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The ‘Skinny’ On Belly Fat & How To Loose It

While a six-pack is definitely out of the reach for most of us, a flatter stomach is certainly achievable with a bit of work and know-how.

We have several types of body fat: brown, white, subcutaneous and visceral. Belly or abdominal fat is composed of both subcutaneous and visceral fats. While having some body fat is healthy and indeed necessary for life, excess abdominal fat is associated with insulin resistance, which increases the risk of diabetes. It can also negatively affect blood lipids, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. [1]

How much belly fat is too much?

The simplest way to check for abdominal fat is to measure your waist. According to guidelines, women and men with a waist circumference above 88cm and 102cm, respectively, are at a substantially increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. [2]

The relationship between waist circumference and health risk varies by ethnic group. So, for example, in Asian women and men, a waist circumference above 80cm and 90cm, respectively, is considered a substantial health risk. [2]

Losing weight around your stomach

We all know that weight gain occurs when we regularly eat more calories than we use. Over time, that excess energy is stored as body fat. We also know that in order to lose weight, we should be eating less and exercising more.

When you lose weight, you’re losing white fat. People tend to lose white fat evenly all over. However, if you add workouts to your calorie reduction regime, you will tend to lose slightly more visceral fat from your belly.

Therefore, the starting point for combating abdominal fat is a regular moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes per day. Strength training may also help fight abdominal fat. In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism [3], suggests that combining cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise with resistance training is more effective than cardiovascular training alone in getting rid of abdominal fat. Although spot exercising, such as doing sit-ups, can help tighten abdominal muscles, it won’t actually get rid of visceral fat.

Diet is also important. You should reduce portion size and emphasize complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits and vegetables) and lean protein over refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta, and sugary drinks. Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats can also help. And reducing alcohol consumption, a potential contributor to abdominal obesity particularly in men [4], will help cut down excess calories. However, drastically cutting calories is not a good idea, as this can force the body into starvation mode, slowing metabolism and causing it to store more fat later on.

Sounds easy? Well, the fact is that getting rid of the fat stored around the belly isn’t an easy task. For many people, it seems that it is the last place in the body they lose excess weight from. So, if shrinking the size of your stomach is your ultimate goal, you may have to be prepared to put in some extra work.

Experts believe that, in order to lose our belly fat, we should be considering other factors outside of diet and exercise, such as our sleeping habits and stress levels.

Research has shown that getting the right amount of sleep can help ward off belly fat. In one study, people who slept for 7-8 hours every night gained significantly less visceral fat over the course of six years than those who slept less than 6 hours or more than 8 hours per night. [5]

Stress is a threat to the waistline at five different levels: it interferes with sleep, increases appetite and cravings for sugary foods while decreasing willpower, reduces metabolism [6] and bolsters fat storage. An additional benefit to exercising moderately is that it reduces stress and insulin levels, which in turn reduces the presence of cortisol, the stress hormone that leads to more belly fat deposits.

The Bottom Line

If you want to win the fight against belly fat you must tackle it on all fronts: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, get adequate sleep and learn to relax!

You can learn more in our interactive online Nutrition and Weight Management course here

Written by Victoria Trowse.


1. Poehlman, E. (1998). Abdominal obesity: the metabolic multi risk factor. Journal of Coronary Heart Disease 9: 469–471.

2. Why is my waist size important?

3. Arciero, P J & Gentile, C L. (2006). Increased dietary protein and combined high intensity aerobic and resistance exercise improves body fat distribution and cardiovascular risk factors. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

4. Schröder, H. (2007). Relationship of abdominal obesity with alcohol consumption at population scale. European Journal of Nutrition, 46 (7): 369-376.

5. Chaput, J P, Bouchard, C, Tremblay, A. (2014). Change in sleep duration and visceral fat accumulation over 6 years in adults. Obesity (Silver Spring). 22(5): E9-12.

6. Kiecolt-Glaser, JK, et al. (2014). Daily Stressors, Past Depression, and Metabolic Responses to High-Fat Meals: A Novel Path to Obesity. In Press.