How to get rid of belly fat: an expert’s guide

As well as the best exercises and foods to avoid.

Woman doing crunches

by Bryony Firth-bernard |

We all have our own fitness goals, but one of the most common ones for women is how to lose belly fat.

Body fat is a natural thing, we all have it and more importantly we need some as it provides cushioning around our organs. However, if we have too much of it, it can also increase the risk of health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

We spoke to Katie Higginbotham, a tutor at TRAINFITNESS, to answer all your questions around belly fat as well as how to lose it.

How long does it take to get rid of belly fat?

Woman looking at bely fat

This really depends on the individual in question and will vary from person to person.

“Factors such as age, weight, nutrition, activity levels, genetics, body composition and more all come into play, making it hard to give a one-size-fits-all answer,” says Katie.

“That said, a safe and sensible approach is again to look at NHS guidelines which recommend a safe rate for women to be 0.5 -1kg (1-2lbs) per week by sticking to a daily calorie allowance of 1400kcal per day.

“It's also important to note that "spot reduction" of fat isn't possible. People are predisposed to store fat in different areas and may find that some areas lose fat slower than others. Consistency and patience are key.”

Is diet important when it comes to getting rid of belly fat?

“Both diet and exercise are important; however, good nutrition is more important than exercise. It's possible to lose fat in a calorie deficit with good nutrition and no training, but it's very, very hard to out-exercise a bad diet.”

Not sure what a calorie deficit is? We explain it all here.

“For example, a 30-minute low-impact aerobic workout would burn around 160-200 calories (depending on body weight and fitness levels). Compare this to the following:

• Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Donut - 200 kcals

• Standard Mars Bar (51g) - 229 kcals

• Big Mac - 508 kcals

• One serving of Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough Ice Cream (100g, 1/5th of a tub) - 235 kcals

• Coca Cola (330ml) - 139 kcals

“It's incredibly easy for calories in to surpass calories out.”

What are the best exercises to get rid of belly fat?

You may think doing loads of sit-ups and planking is the way forward, but Katie says the best exercises to help you get rid of belly fat are the ones that burn the most calories.

“While many elements of health and fitness are complicated, achieving weight loss is simple; we need to burn more calories than we consume,” she says/

“Exercises that work the most muscles are the ones that burn the most calories".

Below, Katie gives some examples of calories burned in an hour for a female of 57kg (9 stone):

• Running 652 kcals

• Water polo 566 kcals

• Cycling 480 kcals

• Callisthenics 480 kcals

• Circuit training 480 kcals

• Skipping 453 kcals

• Swimming (casual) 396 kcals

• Hiking 340 kcals

Are there foods that can help you lose belly fat?

Katie advises opting for foods that will help keep you feeling full. “Aim for foods that will keep you satiated, such as foods with high protein, unsaturated fat and fibre. These will make you feel fuller for longer and reduce the chances of snacking. These types of food will release sugar into the body at a slower rate and minimise how much is stored as fat.”

Katie recommends the foods below:

• Lean meats such as turkey, salmon, oily and white fish

• Nuts and seeds

• Berries

• Fruit and vegetables (try and have a portion of veg with every meal)

Most people don't consider the thermic effect of food: how many calories are burned, digesting, absorbing and metabolising the food we eat. Protein has a much higher thermic effect than carbohydrates or fat - this means that you can burn more calories per day simply by getting a higher number of your daily calories from protein.

Foods to reduce when trying to get rid of belly fat

“Avoid foods with low nutrient quality and high sugar content,” says Katie. “If the nutrient content is low, you will miss out on many vitamins and minerals required for optimal health. Additionally, many processed foods with low nutrients can cause inflammation and damage the body.”

She therefore recommends avoiding sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks and juices. However, if eaten in moderation and within your calorie deficit, you still be able to lose body fat.

Stress less! (If possible.)

According to Katie stress plays a key element in weight loss, including losing belly fat, so if you can, try not to (although we know this is easier said than done).

“Stress causes a domino effect that knocks the endocrine system out of sync. The endocrine system controls almost every aspect of health and how the body functions. It's a delicate balance that stress can alter.

“High stress levels interfere with hormone production, affecting sleep, mood, digestion, energy levels, concentration, and more. Put simply, stress can have a hugely negative effect on how the body functions - including its fat loss potential.

“Regular sleep and exercise can be massively beneficial in correcting imbalances caused by stress, including other techniques/treatments such as counselling, yoga and meditation/mindfulness.”

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