Forget about counting calories -- with some healthy lifestyle changes, you can whittle your waistline without a formal diet. While eating right is still a must, you don't need to rule out entire food groups or follow a strict regimen for a smaller tummy. That said, not every body type can get a completely flat stomach because of genetics -- aim for a healthy, trim figure, but not perfection.
Get your cardio on five days per week for 30 to 60 minutes per session. To shrink your belly, you must lose total fat, which requires burning more calories than you eat. Walking briskly is fine, but more vigorous exercises such as jogging, swimming laps or jumping rope are even better.
Include high-intensity intervals in your cardio routine twice a week to burn more belly fat all day long, suggests the American Council on Exercise. For example, walk or jog at a casual pace for three minutes and then run at 80 to 95 percent of maximum effort for one minute. Repeat the cycle for five total high-intensity intervals.
Fit in strength training three times per week. For example, work your chest and back on day one, your legs, hips and abs on day two and your shoulders and arms on day three. There's no need to leave the house if you prefer body-weight moves like pushups and crunches; if you love the gym, hit the selectorized machines or free weights.
Chill out with daily relaxation exercises. Fighting anxiety reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to excess visceral fat around the abdominal organs. MayoClinic.com recommends relaxing all of the muscles in your body, one by one, from your toes to your face.Other options include yoga and meditation.
Skip trans fats, often labelled as hydrogenated vegetable oils, as well as foods sweetened with glucose. Both of these contribute to visceral fat, according to Harvard Medical School.
Munch on calcium-rich fare, which Harvard claims may reduce visceral fat levels, meaning the type of fat immediately under the skin. High-calcium options include fortified cereals, nonfat yogurt and bone-in sardines.
Control portion sizes to avoid overeating -- they could be smaller than you think. One cup of milk or yogurt, 3 ounces of fish, half-cup of cooked pasta or 3/4 cup of cold cereal equals a serving.
Skimp on sodium -- high doses can lead to temporary water weight, bloating your belly. Most healthy young women should get less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour
- American Council on Exercise: High-Intensity Interval Training
- ExRx.net: 3 Day Split Workout
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- US Department of Agriculture: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16
- MayoClinic.com: Relaxation Techniques: Try These Steps to Reduce Stress
- Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center: Sodium (Chloride)
- Warm up for at least five minutes before workouts.
- See your doctor if you're new to exercise or have any health conditions.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.