Three ways to reduce belly fat

Maya Aboukhater
Senior Specialist Dietitian at Cromwell Hospital
25 September 2019
Next review due September 2022

‘How can I lose belly fat?’ pulls up over two million hits on Google. It’s a hot topic that goes beyond wanting to improve appearance. A larger waist measurement can mean that you have too much visceral fat. This is the fat stored around internal organs like your liver and pancreas, which is commonly referred to as ‘belly fat’.

Whether you’re overweight or not, carrying more fat around your belly is linked to a number of serious health problems, such as:

While anyone can have this type of deep visceral fat around their inner organs, it’s important that you make some changes to get your body into a healthier place.

Is putting on weight just part of getting older?

It’s true that as we get older, we need less calories to keep our body working well. Changes to our hormones during this time mean that we start to lose muscle and gain fat. This makes it harder to keep to a healthy weight but that’s not to say it’s impossible. In fact, people who are aged 65 and over are healthier than their ancestors and are living longer.

Although you can’t escape the ageing process, when it comes to managing your weight, there are other factors that are within your control. These include your lifestyle habits, choices and behaviours (especially around diet) and how active you are.

What should I do if I’ve got excess weight round my middle?

Regardless of your height or BMI, you should aim to lose weight if:

  • you are a man with a waist measurement of 94 cm (37 inches) or more
  • you’re a woman with a waist measuring 80 cm (31.5 inches) or more

And your risk of serious health problems will greatly increase if:

  • you are a man with a waist measurement of 102 cm (40 inches),
  • you’re a woman with a waist measuring higher that 88cm (34 inches).

If your tummy weight is in the higher risk category above I would advise you to contact your GP. You might also find it helpful to contact a dietitian, who will help you to develop an individualised plan for a healthier lifestyle.

So how do I reduce my belly fat?

If you want to reduce your belly fat, you’ll need to burn more calories (energy) than you consume, and eat the right kinds of food. Here are my suggestions on what to eat.

  • Make sure you eat a balanced diet. Try to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg each day, and include higher-fibre starchy foods in meals.
  • Have some reduced-fat diary or soya drinks fortified in calcium.
  • Eat more beans, pulses, fish and eggs.
  • Eat small amounts of unsaturated oil.
  • Drink six to eight glasses of water each day.
  • Avoid adding salt or sugar to your meals. 

And finally, cut out sports drinks, sugar sweetened drinks and other foods that have a lot of added sugar in them. Be aware that low-fat options might have high amounts of added sugar in them.

Increase protein in your diet

Protein can be a helpful way to lose weight because it makes you feel fuller than carbs and fat do. So if you include a lean source of protein in your meals you may find that you’re not as hungry, and so eat less.

Make sure you include protein with each meal. Good sources include:

  • chicken breast
  • tuna
  • mackerel
  • salmon
  • eggs
  • milk

Good plant-based sources include:

  • red lentils
  • chickpeas
  • brown bread,
  • nuts
  • soya

And remember that a portion of protein is about as big as the palm of your hand.

Go for foods that are rich in protein and low in fat (known as lean protein sources) as some sources of protein can be high in saturated fat. Alternatively, there are lots of protein products on the market, such as supplements and powders, but if you decide to use these make sure you have a trained sports dietitian or nutritionist supervising your diet.

Portion sizes by Bupa - chicken

Exercise – what works best?

Any form of exercise for at least 30 minutes a day is good for you. Use every opportunity to become fit whether you are at home, at work or with friends. This could include cycling to work or getting off the bus or train one or two stops early. There are lots of types of exercise you can try. And if you’re new to or returning to exercise , it’s important to build up slowly.

But combining resistance (strength) exercise and cardiovascular exercise is ideal. Resistance exercises are a great way of helping you to maintain your muscle mass and your glucose metabolism (the way your body processes sugar and uses it for fuel), which are important for managing your weight. Resistance training has also been shown to reduce fat around your tummy area.

But, if you’re able and would like a boost for your exercise regime, I’d really recommend you do high intensity interval training (or HIIT for short). This will really get your heart rate up and burn the fat. HIIT basically means that you go all out for a short burst, followed by a lower-intensity exercise or rest – and then repeat. This form of training is good for people with very busy lifestyles as they can get similar health benefits in a shorter duration of time.

Putting it all together

A few small changes in your lifestyle can make a big difference and reduce your waist circumference. So, reduce your portion sizes, cut out sweet treats and alcohol, meet recommended guidelines for exercise, and increase your intake of fruit and veg. In addition, strength training exercises are recommended at least twice a week.

And if you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you might need to exercise more.

Even healthy people become unhealthy sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance

Maya Aboukhater
Maya Aboukhater
Senior Specialist Dietitian at Cromwell Hospital

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