The excess fat in your lower belly is one of the hardest to get rid of.
That's because you can't spot reduce fat from one area of your body.
Simply, spot training is not possible.
Instead, you have to focus on overall strategies that help you lose fat all over your body including your lower belly.
This is not to say you can omit ab workouts.
They are still essential and can help strengthen the core and help your abs take shape, as you begin to get rid of your lower belly fat.
The bottom line is you shouldn't put all your efforts to eliminate fat from just one area of your body.
So no matter how many crunches and leg lifts you get done in a day, it won't help you lose fat in that area.
Your abs will get stronger, but not flatter.
With that being said, there are many effective steps you can take to fight off and get rid of your lower belly fat for good, all backed by studies.
This article is your practical guide to losing lower belly fat in 14 steps, which includes diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.
So let's begin by understanding the fat in your belly.
Understanding Your Belly Fat
- Subcutaneous fat
- Visceral Fat
When trying to lose belly fat, you are actually fighting off two types of fat, or more precisely, 2 layers of fat.
Subcutaneous fat is the fat that's directly underneath the skin (1).
The visible, pinchable fat is all subcutaneous fat.
The other fat is visceral fat.
This fat is located beneath the muscles of your stomach, around vital organs like the pancreas, liver, and intestines (2).
This inner layer fat is invisible since it's under the outer layer belly fat, subcutaneous fat.
The one you are desperately wanting to lose is the outer layer subcutaneous fat.
Aesthetically, you want to reduce your subcutaneous fat so you have the appearance of a nice, lean toned stomach.
However, visceral fat is a bigger health concern than subcutaneous fat.
Visceral fat produces excess hormones and chemicals, which negatively affect almost every living organ in your body, and increases your risk for health issues such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer (3).
This active fat is known to release cytokines that cause chronic inflammation (4).
Studies have pointed out that the following health conditions are often associated with excess visceral fat:
- Breast cancer
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s diseases
- Insulin Resistance
However to get rid of the lower belly fat and love handles, you need to fight off both layers of fat.
What Causes Belly Fat?
I know what you're probably thinking, too much eating and not enough exercising— while part of that is true, but it's not the whole story.
There are several factors that are causing your belly fat and love handles to increase.
- Poor Diet
These are just several factors that have been reported by many studies.
While some influencers such as age, gender and genetics are beyond our control, some including poor diet, sleep, and stress is something we can tackle and change.
The easiest way to lose belly fat and get rid of lower stomach fat is to manage the four internal factors.
By managing the belly fat influencers, you can lose your stomach fat and the side love handles.
With that in mind, let's discuss the 14 tips to manage the 4 "belly fat influencers" you have power over.
1. Reduce Your Stress
According to a Yale study, high-level stress may cause excess abdominal fat, even in slender women (5).
The study explains that high level of cortisol (stress hormone) can be responsible for fat storage around your midsection.
Simply put, stress formulates the perfect path way to the lower belly fat.
The more stress you have, the more cortisol you'll build up, and more fat you accumulate, especially in the belly area.
In addition to an increase of fat storage around the abdominal region, stress also drives people to eat more than they normally do.
And for most women, when the stress hits and the hunger skyrockets, they often reach out for comfort foods like fatty fries and sugary cakes.
British Nutrition Foundation calls this phenomenon "stress-induced changes in eating behavior (6).
In easier terms, we are wired to grab sugary, fatty food during cortisol surge and high-stress time.
This is true even for healthy weight women.
In fact, their study notes anywhere from 65-85% of women are at risk of stress-induced changes in eating and body weight changes.
After all, all those foods we call comfort foods truly send our brain the signal of pleasure and comfort and really comfort our brains at the time of stress.
This makes reaching for healthier alternatives really hard when everything your body is craving is fatty, sugary foods.
And this can be cyclical. Studies show women with a larger waistline is more prone to secrete cortisol at the time of stress, creating a recurring cycle (9).
This constant battle of giving in can surely lead to weight gain around the belly, let alone trimming lower belly fat.
Your Action plan: The first strategy to fight the battle of stress eating is to stay clear. keeping sugary snacks and fatty foods handy just makes the matter worse.
Instead, stock your fridge with "healthy snacks" such as Greek Yogurt, apple, hummus, cottage cheese— belly fat friendly foods.
And throw away anything you know you shouldn't be eating or snacking on constantly.
Because with "chronic stress", the chances are, you will be snacking them much more frequently than you should.
The folks at Harvard health also recommend these lower intensity exercises to reduce high cortisol levels.
Meditation // Taking a few minutes daily to meditate can reduce stress. Meditation may also benefit people in making more mindful food choices.
Exercise // High-intensity activities increase cortisol levels temporarily, but low-intensity exercise seems to reduces them according to researchers at the University of California (10).
Low-intensity exercises include yoga and tai chi.
2. Reduce Your Sugar Intake
Your body can only handle so much sugar, one to two teaspoons at a time max. Anything more than that has the potential to be converted into body fat.
Whether naturally occurred or added, sugars are carbs and listed under total carbohydrates on nutritional labels. Usually, one figure sums the total sugar content, but naturally occurring sugars and added sugars are different in nature.
Naturally occurring sugars which include fructose can be found in fruits, other plant-foods, and lactose (milk).
Added sugars include white sugar, brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, fruit nectars, fructose, and dextrose.
It's a type of sugar that gets added to a food or beverage during their preparation and processing, hence the name. It's not naturally occurred as the first type of sugar.
On nutritional labels, both sugars are listed as grams, a metric measurement of weight. And for many, this gram measurement is not familiar or easy to interpret.
That's because a more approach to measuring something of small volume in America is teaspoons or tablespoons, especially in recipes. And to determine how much sugar you are consuming throughout the day, it's important to know how to convert from grams to teaspoons.
With that, you can learn to properly manage your sugar intake.
So let's get started.
This can be a sure way to reduce your sugar intake.
- Sugars: 4 grams equal to 1 teaspoon.
Using this equation you can easily look at any food product to see how much sugar or more precisely how many teaspoons of sugar it contains.
To start, take the gram listed for one serving and divide it by four to convert to teaspoons.
The chart below shows a few examples and demonstrates how to convert the sugar content of a 20 oz sugar containing beverage. Column 1 shows the sugar in teaspoons for drinking 8 oz, column 2 shows the sugar content for 16 oz, and column 3 shows sugar for the entire 20 oz (11).
According to Rush University Medical Center, "sugar increases belly fat" and fiber reduces belly fat (12).
Sugar is one of the biggest reason people gain weight.
Sugar is made up of half glucose and half fructose, and fructose only gets metabolized by the liver (13).
With high consumption of refined sugar, the liver gets burdened with fructose and ends up turning it all into fat (14).
It's been seen by a number of studies that excess sugar, fructose, in particular, can lead to accumulation of belly fat (15).
Simply put, sugar increases belly fat and liver fat, which leads to insulin resistance and a host of metabolic problems. Many experts believe this is the primary cause of sugar's harmful effects on one's health (16).
Liquid calories are considered the worse since they don't get registered by the brain in the same way as solid calories, so when you drink sugary drinks, you end up consuming more calories without even knowing it (17, 18).
Reducing your sugar intake will not only help you lose belly fat but also your bodyweight as well.
But please note that none of this applies to the whole, fresh fruits.
Though fruits contain sugar, they are considered extremely healthy as their high fiber content mitigates the negative effects of fructose.
Moreover, the level of fructose you find in fruits is a fraction of what you see in sugary products.
Your Action plan: Start reading nutrition facts and labels to understand how much sugar food contains. Be sure to use the chart above to see how many teaspoons of sugar are in each product. This will help you be more mindful of how much sugar you're taking in daily. Cutting back on refined sugar may help reduce your belly fat.
3. Add More Fiber to Your Diet
It is well known that high fiber diet can help with weight loss.
This is true, but unfortunately, dietary fiber in the average Americans diet today is at an all-time low, with less than three percent of Americans meeting their recommended daily fiber intake (19).
That is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men a day (20).
This is equivalent to eating one cup of raspberries (8 grams of fiber), one cup of blackberries (7.6 grams of fiber) or 1 cup of lentils or black beans, and you'll be well over your dietary fiber intake for the day.
Of course, this is just one example of fiber rich foods, but there are tons of other high-fiber foods you can eat.
But just keep in mind that not all fiber foods are created equal.
Soluble fiber seems to have the greatest impact on your weight and belly fat.
Soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a gel like texture that helps slow down food as it passes through your digestive system.
Soluble fiber may also help decrease the number of calories your body absorbs from food (23).
In addition to helping you lose weight, soluble fiber may help you lose your belly fat, especially the dangerous visceral abdominal fat that wraps around your internal organs.
An observational study of 339 African Americans and 775 Hispanic Americans ranging from age 18-81 years found that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber intake, belly fat gain decreased by 3.7% over a 5-year period (24).
It seems eating a high fiber diet can help decrease your abdominal fat.
If you want to get rid of your belly fat including the fat in your lower belly, make an effort to consume high-fiber foods every day.
Soluble fiber can be found in foods such as flaxseeds, Brussels sprouts, avocados, legumes, and blackberries.
Just 1 cup of cooked lentils contains 16 grams of dietary fiber, which is 63% of your daily recommended value, and 18 grams of high-quality protein.
4. Eat More Protein to Lose Belly Fat
But that's not all what protein is good for.
Evidence shows that protein is also particularly good for fighting off belly fat.
One study shows that protein consumption has an inverse relationship with excess belly fat. That is people who ate more and better protein had much less abdominal fat (30).
One Denmark study shows protein's direct link to a reduced risk of belly fat gain over a 5-year period (31).
Also, as it turns out, the "best diet to lose belly fat" may be a high protein diet.
A great starting point for an "ideal protein diet" is to include proteins that make up 25 to 30% of total calories.
Make an effort to include proteins in every meal.
Protein doesn't have to be meat based. Plant protein is a great protein source with fewer fats and near zero cholesterol.
5. Eat Healthy Fats
It may sound counterintuitive to eat fat to lose fat, but adding healthy fats like coconut oil to your meals is in fact pretty effective and helpful in losing abdominal fat.
The effectiveness can even magnify when you replace harmful, unhealthy fats with good ones.
For example, fats like trans fats, known as partially hydrogenated fats often found in margarine and spreads are your belly fat villain. In animal testings, a 33% belly fat gain was seen in animals on a high trans fat diet compared to the ones on a diet high in monounsaturated fats (32).
Trans fats have also been named as a cause of insulin resistance, heart diseases, and belly fat gain in animal studies. Needless to say, it's best to be avoided and replaced with their healthier counterparts (33, 34, 35).
The best result has been seen when 2 tablespoons or 30ml of coconut oil are taken daily.
6. Drink Water Regularly
Water is a missing puzzle piece for many people when trying to lose belly fat, and it's essential you drink plenty of water daily.
There are several reasons for this, and one is your cells need to be well hydrated to burn fat, and dehydration can be stall the process.
The second reason is its positive effect on daily total calorie consumption.
One study reported having a few glasses of water prior to a meal can lower your calorie intake by up to 75 calories a meal by expanding one's stomach and providing satiety (40).
Ditching sodas for water can also contribute to belly fat reduction by slashing 300-400 calories a day from sugary drinks.
For maximum benefits, keep yourself hydrated with water throughout the day and be sure to have a glass before starting a meal.
7. Drink Lemon Water
Love drinking juice? It's one habit you need to be prepared to toss to reduce your abdominal fat.
This is, in fact, no surprise considering lemon is a popular weight loss food with soluble pectin fiber that is known to bring satiety by expanding in your stomach (42).
Lemons, mostly made up of soluble fiber are also effective in improving gut health, slowing the digestion and starches (43).
These effects are believed to aid in blood sugar management and help with weight loss and fat loss which includes your belly fat.
8. Take Apple Cider Vinegar
And having a tablespoon a day can be effective for your belly fat loss too (45).
In another 12-week study done on obese men, 1.4 cm or half an inch of reduction in waists was seen as a result of daily apple cider vinegar consumption (45).
For best results, take 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar a day for your abdominal fat loss.
9. Do Aerobic Exercises
Aerobic exercise is best known for burning calories, helping people to lose weight fast, and improving your heart health.
But did you know cardio is also one of the most effective forms of exercise to losing belly fat?
According to a new study, the best type of exercise to burn unhealthy belly fat is aerobic exercise (49).
In their 8-month study, participants who performed aerobics reduced 2.5 square inches of their belly fat, a greater fat loss than those who combined aerobics with weight lifting.
The effectiveness of aerobic exercise for losing belly fat, particularly visceral fat is also cited by a few other sources. But what we don't know conclusively yet is whether moderate or high-intensity cardio brings better results (50, 51, 52).
More research is to come out in this area.
Another variable proven to be critical in exercise for fat loss is how often and how much you exercise. In short, it's consistency that seems to bring the most success to belly fat reduction and loss of total body fat.
A case study that involved postmenopausal women saw success in fat loss from all areas with 300-minute per week cardio versus recommended 150 minutes per week (53).
So if belly fat loss is your aim, let's dive into a workout you can get started today. To starter, give this 21-minute cardio workout a try.
10. Do Resistance Training
Based on the findings in the earlier sections, cardio benefits for belly fat, you can be doubtful of the effectiveness of resistance training including weight lifting and strength training for fat loss, but don't underestimate their training.
According to studies in people diagnosed of pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease, resistance training, is still needed and effective in fighting your abdominal obesity and melting belly fat, especially the dangerous visceral fat (54, 55).
This benefit was visible in a study in overweight teenagers who lost the greatest amount of visceral fat by incorporating both resistance training and cardio in their exercise regimens (56).
11. Get More Sleep
A long study involving 68,000 women shows those who sleep 7 hours or more at night is less likely to gain weight than those sleep for 5 hours or less (59).
Those with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea are also more prone to gaining visceral fat (60).
To prevent any weight gain and waist expansion, aim at least 7 hours of sleep at night, and speak with your doctor with any sleep issues.
12. Try Intermittent Fasting
Think of intermittent fasting as a short-term, temporary fasting if you are not familiar.
It's more of an eating schedule that gives your tummy a break from eating in the 24-hour period.
The actual pattern seems to vary per programs, but typical ones involve 16 hours of fasting a day, leaving you the rest of 8 hours to consume food.
In some studies, intermittent fasting has shown 4-7 % decrease in belly fat within 6-24 weeks (61).
This is a more advanced technique and may require more careful planning, but for the easiest application, you can set your first meal at 11 am and last meal at 7 pm, leaving you the recommended 16 hours to empty out your stomach.
The theory behind it is that emptying your stomach and depriving of the main energy source for a period of time has your body seeks out an alternative or secondary energy source, which is stored fat.
It's as simple as this; the more fat your body utilizes and burns, more fat loss results you see.
If you'd like to read up on it, here is a more in-depth article I did a while back on intermittent fasting. Check it out. How Intermittent Fasting Helps You Lose Weight and Belly Fat.
13. Drink Green Tea
Matcha is a trending word that makes a regular appearance on medical magazines to Starbucks menus today for its health benefits.
And of course, matcha is a traditional Japanese word for their be-loved health drink, green tea.
Over the years, green tea has spread and attracted devoted fans across the world and is growing without boundaries.
Unlike many popular health trends, green tea's popularity is not just a hype or without basis. It's a solid drink with powerful health benefits like boosting metabolism and decreasing body fat.
To make a matter simple and cover the bases, make it a habit to have a glass or cup of green tea after each workout. According to science, it'll be helpful in reducing your belly fat.
14. Change Your Lifestyle
Since a good friend tells it like it is, here we go.
Be ready to change your ways and adopt at least few to see any change in your belly fat. Just doing one thing from the list won't quite cut it and bring any visible and measurable result you want to see.
And for that, you need to combine different methods and penetrate the efforts, and that's what ultimately brings real fat loss success.
And interestingly, many on the list are changes often recommended for general weight loss. Healthy eating, workouts, and sleep are and should be part of healthy living and better weight management.
So what ultimately comes down to is you changing your lifestyle for the better and for belly fat reduction.
When you live a healthier life, results like fat loss follow as a natural effect.
Take Home Message
There you have it!
14 tips for losing your lower belly fat and love handles. Losing belly fat is not as difficult as it may seem.
It just takes some planning. Just doing simple things like drinking water before meals, reducing your stress levels, and eating healthier foods can help you lose weight in your belly naturally.
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