Losing belly fat can be hard, but it’s possible and totally doable. You simply need to take action and make some better, healthier diet and lifestyle choices.
Just as we don’t gain belly fat overnight, we also cannot get rid of it overnight either.
By the end of this article, you’ll have all the tools you need to lose belly fat once and for all!
You’ll need to choose your long-term health and happiness over instant food pleasures that, in the long run, will only make you feel miserable.
It’s up to you. Only you can make these decisions. I can only show you the way.
But first, there’s some quick information.
“Knowledge is the key to success” by Marie F. (Thanks to Marie for your inspiring email – one of our Days to Fitness family subscribers).
1. Why Do We Get Fat?
When we eat more food (energy) than we use, all the excess is converted into and stored as fat. This process is made possible by a famous hormone and key player called insulin.
As we continue to eat more energy than we use, insulin continues to convert the excess into fat.
It’s hard to overeat whole foods, but it’s quite easy to binge on junk “food”. Big food companies design “food” (it’s not really food) to give you pleasure, get you addicted and make you always want to eat more.
I’ve shared a quick video explaining why sugar makes us fat, and why added sugar is everywhere. You can watch it here.
Yes, some “foods” (it’s processed food) are more fattening than others. Avoiding high sugar foods and drinks it’s THE most important step you can take to lose belly fat. I will cover that soon.
2. Why We Get Belly Fat
Women accumulate more fat on their thighs and butt, while men tend to accumulate fat on their stomachs.
The reason behind this is due to hormones (testosterone and estrogen).
It’s not possible to burn fat only from your belly. Those 100 abs crunches a day-type workouts do not work. We have to lose fat from our entire bodies, and gradually we will start to get a flatter stomach.
We all have fat around our body, but the fat is not equally distributed. Instead, it accumulates on the butt, thighs and belly.
To reduce our body fat percentage, we have to lose weight, so our fat layer gets thinner.
Sorry, I have to say it again: In the same way, we don’t gain weight overnight, we can’t lose weight overnight either. Crash diets do not work, and nor do intense but unsuitable workouts.
But, don’t give up yet; there’s a way and a solution.
The steps you need to take to lose belly fat
I recommend that you start with easy, sustainable actions as only you know how much effort and sacrifice you can handle to maintain consistency. Consistency is the most important skill here.
It doesn’t matter if you drastically reduce calories and do a lot of exercises today, but then eat 10,000 calories of ice-cream tomorrow. That will not work. Instead, do a little bit every day and you’ll find your journey much more enjoyable.
The following steps are ordered by importance, but you can do several steps at the same time. You can eat less to reduce the number of calories and meditate to reduce your stress.
What I find hard is to go all-in in the beginning. For example, reducing calories, changing diet and doing a lot of exercise from the very beginning. The result is usually the same: frustration, quit, and all hope is lost.
Instead, go easy on yourself, embrace small changes, and get motivated by the benefits.
- Get to know how much you eat daily
- Avoid or reduce high sugar foods and drinks
- Reduce or, even better, quit processed, junk, and fast food
- Diet – prepare your own food
- Avoid food binging
- Reduce your calorie intake
- Easy but effective exercise
- Reduce stress
- Improve sleep quality time
1. Get to know how much you eat daily
Do you have any idea how many calories do you eat per day? I thought I did but, oh boy, I was wrong…
You probably have a very clear idea of how much you eat per day, but do you really know? When I started to track my daily calorie intake, I was shocked. I thought that I was under 2000 calories per day, but I was in fact eating around 3000.
I’m not really in favor of counting calories, because not all calories are created equal, and focusing only on calories is not a solution for weight loss. I’ve in fact written two articles explaining that: Stop Counting Calories and The Calorie Fallacy.
But today, I’m asking you to do exactly the opposite: Track your calories. Why? So, you have an idea of how much you’re eating in terms of food and how many calories.
The reason: The chances are that, if you have belly fat to lose, you’re eating more calories than you burn.
When we eat more than we need, our body stores the excess as fat, and this fat accumulates on the belly.
Continually snacking (even if they are healthy snacks) will turn your body into a fat producing and storing machine.
Use the app MyFitnessPal (free to download and free to use) to discover how much you are really eating per day.
Use the app on your phone and record every single food you eat. It’s a little bit tedious, but it doesn’t take much time, and by the end of the day you’ll have a good idea of how many calories you eat in one day.
MyFitnessPal will ask you to create an account (it’s free and no credit card is needed). It will also ask you what your weight goal is; go ahead do it. Don’t focus on your calorie limit for the day. The idea here is to simply learn how much you’re eating per day.
MyFitnessPal already has most of the foods we eat on its huge database which makes using the app quick and easy.
Once you know how many calories you eat per day, you can do one more thing: start reducing your intake just a little bit. Define your limits and don’t go crazy, otherwise, you will find it too hard to maintain. Just reduce your calorie intake a little bit.
Just one less beer, soda, chocolate bar, or candy per day will make a difference.
Here we are just tackling food quantity by eating less. What about food quality? That’s our next step.
2. Avoid High Sugar foods/drinks
When we eat too much sugar, our body converts the excess into fat. We should not eat more than nine teaspoons per day but, in America, we eat around 25 teaspoons. That’s a lot of added-sugar being converted into fat.
If you’re not familiar with the BIG FAT problem of added-sugar, I recommend you watch my quick animated video Why Added Sugar Makes You Fat (there’s also a text version) and Why Added Sugar is Everywhere (there’s also a text version).
High sugar foods and drinks to avoid, or at least reduce, include:
- Breakfast cereals
- Packaged fruit juices and soda
- Soft drinks (there is nothing soft about them; they’re all high in sugar)
- Sports energy drinks
- Ice cream, cakes, cookies, and other sweet treats
- Sweetened yogurt
- Flavored milk
- Salad dressings
- Commercial sauces (ketchup, barbecue, tomato)
- Vitamin Water
- Flavored green tea and coffee
- Ready to eat soups
- Granola bars
- Commercial granola
- Iced tea
Drink water instead of soda and high sugar beverages. Flavor it with lemon juice if you want to.
Drink coffee and tea, but don’t add sugar (white, brown, agave…it’s all the same).
Enjoy the occasional glass of wine or beer instead drinking beer or wine every day.
Avoid commercial fruit juices and smoothies as they are loaded with sugar.
There is no magic here: There is no substitute for high sugar foods and beverages. The solution here is to avoid them, or at least reduce your intake.
3. Reduce or Quit Processed, Junk, and Fast Food
Because they are high in sugar and fat, you should avoid fast, processed and packaged “food” like your life depends of it. These “foods” are by far the most fattening thing you can eat.
Today, in America, and in most of the rest of the world too, people eat a high sugar diet. That’s because the big food companies have found that adding sugar and removing fiber makes you eat more without feeling full. In return, you gain weight and become addicted to junk food.
Note: If you’d prefer to watch a quick animation video, click here to open a new window and watch Why Added Sugar is Everywhere.
Sounds too crazy? It is, but it’s also the truth. Fiber plays a very important role in cleaning your gut and it takes a lot of time to digest. Because of this, fiber quickly makes you feel full. But, if you remove the fiber, digestion is quicker, and you don’t feel full. This soon leads to overeating. This is good news for the food companies, but a terrible deal for you because you constantly feel hungry.
On top of that, there’s sugar. Sugar makes you feel so good that your brain loves it. Once you get used to eating a lot of sugar, you’ll start to feel unhappy and depressed if you don’t get it regularly. Sugar is very addictive, especially as we’ve been eating it since we were toddlers.
Food companies purposely make food to comfort you, that gives instant pleasures that pass quickly, and that makes you crave for more.
Whole Foods provide all the energy you need while filling you up. Packaged foods give you instant pleasure, too many calories, no real energy, and a ton of problems for your future health.
Make-your-own is the solution:
- Make your own dips & spreads: Ketchup (recipe here), mayonnaise (recipe here), hummus (recipe here), tapenade (recipe here), guacamole (recipe here)
- Prepare your own cookies (Cinnamon star cookies recipe here)
- Prepare your own treats (recipes here) and sweets (recipe here). These recipes still contain sugar, but they are all much better than any commercial dessert or treat
- Even better, prepare your own low-sugar desserts (a lot of recipes here), or go a step further and try this no-added-sugar but still tasty vegan, milk-free, sugar-free, no-bake treats (2 video recipes here and here)
- Prepare your own breakfast, instead of breakfast cereals and granola
- Prepare and take your own meals to work instead of buying from junk/fast food restaurants
- Prepare your own dinner (recipes here)
- Or have a light and filling soup for dinner (soup recipes here)
Have you ever wondered why, as teenagers, we could eat lots of high sugar and junk food and yet most of us never had much belly fat?
I’ve shared an article explaining why, after our 30s, we start slowly putting on weight especially on our belly, and why is so hard to get rid of it. You can find the article here.
4. Balanced Diet – Prepare your own food
It doesn’t matter how much you exercise if your diet contains lots of high sugar food, junk food, liquid carbs (soda, spirits, wine, beer, and soft drinks) and you’re constantly eating snacks.
Contrary to what a lot of people say, snacking between meals will not help you to lose weight.
Snacking between meals makes easier to gain more weight, especially when you eat processed junk food. There are efficient ways to reduce calories, which I will talk about in the Reduce your calorie intake section, but first, let’s look at the most important step of all – diet.
Diet is 70% of the weight loss and burning belly fat equation.
Meals should contain protein, vegetables, good carbs, and good fats. But most people have stopped preparing their own food, and have forgotten how we should balance our meals.
Important things to remember:
- Add (more) vegetables to your diet
Vegetables are high in fiber, and that makes you feel fuller for longer. They are also high in nutrients and low in calories.
If you don’t have many veggies in your diet, today is a good day to start. A big salad for lunch (but avoid commercial dressings) is a nice and fresh way to begin.
Veggies are boring? I thought the same a few years ago. Easy and delicious recipes with veggies are available here.
- Better breakfast
I don’t know what you had for breakfast today, but most people have commercial cereals, granola, white bread, pancakes, flavored yogurts, and/or packaged fruit juices. These are all refined carbs that are also high sugar foods. Most of the refined carbs we eat are converted into fat, and that fat sits on our belly. Because of this, avoiding refined carbs is a priority.
- Choose Good Carbs over Bad Carbs
Avoid refined carbs and go for good carbs such as fruit, oatmeal, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and veggie noodles instead. Check the article
Good carbs vs. Bad carbs for Weight Loss to discover some alternatives to bad carbs.
When you exercise or workout, you want to have your high carb meals right before and right after your intense activity. More about carb timing explained at Carb Timing and Exercise.
- Get your protein: Meat, fish or from veggies. Don’t abuse red meats (lamb, beef, pork) and make sure you also eat white meats (chicken, turkey).
Make sure all your meals contain some type of protein. This will help to satiate your hunger and fill you up for longer, reducing the chances of snacking between meals.
- Healthy Fats: We need fats, but not all fats are equal. Go for extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and nuts. I especially like to use these on my salads to make them tastier and more filling without using commercial salad dressings which are high in added sugar. Learn more about How to Choose Healthy Fats and why Not All Fats Are Created Equally
Prepare your own meals
There are good restaurants out there, but most of the food we eat should come from our kitchen, where we know exactly what ingredients are used.
I’ve organized all our recipes here into
- Types (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
- Occasions (Christmas, Thanksgiving)
- Dish Types (Smoothies, Meal Replacement Shakes, Soups, Dips & Spreads, Protein Bars)
- Diets and choices (Sugar-free, 21 Day Fix, Slow Cooker, Gluten-free, Vegetarian, Paleo, Superfoods, Low-carb, Raw)
- By Kitchen Tools (Food Processor, Immersion Blender, Blender, Slow Cooker)
5. Avoid Food Binging
Binging is when you eat more than you know you should – often because of things like sadness, boredom, or anger. We also call this emotional eating. Binging usually involves eating a huge number of calories in one sitting, and those extra calories usually come from sugar and unhealthy fat.
To prevent binging:
- Don’t look for comfort in food: Think about when you binge and what emotions are you trying to hide or to deal with. Fix the problem and you won’t want to binge
- Processed food is designed to be consumed in large quantities, so avoid it like the plague to reduce the chances of binging
- When you feel like binging, journal your feelings, listen to some music, or go for a walk. Let that binging moment pass without getting attached to it
- Get rid of processed/junk food from your home: Reduce temptation at home and make it a healthy eating sanctuary
- Have 2 or 3 complete meals per day with no snacks in-between: constant eating will make you continually think about food
- When cravings strike, do some meditation, exercise or drink some water (how to deal with sugar cravings)
6. Reduce your calorie intake
After avoiding high sugar foods and junk/fast food, it’s time to start to eat a little less.
I don’t know how much you are eating per day, but you do since you started tracking your calorie intake.
To make things easy and sustainable, I suggest you reduce your calorie intake by only 100 or 200 calories per day. It’s not much but it’s a start. We are looking for consistency. Once you’re comfortable, you can reduce your intake a little bit more.
Ways to reduce your calorie intake
- Intermittent Fasting: I’ve been skipping breakfast for more than a year and it helped me lose weight (my one-year intermittent fasting story here and how to lose weight with intermittent fasting here).
- Smaller meals: Yes, you will not feel as full as before, but give it time and your stomach will get used to the idea. Lighter meals are easier to digest and leave more energy available to perform other tasks like concentration, mental focus, and memory.
- Eat just 2 or 3 meals a day: No snacking in between, and don’t have extra portions or desserts. Forget about food and focus on other things instead.
Try these steps, experiment, and find out which ones work best for you. Come up with your own formula but go easy on yourself to ensure whatever you do is sustainable.
As you reduce your calorie intake, your cravings and food temptations will be more amplified than ever.
Allow yourself time to deal with your cravings. Let the cravings pass and understand that “ feeling hungry” is usually nothing more than a passing craving.
Cravings can be very unsettling because food is directly connected to our emotions. Because of this, when we change our food habits and give up or cut down on high sugar and process/junk food, we get cravings that try to convince us to go on a food binge.
Give yourself time to get used to your new diet, and only then slowly reduce your food intake.
All those crunches and sit-ups will make your abs stronger but are not the key to a flatter, thinner stomach.
Remember; the goal is to accumulate less fat and make your existing fat layer thinner.
Changing your diet and slightly reducing your calorie intake will help you accumulate less fat, and exercise will help us to burn stored energy (glycogen and fat) to make our existing fat layer thinner.
Add some exercise to your routine. I don’t know how much exercise you currently do, and how much you are able to fit in depends on your routine. However, adding exercise to your lifestyle will make losing belly fat much easier.
What Exercise can I do?
- Walking: Start with a walking around your neighborhood or go to a park. A walking plan will help you to integrate walking into your routine and achieve the best results. Find the plan in our article Walking Guide for Beginners here.
- Home Workout Routines, No Equipment Needed: Try this effective 5-minute home exercise routine. Check our video 5 Minutes Home Workout Routine to Lose Belly Fat
- Running: Running will help you to burn a lot of energy in a short amount of time. We have created a plan on how to start and increase your running. Check our Running Guide for Beginners here.
Exercise is not just good for burning fat, it can also help us in many other ways. Regular exercise will reduce stress and improve our sleep quality time which are two very important factors that will lower your chances of overeating and accumulating fat. I will explain this more in the next sections.
8. Reduce Stress
As we enter adult life, our days become more complicated and stressful. Having a job, dealing with our boss and colleagues, relationships, paying the mortgage, having kids – all of these responsibilities are accompanied by lots of emotions and daily challenges that we didn’t have when we were younger. That being said, studies show that even teenagers are getting more and more stressed.
When we are stressed, a hormone called cortisol is released and long-term cortisol produces increased levels of insulin which makes our bodies produce and store more fat. More about that in the article Why Stress Make Us Fat.
These are the most common ways that Americans try to manage their stress:
- Listen to music
- Exercise: Walk, run or workout
I would like to add some other strategies that I personally use to lower my stress levels…
- Sports: Running (running guide here), home workout routines ( check our youtube channel), walking (walking guide here).
- Reading: I prefer non-fiction books.
- Meditation: During the last month I’ve been using an app called Headspace. It’s free and very easy to use. Use it to help you meditate anywhere.
- Listen to books: When my eyes are tired, listening to a fiction book while lying in bed helps to forget my tasks and problems, allowing me to lose myself in the book’s story.
- Journaling: Writing down my problems, worries, tasks and my in-the-moment thoughts helps to reduce my brain activity and improves my sleep time.
None of these “tools” are better than any other. What matters is what works best for you. The only way to find out is to experiment for several days, see which options reduce your stress levels the most, and then keep using the ones that were most effective.
None of the above “tools” will work immediately. We have been living with constant stress for years, or even decades, so don’t expect to get rid of it on the first day.
That being said, I was happily surprised by how quickly I started to see results. It’s all about the mindset, and changing the way we look at tasks, problems, worries, frustration, hunger, and life in general. It’s all about how we deal with life.
Try one of the above “tools”. Take action, be patient and allow yourself to “look” at all the thoughts that go on in your head without getting tangled. Be a watcher of your thoughts and emotions and not a participant. Don’t try to solve or avoid them; just “look” at them like you watch people walking in the streets.
9. Improve Sleep Quality Time
When we sleep well, our morning energy levels are higher, our mood is better, and we can face problems and daily tasks in a much more positive and efficient way.
When we sleep badly, we are easily irritated, more tired, more negative, we are easily depressed, and tend to collapse – mentally and physically. This situation makes us more prone to seeking comfort in food, alcohol, sex, or other kinds of addictions.
- Stick to a sleep routine: Pick a bedtime and wake-up time and, whatever happens, be consistent. No excuses; go to bed and wake up at the same time and no hitting the snooze button! Try to maintain your sleep routine during the weekends as well as the working week.
- Relaxing bedtime ritual: There was a time when I used to suffer from insomnia. To fix this problem I developed a bedtime ritual. When I go to bed, I spend a few minutes counting my breaths. I count “one” when I breathe in, and “two” when I breathe out. If a thought pops into my mind and I forget to count, I just start again. This ritual “forces” my mind to focus on counting instead of the different thoughts that would otherwise keep me awake.
- Avoid naps: If you have problems falling asleep, afternoon naps can be a trap that creates a vicious and never-ending cycle.
- Exercise: Working out is a very helpful way to reduce stress, get you tired, and get you ready to sleep like a baby. Running, walking or home workout routines are all good options.
- A good mattress and pillow: Comfort makes a huge difference to how well you will sleep. If you’re not comfortable, you’ll have a hard time falling asleep. Yes, good mattresses are expensive. but it’s a health investment that lasts for years. This was one of the biggest and best steps in my fight against insomnia. It’s a very worthwhile investment.
- Avoid using your smartphone in bed: The lights and colors will wake you up. Media pictures, text conversations, and newsfeeds can trigger curiosity and stimulate your brain which is the last thing you want if you are trying to go to sleep.
My Daily Formula
I don’t like to “sell” or recommend formulas because there is no single solution that will work for everyone. This is my formula and a like it because it works for me and, most importantly, I do it because I enjoy it. I love all the following steps.
They are not sacrifices, but they are not also “amazing” moments. Life can’t be amazing all the time. They are just simple but consistent steps that have been giving me good results in terms of weight control, boosting concentration and energy, and have helped me to reduce junk food binging.
Wake up around 7 a.m. – Do a set of exercises (push-ups or sometimes complete set of exercises like in this video, this and also this) to help me wake up and shake off any sleepiness.
Have a shower – While showering, I remind and repeat to myself all the good things I have in my life (more about that in this post).
Recently added to my morning routine: Meditate for 10 Minutes – I started using an app called Headspace about a month ago; it’s free to download and to use. I sit comfortably, plug my headphones and start my daily 10-minute meditation session. I only do ten minutes to make it sure it’s a habit I can do every day.
I skip breakfast: I do intermittent fasting almost every day (more about that here and how Intermittent Fasting helps me to burn fat here). I’ve been doing it for more than a year and it’s really helped me to lose fat and weight very easily. (I cheat once in a while but never more than twice a week).
I prepare breakfast for my girlfriend – As she wakes up, I really enjoy making her a healthy breakfast. I usually blend unsweetened almond milk and fruit to make a refreshing, delicious smoothie. (My smoothie recipes here and the blender I use and why here). I don’t eat breakfast, but I really enjoy preparing breakfast for my girlfriend.
I start work: I usually work at home.
12 p.m. My “breakfast”: This is when I break my fast. I have ripe seasonal fruit (local if possible) chopped into pieces, or sometimes I make a green juice using a slow vertical cold juicer.
1 p.m. Lunch-time: I love to have a simple raw salad for lunch, seasoned with a nice dose (30 ml) of extra virgin olive oil, salt, and vinegar. Sometimes I prepare a simple miso soup (barley miso, chive springs, and a small piece of kombu seaweed). My lunch is always very light, so I don’t feel sleepy in the afternoon.
3 p.m. Sugar cravings after lunch: If those kick in, a couple of dried figs usually do the trick (dried figs are very common in Portugal). Or I might eat some nuts and pumpkin seeds. Other times I prepare raw vegan carrot cake with no added sugar (video recipe here) or a raw vegan no added sugar brownie (video recipe here).
7 p.m. Running, walking or badminton time: I play badminton three times a week, and on the other days I go running or walking. They are nice ways to burn some energy and free my mind from troubles, emotions, and problems.
8 or 9 p.m. Dinner: Sometimes I go out with my girlfriend or friends and have dinner out. Sometimes I eat more than I know I should but that’s why Intermittent fasting helps so I can burn any extra energy from the dinner the day before. If I stay at home (like I did today) I normally have soup and some fruit.
11 p.m. Time for bed: I grab a book (right now I’m reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. You can find out more about this book at Amazon.com). I usually fall asleep by about 11.50 p.m.
These are the steps you will need to take if you want to lose that extra layer of belly fat. It’s not a one-size-fits-all formula, but a set of actions that I suggest you try so you can come up with your own personalized formula. Experimenting is the key. Good luck for your journey.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.