Nothing ruins your hot outfit more than a muffin top peaking over the band of your skinny jeans. You could go the starvation or supplement route in hopes of losing the subcutaneous and visceral fat that makes your belly bulge, but chances are these methods will fail you in the long run. Natural methods to reduce belly fat are safest and more likely to keep you slim. Subcutaneous fat lies just underneath the skin, while visceral fat rests around the internal organs, potentially causing health problems. You can tackle both with similar exercise and eating strategies.
Commit to at least five days per week of cardiovascular exercise, such as jogging, cycling, dance class or another format that gets your heart rate pumping and your breath coming faster.
Make three of your five weekly cardio sessions vigorous, working at or greater than your lactate threshold -- the place where you feel quite breathless and uncomfortable. Do the other two sessions at a lower, more comfortable intensity. Aim to burn 400 calories in each session, regardless of the intensity. A study published in the November 2008 edition of "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" found that this combination of intensity lead to greater visceral and subcutaneous fat loss than performing all low-intensity exercise.
Include three sessions of total-body strength training weekly along with the cardio exercise. A study published in the "Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science" published in 2003 determined that women lost more visceral and subcutaneous fat when performing both cardio and strength training each week. Do at least one set of an exercise for every major muscle group, including the hips, legs, abdominals, chest, back, arms and shoulders. Make each set contain eight to 12 repetitions and use resistance that makes you feel fatigued by the last one or two repetitions.
Reduce your daily calorie intake below your burn rate. Create this calorie deficit to help you lose weight. You can't target your belly for weight loss, but when you lose weight all over, your belly is one of the places most likely to shrink, according to Harvard Health Publications. Aim for a 500-calorie deficit per day for a 1-pound-per-week loss.
Include more whole grains and leafy greens. Fill up your plate half with plain, watery vegetables and reserve a quarter each for whole grains and lean protein. Whole-grain intake correlates with lower amounts of visceral belly fat, found a study published in a 2010 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." Eat leafy greens to fill you up with minimal calories.
Lay off the added sugars, refined flours and saturated and trans fats. Consume fewer of these foods that provide lots of extra calories with minimal nutrition.
Reduce stress in your life. Take yoga and meditate to reduce the production of hormones, such as cortisol, which encourages the storage of belly fat. Delegate duties at work and at home to further de-stress.
Sleep seven to nine hours per night. Too little sleep can raise your production of hunger hormones and cause stress.
Stop smoking to reduce visceral fat. A study published in "The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine" in 2006 listed smoking as a risk factor for accumulation of visceral fat, causing an increase in incidences of metabolic syndrome -- a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition
- Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science: The Effect of Combined Aerobic and Resistance Exercise...
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- Shape: Ask the Diet Doctor: Is Diet or Exercise Best for Losing Belly Fat?
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Whole- and Refined-Grain Intakes are Differentially Associated with Abdominal Visceral and Subcutaneous Adiposity in Healthy Adults: The Framingham Heart Study
- National Sleep Foundation: Diet, Exercise and Sleep
- The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine: Smoking as a Risk Factor for Visceral Fat Accumulation in Japanese Men
- Chicago Association of Nutrition and Dietetics: Stress, Sleep, & Stubborn Belly Fat: The Cycle That’s Eating Us All
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.