Best Eating Habits for Faster Abdominal Fat Loss, Say Experts
If the headline caught your eye, you're going to love what Steve Theunissen, RDN, has to say about key eating practices to achieve a flatter belly. He says: You should enjoy eating what you're eating, it shouldn't cost you more than you can afford, and it should be a plan that's simple enough to follow your entire life.
"Instead of going on a diet, try to change your eating patterns," says Theunissen, owner of Smart Fitness Results.
Oh, and Theunissen wants to make something clear about specifically targeting abdominal fat. You can't.
"When you reduce fat, it gets cut from all parts of your body and not just the belly," he says. "Your thighs, arms, waist, and even your face will show the effects of fat loss."
If you're looking for speedy results, "I'd highly advise intermittent fasting," he says. Intermittent fasting is limiting your eating to a defined window of time. "It cuts fat tremendously from all parts of your body, including your abdomen."
Meanwhile, you can try these other habits for quick belt-tightening, according to experts. Then, for details, read Ways Fasting Can Help You Lose Weight.
Eat the right breakfast.
Recent research has called into question the long-held belief that eating breakfast is a reliable weight-loss strategy. But many nutrition experts still advise clients not to skip the morning meal but focus on eating healthy foods that promote weight loss.
"It's not just about getting enough calories, but also about getting the right kind," says Reda Elmardi, RD, a certified strength and conditioning specialist for The Gym Goat. "Studies have shown that people who eat a high-fiber breakfast tend to have lower a BMI (body mass index) than people who skip breakfast."
Get in the habit of eating high-fiber cold cereal or hot oatmeal—both are good sources of fiber.
Another food that battles belly fat is protein. A 2020 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health compared two common breakfast types: eggs and toast versus bran cereal with sugar, milk, and orange juice. Both types of breakfasts were consumed by the same group of 50 overweight but healthy people on two different days.
The researchers found that the protein-rich egg breakfast improved satiety following the meal. The participants consumed less food at lunch and dinner following the egg breakfast than they did after the sugary breakfast cereal meal.
Identify your real hunger.
One of the most effective ways to get rid of belly fat is by getting into the habit of eating to satisfy hunger rather than out of habit, eating because you're anxious or depressed, or eating because, well, you're actually not hungry but thirsty.
"About 75% of people have their thirst and hunger mechanism confused," says Bess Berger, RDN, who specializes in women struggling with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) at Nutrition by Bess. "That means sometimes when they think they're hungry, they're really just thirsty, but end up eating more. If we make sure we are adequately hydrated, we can end up consuming less when we are actually hungry."
Eat home-cooked meals.
When you cook your own meals at home, you should automatically eat healthier simply because restaurant meals are typically very heavy in extra calories, carbs, fat, and sodium—all nouns synonymous with unhealthy eating. By cooking, you naturally prepare foods more mindfully. And it's easier to get in the habit of avoiding unhealthy fats like refined oils, junk food, chips, cookies, and other packaged snacks that are loaded with preservatives, says Theunissen.
Drink less to eat less.
It's not an eating habit per se but it influences your eating habits. Making a habit of avoiding daily drinking of alcohol can help you significantly reduce belly fat.
Why? "Drinking beer, wine or cocktails consistently will cause the alcohol to absorb and be quickly converted into fat, which tends to deposit in your abdomen," says Juliana Tamayo, a nutritionist with FitnessClone.
What's more, when you drink alcohol, you're not only getting calories from the beverage but often you are consuming more energy-dense foods like pizza, chips, Buffalo wings, and cheeseburgers. Even if you don't drink alcohol, watch the number of calories you consume from beverages. They can be sneaky. Instead, make a habit of choosing water, fruit-infused waters, and unsweetened iced tea as your go-to zero-calorie beverages.
Eat after exercising.
David Brendan, RDN and certified personal trainer with StartRowing, is another advocate of intermittent fasting for speeding up fat loss. He recommends a 16-hour fast and scheduling a resistance training workout at the tail end, sometime between the 13th and 16th hour of the fast before eating. That habit will accelerate fat burn, he says. After the fast and exercise session, your body is ready to use that fuel.
"You must also stay hydrated with water to the point where your urine is clear," he says.
Good hydration is critical to a body that functions properly, which includes burning fat efficiently.
Follow a realistic eating plan.
Everybody is different. What works for one person, may not work for another when it comes to losing weight. But a few things are consistent across the board, says Johna Burdeos, RD, LC, CNSC.
"For weight loss, slow and steady and setting realistic goals wins the race," says Burdeos.
Because so many of us need help sticking to a plan, she says teaming up with a dietitian may be your best bet.
"Work with a registered dietitian who will collaborate with you on a tailored diet plan that you can actually live with long-term," she says.
Color your plate.
You've heard this advice a zillion times, but are you doing it? Find out the next time you sit down for a meal and check your plate. Does it resemble Monet's The Artist's Garden at Argenteuil? In other words, is it full of color?
"Half of your plate should be filled with nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables," says Burdeos. These foods should also be your primary snacks along with nuts. "They confer many important health benefits regardless of if you are trying to lose weight or not."
Because fruits and vegetables are typically low in calories, they reduce or prevent you from consuming extra calories in between meals that are normally stored as fat deposits, says Daniel Boyer, MD, of the Farr Institute, a research organization supporting public health.
"Additionally, consuming foods that enhance metabolism like mineral-rich foods, ginger, and legumes may also create calorie deficit, an important factor needed for proper weight management," says Boyer.
Add non-starchy vegetables.
If you make a habit of adding non-starchy vegetables to every meal and every snack you eat, you will automatically increase your fiber intake and lose body fat, says Blanca Garcia, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist with HealthCanal. "Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that does not digest and is not absorbed; it works as the broom of the intestines," she says. "This allows for your body to not absorb all available carbs, protein, and fats that can contribute to abdominal weight."
Fiber also contributes to a healthy diversity of bacteria in the gut, which reduces inflammation and helps combat obesity. If you believe it's difficult to get more fiber into your daily diet, you haven't read our story, Popular Foods with More Fiber Than Oatmeal.