When it comes to excess weight, "how to lose belly fat" is up there as one of the most common questions. The unfortunate thing is that belly fat is one of the most stubborn areas to target. But that excess belly fat or muffin top might be detrimental to your health. According to doctors, one of the worst places your body can store fat is your midsection; that stubborn section of belly fat carries a strong risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and more—all things serious enough to make us take pause before our next Ocado order.
And what's more frustrating is that women hang onto more belly fat than men and find it harder to lose it: "Women have up to nine times more alpha adrenergic receptors in their fat cells compared to men, and oestrogen increases their activity," says Rhian Stephenson, nutritionist and CEO of Psycle. These alpha-adrenergic receptors slow down fat release, which is essentially what makes some patches of fat more stubborn than others. "While elevated cortisol [the stress hormone] is one the main culprits for fat storage around the midsection," he adds.
In order to truly burn fat, you'll need to squeeze in some quality cardio time at the gym and lift some heavy weights to build muscle (muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle you have the more of a fat-burning furnace you'll become!). You also need to manage your stress levels (more on that later). There are some super-quick and easy ways you can jump-start the process, though—namely your diet. We asked various health professionals—Rhian Stephenson; Elissa el Hadj, founder of Form Studio; Alexandra Samit, Be Well health coach at Dr. Lipman's Eleven Eleven Wellness Center; and Nicole Granato, a women's health specialist—for the simple things we can be doing now to keep the annoying fat away from our midsections later (and forever).
A spoonful of MCT oil makes the fat go down is what we'll be singing to ourselves as we add a spoonful of MCT oil to our morning smoothies. What is MCT oil exactly? According to Samit, medium-chain triglycerides are a unique form of fat that requires less energy and fewer enzymes to be digested.
"As a result, they are readily available sources of energy, leading to an increase in metabolism and providing quick energy replenishment," she says. And unlike other dietary fats, MCTs don't get stored as fat in the body—rather, they get burned for energy. This study found that over a 12-week period, subjects who got MCT oil lost about two pounds more than the control group. Add a tablespoon to your morning smoothie for a fat-burning boost.
According to el Hadj, incorporating thermogenic foods into your diet can "contribute to approximately 10% of your daily calorie burning capability by simply speeding up the metabolism." Thermogenic foods raise the body's temperature, and for the body to get warmer it needs to use energy (or calories).
And what's even better is that these foods are probably already in your kitchen: cayenne pepper, black pepper, green tea, turmeric, ginger and lean proteins like turkey. Stephenson does warn that you need to make sure the rest of your lifestyle isn't out of kilter: "Adding in turkey won't have nearly as significant an impact if you're someone who sleeps for four hours a night or drinks excessively."
I know, I know; we're like a broken record. But drinking water is a cheap and effective way to stave off hunger, and since abs are made in the kitchen, reducing your calorie intake will get you results. "Drink copious amounts of filtered water throughout the day to encourage elimination and to induce a feeling of fullness," says el Hadj. Bored of water? Try adding in citrus fruits, berries or mint leaves into this Urban Outfitters Pink Fruit Infuser Water Bottle (£12) to add some flavour without the calories.
Beyond MCT oil, Granato says to add whole foods full of healthy fats to your diet—think avocados, sweet potatoes, beans, legumes, nuts and oily fish (like salmon). "Healthy fats are essential when trying to lose weight, especially in the stomach region," she says. "Your body needs protein and fats to function at its best. When we do not give our bodies the proper amount of carbohydrates and healthy fats, it begins to find them from a secondary source, like our muscles."
A few well-chosen supplements can really help to blitz that stubborn belly fat caused by elevated cortisol. "Dr. Wilson's Adrenal C Formula (£34) is a good all-around support, and then single herbal tinctures can be highly effective. I like Siberian ginseng, tulsi, rhodiola and liquorice root. A good-quality fish oil combined with CLA has also been shown to favourably affect the storage of body fat," says Stephenson.
We’re carb lovers through and through—but it’s time we swapped our white bread for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, black rice, and barley. According to Granato, removing refined grains from your diet and subbing in whole grains will help reduce belly fat, as well as fight inflammation and prevent heart disease. “Studies show that eating a whole grain diet can greatly reduce belly fat,” she promises. “Feeding your body with whole foods is essential to preventing snacking and bouts of hunger.”
Sauerkraut haters, it’s time to tell your taste buds to get over themselves. Samit recommends eating sauerkraut by the spoonful if losing weight in your belly region is a goal. “A happy gut is a happy life,” she says. “The bacteria in your gut can affect your metabolism.” Along with taking a daily probiotic, she recommends adding in foods that naturally contain probiotics like sauerkraut, kimchi, or bone broth. (Another side effect of taking probiotics? Glowing skin.)
Apple Cider Vinegar
Finally, watch your stress levels. You can make all these dietary changes, but if you're highly strung with work, no matter how much sauerkraut you chow down on, it won't make a difference to your belly fat. A little stress, however, is totally normal. A rise in cortisol (the stress hormone) is what helps us get out of bed in the mornings! "It's when cortisol is perpetually elevated (or completely exhausted) that it becomes a problem," says Stephenson.
"A mixture of strength training and cardio will help reduce body fat; and if you're extremely stressed, yoga will be incredibly beneficial as well. If you're someone who is running on cortisol, it's important to look at your day as a whole to see what you can do to dampen the spikes. Coffee first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will definitely contribute to the overload, as will only doing extremely intense forms of exercise, not eating after a workout and being chronically sleep deprived," she adds.
Opening Image: Stocksy/T-Rex & Flower