Losing belly fat is a popular physique goal; it seems an elusive 6 pack is what many people want. However, getting a flat stomach takes more than doing some abdominal exercises every day. Although there is no magic formula or guaranteed timeline, following these simple steps can help you reach the goal of getting a flat stomach.
What to eat
Don’t expect to get a flat stomach by eating whatever you want. Losing belly fat means taking in less calories than you’re expending. Non-processed whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy should make up the diet when trying to flatten the stomach.
Cut out junk food like chips, cookies, crackers and baked goods, as these foods are a source of empty calories. Trimming excess calories, even if it’s a small amount, is needed for fat loss. Getting a flat belly means shedding extra fat around the mid-section, and that won’t happen unless the body burns the fat for energy.
Avoid going long gaps without eating and eating a large meal at one time. Long gaps in between meals and then eating a large meal can increase the body’s tendency for fat storage. See also: Is it bad to only eat once a day?
Cut out sugar
As mentioned, excess calories can hamper efforts for flattening the stomach. Extra sugar in particular can promote fat storage. Cutting out extra sugar is important for any weight loss efforts, and maybe especially important for cutting down belly fat.
Once sugar is in the blood stream, the hormone insulin is released to bring sugar into the body cells so they can use it for energy or storage.
Sugar can hide in many foods, especially sweetened beverages. Other hidden food sources of sugar include some breads, sauces, dressings and packaged, prepared meals. Check food labels and ingredient lists for hidden sugar before purchasing food or beverages.
Lower salt intake
Too much salt can cause bloating in the body, and could cause excess stomach bloating. Most Americans get too much sodium, and sodium is used widely as a food preservative in processed foods. (See also: 5 simple ways to reduce sodium intake)
Fast food, canned soups, frozen dinners, soy sauce, pizza or other food from restaurants all contain high levels of sodium and could be a source of stomach bloating. To offset bloating from too much sodium, eating or drinking foods high in potassium could help.
Sodium and potassium help control fluid balance in the body, and potassium can help draw excess water, from bloating, into body cells. Foods high in potassium include fruits, vegetables and dairy.
Watch alcohol intake
Alcohol in moderation has been shown in many research studies to have potential health benefits. However, alcohol in excess can have negative health effects and is an excess source of calories.
Researchers from a 2010 study from JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed data from healthy women, average age about 39 years, for about 13 years. Their results found women who drank light to moderate alcohol levels were associated with less weight gain and a lower risk of obesity compared to women who did not drink. However, this does not mean the more alcohol, the better weight control.
Other research studies have shown alcohol in excess may increase risk for obesity and fat accumulation, especially around the belly. Someone wanting to flatten the belly should cut down on excess alcohol intake. Moderate alcohol intake is considered 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks a day for men according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Increase calorie burn
The way to cut down belly fat is to increase calorie burn through exercise. Strengthening core muscles is important for muscle definition, but cardio exercise will burn extra fat. The CDC suggests adults get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise and muscle strengthening exercises 2 days a week.
However, in order to flatten the stomach, more exercise may be needed.
Of course the other ingredient to getting a flat stomach is to strengthen the stomach muscles. It doesn’t mean if you start doing core strength work your stomach will automatically flatten. But, over time with cardio exercise, core strength exercises will develop muscles and help flatten the core.
Consistency is key
The right diet, reduced calorie intake, cutting sugar, limiting extra salt, reducing excess alcohol intake and the right types of exercise are all needed for flattening the stomach. Results may not come right away, and the key to success is to be consistent with efforts no matter if you see results or not.
Weight loss doesn’t always fit into a magic formula, but these steps can help to flatten the core area over time. For additional resources and help, talk to a health or exercise science professional.
References used in this article