Many people with excess body weight carry fat around their midsection. This fat is a risk factor for many different health conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Fat around the belly can be challenging to lose. Even with diet and exercise, it can often be the last part of the body to slim down.
However, there are many methods that a person can use to both reduce overall fat and tone the abdomen.
Techniques that may help people get a flat stomach include:
Cardiovascular or aerobic exercises are an excellent way for a person to burn calories and improve their heart health.
Many cardio exercises are effective in trimming and strengthening a person's midsection. Some examples include running, walking, and swimming.
Research has shown that moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise can reduce fat in overweight people, even without a reduction in calorie intake.
Fiber can help make a person feel fuller for longer, which can reduce the amount of food that they eat during and between meals.
Fiber also keeps the digestive system functioning. A healthy digestive system can reduce bloating and keep the stomach looking slim.
Carbohydrates are a source of energy for the body, but not all carbs are equally healthful. The body transforms certain carbs, such as white bread and white pasta, into glucose. When a person consumes more glucose than is necessary, the body stores the excess as fat.
A person looking to reduce the amount of fat around their midsection should limit their consumption of refined carbs.
As carbs are essential for energy, people should still eat healthful, whole-grain varieties.
Protein offers the body building blocks to repair and grow muscle, and it also helps a person feel fuller for longer.
A small 2012 study found that people who consumed high-quality proteins, such as milk, eggs, and beef, had a lower percentage of abdominal fat.
People should opt to stand when lifting weights or doing resistance training. Standing while performing certain movements, such as bicep curls, can help a person engage their core as they lift.
This engagement can help strengthen the core muscles and trim the stomach area.
Doing resistance training can help ensure that a person who is cutting calories does not lose muscle mass. Developing muscle mass can also help the body burn more calories while at rest.
Common types of resistance training include weightlifting and doing exercises that use body weight, such as squats and lunges.
People can do resistance training by itself or in conjunction with cardio. The results of a study in obese adolescents suggest that combining both resistance and cardio training is an effective way to reduce body fat.
Monounsaturated fatty acids, which people often refer to as "good fats," are present in fats that are liquid at room temperature.
Healthful sources of monounsaturated fatty acids include:
- olive oil
- sesame oil
- peanut butter with no added sugar
A 2016 systematic review found that diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids could help reduce body weight.
People looking to lose belly fat can try adding in extra movement and activity throughout the day, especially if they generally spend most of the day sitting at work or school.
Examples of small activities that add up throughout the day include:
- taking the stairs
- using a standing desk
- stretching throughout the day
One study even suggested that adding this extra movement could help a person burn up to 2,000 additional calories a day, depending on their body weight and activity level.
High-calorie beverages often provide few or no nutrients, and drinking them makes it easy to overindulge in extra calories without realizing it.
There are some obvious offenders, such as soft drinks and energy drinks. However, other popular drinks, including juice, milk-based coffee beverages, and alcoholic drinks, all have extra calories, often with no additional nutritional value.
To avoid consuming too many calories in drinks, a person can:
- swap juice for whole fruits, which are full of fiber
- limit or avoid milk and sugar in coffee and tea
- make mixed alcoholic drinks with soda water instead of tonic, cola, or ginger ale
People can minimize water retention and bloating, both of which can make a person's stomach look larger, by drinking plenty of water.
Drinking a glass of water before a meal could also fill up the stomach and help with portion control during the meal.
People can drink plain water or infuse it with citrus fruits, cucumber, or berries to add flavor. Drinking herbal teas is another excellent way to stay hydrated.
The core muscles are those around the trunk, which include both abdominal muscles and back muscles. Working on the core can help a person gain muscle and burn more calories throughout the day.
A strong core will also support the body during a variety of other activities, including cardio and resistance training, reducing the likelihood of injury.
Building up core muscles can help the stomach look and feel toned when a person loses belly fat.
Sleep is necessary for overall health, including maintaining a healthy weight.
Research from 2018 found that sleep deprivation affects the hormones that regulate a person's appetite and can make them feel hungrier. The authors noted that increasing sleep duration and improving sleep quality could help people lose weight.
People can get more sleep and improve sleep quality by:
- keeping electronics out of the bedroom
- going to bed 30–60 minutes earlier than usual
- doing relaxing stretches or meditation before bed
- getting enough sunlight throughout the day
- exercising regularly
- avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed
There is an association between stress and several health issues. These issues include weight gain, which may occur because some people are prone to eat when they are stressed. This effect may be due to the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that can boost appetite.
Ways to relieve stress include:
- doing aerobic exercise
- talking to a loved one
- trying mindfulness
- prioritizing important tasks
- taking a break or even a holiday
- avoiding committing to too many projects and events
- taking time to do an enjoyable hobby
On top of other exercises, adding a 30-minute walk each day can help a person burn more calories, reduce stress, and sneak in extra movement.
Taking 30 minutes to walk at lunchtime can help reduce stubborn fat, and it can also help a person feel more productive in the afternoon.
A 30-minute walk after dinner can aid digestion and stop someone from spending this time being sedentary in front of the television.
Keeping a food journal can help a person reflect on what they have eaten and lead them to make more healthful decisions at mealtimes and when snacking.
People sometimes underestimate how much they have eaten throughout the day or forget to consume key nutrients, opting for unhealthful snacks instead. Keeping a food journal for 1 or 2 weeks can help someone identify the source of their extra calories.
By eating too quickly, a person does not give their brain time to register that they are full until they have already consumed too many calories during a meal.
Eating quickly can also cause a person to swallow more air, which can lead to excess gas and bloating.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a quick way to burn more calories during exercise.
HIIT involves short bursts of intense movement with brief periods of rest between them. This type of interval training can help a person burn more calories in a shorter time than some traditional exercise options.
A 2018 review of studies found that HIIT training, especially running, could help reduce both total body fat and abdominal fat. HIIT cycling may also be effective, but more research is necessary to confirm this.
Food sensitivities can cause a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms, including gas, bloating, and constipation. Foods that people commonly have sensitivities to include dairy, eggs, and gluten.
If a person feels bloated or has other digestive problems after eating a particular type of food, they should speak to a doctor or dietitian.
There are many ways in which a person can get a flat stomach. Adding extra exercise to the daily routine, increasing fiber intake, and sleeping more can all help slim a person's waistline.
Before starting a new exercise regimen, people should speak to a doctor about any health concerns.