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Burn Belly Fat with Diet and Exercise

March 20, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

I woke up earlier than usual a few mornings ago and turned on the TV while I made myself some tea. I caught myself laughing at an infomercial that came on selling a “belly fat-melting” contraption that you tie around your stomach. It looked ridiculous!

After that 20-minute sales pitch ended, a shorter commercial came on for a supplement claiming to do the same thing.

I started to wonder how many people actually fall for outlandish promises such as “burn away all your belly fat in just days!” Then I realized—probably a lot. It seems there’s no bigger or more profitable marketing term these days than “belly fat.”

While I can’t speak for fitness equipment, I’m a very strong proponent of supplements. I take several every day and prescribe them to thousands of patients. In many cases, they can do miraculous things.

But as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I have to be honest with you: I’m leery of many of the weight loss supplements sold on TV and even in stores. I feel they give customers a false sense of hope that popping a couple pills will magically melt fat off. It’s just not true.

Sure, some nutrients do help boost metabolism and aid in weight loss. But reducing abdominal fat requires more work than simply swallowing a few pills.

Don’t get me wrong: Reducing belly fat can be easier than you think, but only if you have the right insights.

Two Types of Fat

There are two main types of fat: subcutaneous and visceral.

Most of you focus on subcutaneous fat because it’s the type that collects on the hips, thighs, butt, and belly. You see it, feel it, pinch it, and, let’s face it…you probably complain about it too!

Visceral fat (the “technical” term for belly fat) is much more sinister. It lies deep inside your body, surrounding your liver, heart, lungs, and other organs. You can’t see it, but it wreaks havoc in your body.

Visceral fat churns out inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These substances increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, cancer, and other dangerous conditions.

The most accurate way to determine how much visceral fat you have is through MRI or CT scans, which are expensive and unnecessary to estimate your belly fat. As a general rule of thumb, the more subcutaneous fat you have around your midsection, the more visceral fat you probably have.

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(In layman’s terms, the people at highest risk are men with “beer guts” and “apple-shaped” women who tend to collect fat in their bellies versus their hips and thighs.)

So now that you know what you’re up against, let me tell you the most effective ways to defeat your belly fat.

You probably don’t want to hear it, but I’ll say it anyway: The only proven formula for losing fat in your belly (and everywhere else) is to burn more calories than you take in. The solution? Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly (at least five days a week).

It’s tempting to think that doing 100 or 200 abdominal exercises a day (such as sit-ups or crunches) will burn belly fat, but spot reduction is just another myth. Research shows it’s nearly impossible to pick and choose where you want to lose fat.

One study confirmed this by having participants do seven different abdominal muscle workouts five days a week for six weeks. At the end of the study, the researchers found that those targeted exercises had no significant effect on weight, body fat percentage, abdominal circumference and skinfold measurement, and various other parameters.

Crunches will strengthen your abdominal muscles. You can and should add them to your exercise routine. But as a whole, try to focus on full-body cardiovascular and strength-training workouts, which burn more calories than targeted exercises and build muscle all over.

You don’t need to drench yourself in sweat on a treadmill either. Even a walk around the block (maybe two trips if you live on a small block), a few times a week, is a great place to start.

But rest assured, with regular physical activity, your overall body fat will decline. And if you carry a lot of weight in your midsection, you will see it start to shrink over time.

As for supplements, I don’t recommend buying any combination product that includes unstudied, unproven, or unsafe ingredients. Many of them contain large amounts of stimulants to rev up metabolism, which can have negative side effects.

There are, however, a few well-studied nutrients that have been shown to enhance weight loss efforts safely. These include green tea extract, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and, as a meal replacement, whey protein. If you have difficulty digesting dairy or are vegan, pea protein is available.

You can add these nutrients to your daily supplement regimen, but don’t rely on them solely if you want to see results. There’s just no getting around the critical role diet and exercise play in all aspects of health, including fat loss.

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