, however, plan to invest in more than cutting calories. You need to find a sustainable approach that can help institute lifelong changes. Otherwise, you won’t stick with it, and you’ll simply end up gaining the weight back once you finish your diet or program.
Many people wonder how to get rid of belly fat as a woman or how to get rid of body fat as a man. The truth is, there are no gender-specific ways of reducing body fat because everybody works largely in the same way. The only difference is that estrogen causes the body to hold onto more abdominal fat<sup>19</sup> to prepare the body for fetal development and childbirth.
A key part of sustainable weight loss is understanding what’s healthy for your body and what habits you can maintain long term.
Mindful eating, in particular, can help you recognize and overcome compulsive eating patterns that lead to weight gain<sup>20</sup>. Here’s how to incorporate this simple technique into your routine:
- Sit down to eat in a designated area, like your kitchen table, and turn off all electronics (or leave them in another room)
- Check in with your body to assess how hungry you are before you begin eating; use a 1–5 scale where 1 is not hungry and 5 is ravenous
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule: chew each bite for 20 seconds, break for 20 seconds between each mouthful, and spend at least 20 minutes eating your meal
- Stop eating your food when you feel satiated, even if there is food left on your plate
- If you struggle to focus fully on your food, make a point of remembering three things you liked about the meal, and say them out loud when you finish eating
Managing your mental health is key to longevity and reducing belly fat. One study on middle-aged women suggests an association with depressive symptoms and higher levels of visceral fat<sup>21</sup>, however, whether the presence of excess fat causes mental health issues or vice versa is still not understood.
In addition, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol might cause your body to store more fat around your lower abdomen<sup>22</sup>.
While reducing stress in your life won’t reduce belly fat on its own, it’s a healthy strategy you can use in addition to weight loss and exercise. Ways to manage stress:
- Crafting, like knitting, crochet, cross-stitch, etc.
- Reducing your screen time
- Making time to see friends and family
- Scheduling self-care time where you won’t be disturbed.
Improve Your Sleep
As with stress, this strategy won’t cause you to lose belly fat on its own.
Many studies have shown that when you don’t get enough sleep, you’re at greater risk of storing excess body fat<sup>23</sup>. In a sleep-deprived state, your body produces less leptin and more ghrelin; this can send hunger signals to your brain and tamp down signs of satiety, potentially causing you to eat more.
To improve your sleep:
- Put away your devices an hour before bedtime
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Have a hot bath or shower to help you relax
- Keep your bedroom cool and free of disturbances as much as possible
- Expose your eyes to natural sunlight in the morning and, ideally, again in the evening.
Cut Down on Alcohol/Smoking
Finally, both alcohol and smoking<sup>24</sup> have been linked to increased visceral belly fat<sup>25</sup>. While quitting both alcohol and tobacco can have significant positive benefits on your health, the addictive nature of both substances makes them hard to quit. Try to cut down on alcohol use and your daily number of cigarettes.
If you drink alcohol, consider limiting your drinking to two or three days a week, and consider lower-calorie alcoholic drinks like vodka with club soda instead of beer, cider, or cocktails.
Similarly, smoking fewer cigarettes each day, or using nicotine patches to help you cut down, is healthier than continuing to smoke at your previous level. Talk to your doctor for advice on how to cut smoking out entirely.
How to Get Rid of Lower Belly Fat: Summary
If you’ve ever lost sleep wondering how to lose your stubborn lower belly fat, you’re not alone. While belly fat can be difficult to lose, a combination of exercise, sustainable weight loss, and building healthier habits to improve your sleep and mental health can help you reduce the health risks that can occur from a large waist circumference.
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