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5 Essential Tips For Losing Belly Fat, According To Personal Trainers

It’s not easy to target belly fat, but these personal trainers help us get it done.

Originally Published: 
A man doing squats to lose belly fat while working out at home.
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If you ask 10 people about their health and fitness goals, five will probably mention losing belly fat. But getting rid of belly fat is about so much more than how you look. Excess belly fat poses a serious risk to your health.

After all, the fat in your midsection doesn’t just sit under the surface — it builds up around your internal organs. And it doesn’t just sit there. Belly fat releases immune system chemicals called cytokines, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other health issues, including diabetes and even some types of cancer. One Oxford study found, for example, that each additional inch of fat around the stomach increases a person’s relative risk of heart failure by 11%.

The first step in losing belly fat is acknowledging that you can’t spot target fat loss on specific parts of the body. The only way to lose belly fat is to lose fat everywhere — with nutrition and exercise. But there are ways to tailor your diet and exercise routine to be more (or should we say less?) belly fat friendly. The crucial point is to not treat losing belly fat as something you do for a short period of time. This is a lifelong fight — and therefore you need to find exercise and diet habits that you can stick to, incorporate in your life, and, dare we say, enjoy.

To help us get there, Fatherly spoke with Julia Schaefer, owner of Aspire Athletics gym and Evie Ray, owner of JAKTMuscle Training Facility — two veterans in the fitness industry for their best tips on fighting belly fat.

1. Prioritize Compound Strength Exercises

Moving your body more is critical to losing fat. And although there’s no exercises that can melt away belly fat in particular as opposed to other fat in the body, some exercises offer more bang for your buck when it comes to burning calories and losing fat.

Julia Schaefer, personal trainer and owner of Aspire Athletics gym in Seattle, Washington, prioritizes compound strength exercises that work more than one muscle group at a time, like squats or deadlifts. “Compound movements recruit the entire body, maximizing calorie burn over time.” Building a routine full of compound strength exercises will help you get in a full-body workout in less time, leading to more calories burned and more fat lost — because the more muscle groups worked by a single exercise, the better for burning fat.

Some compound strength exercises include squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, push-ups, cleans, and push presses.

2. Use Cardio to Accelerate Fat Loss

Compound movements aren’t the only exercises you should include in your workout routine. Evie Ray, master trainer and owner of JAKTMuscle Training Facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, emphasizes the value of cardio workouts in addition to weightlifting. “I recommend higher intensity or interval cardio to lose body fat while conserving muscle mass,” she says.

HIIT (high-intensity interval training) increases your metabolic rate more than many forms of steady-state exercise, meaning you burn more calories long after your workout is over. This is commonly referred to as the “afterburn” effect.

Interval training workouts are typically shorter than steady-state cardio while including bouts of rest and recovery, which helps preserve muscle mass.

Schaefer agrees, “Cardio can be an amazing tool for fat loss and body recomposition. HIIT tends to have the largest payoff for myself and clients.”

To make your cardio work for your fitness goals, push yourself outside of your cardio comfort zone for 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. Whether running, biking, swimming, or something else entirely, cardio should be challenging enough that you can’t go much longer by the time you finish your high-intensity workout or your interval for HIIT.

3. Keep Nutrition Simple

There are a million and one fad diets that proponents claim lead to miracle fat loss. They’re fads for a reason, though. You don’t need to follow any nutrition trend to hit your health and fitness goals, Schaefer says. “There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.” So don’t get caught up in complicated diets like Keto or intermittent fasting.

Rather, focus on the basic principles of healthy nutrition: Eat a balanced diet with complex carbs, fruits, veggies, lean protein, and healthy fats from vegetable oils or fish oils. Limit processed foods and added sugars. Consume less calories than the number you burn each day to lose weight. Additionally, Schaefer recommends aiming for meals spaced three to five hours apart throughout the day and including at least a serving of vegetables with two of those meals.

For fat loss, “keep your protein intake high,” Rays says. Most research suggests eating 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day is ideal. Choose lean protein sources such as fish, egg whites, white meat poultry, and tofu when possible. Protein shakes can also help you hit your protein goals when you don’t have access to whole foods or time to cook.

Because every individual is unique — with different genetics, lifestyles, and circumstances — the ideal protocol for fat loss will look different from one person to another. You may have to use some trial and error to determine what feels right and works for you.

Still, the principles are simple. Don’t get overwhelmed with specific, niche advice that might not work for you. Instead, Schaefer recommends tracking your food for three to five days to understand your eating habits and patterns better. From there, you can start to make changes to your diet.

4. Mitigate Stress With More Sleep

People often think that their health comes down to two main factors: diet and exercise. And although both are essential for weight loss, you shouldn’t overlook sleep and stress.

Research shows insufficient sleep is associated with a higher body mass index (BMI), obesity, and poor eating habits. A lack of sleep compromises the body’s ability to regulate hormones that control metabolism. Feeling groggy also hurts your ability to make healthy food choices by lowering your self-control. Several studies show that sleep deprivation makes people more likely to choose higher-calorie foods with more sugar and fat than when they’re fully rested. In other words, you’re sabotaging your fat loss efforts if you’re not getting enough sleep.

As Ray puts it, “Your body can’t continue to run well for you if you are not taking care of its basic needs.” Strive for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Better sleep also helps relieve stress, which facilitates fat loss. Poor sleep habits spike cortisol levels, a stress hormone that tells the body to conserve energy, ultimately leading it to retain more fat.

5. Ditch Motivation And Create New Habits

Many people believe their motivation and willpower are enough to reach their goals. But the truth is: Motivation alone doesn’t work. In Schaefer’s experience, “Motivation will come and go, but the habits you put time and energy into creating will keep you chugging forward.”

Her biggest tip? “Set little benchmarks along the way to stay motivated. Consistency is key. Building habits is key.” Even if your main goal is to lose belly fat, Schaefer recommends setting strength goals such as lifting an additional five pounds each week — and celebrating those achievements when you hit them. Celebrate other achievements during your journey, too, like having more energy, getting better sleep, or experiencing fewer cravings.

You need a one-day-at-a-time approach to build habits that will set you up for long-term success. Focus on small practices and pick one or two to work on weekly. For example, start with a goal of drinking half your body weight in ounces of water every day. After staying consistent for a week, focus on adding veggies to dinner every night. Don’t take on more than you can handle at one time, or else you’ll end up frustrated and discouraged.

Ray offers similar advice: “Don’t look at the end goal. Instead, learn to enjoy the process and all the small goals you hit along the way. Above all, you need consistency in your plan and the patience to see it through.”

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