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5 Best Habits to Lose Belly Fat and Actually Keep it Off, Says Science

It's more of a mental battle than you'd think.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

When it comes to your weight loss goals, losing weight is only half the battle. The other half is in keeping the weight off long term, which can be a frustrating process for many. So what are the key steps in not only losing weight in a healthy way, but also keeping it off sustainably? We've done some of the hard work for you and rounded up the best habits to lose belly fat and keep the extra pounds at bay. (Of course, this comes with a caveat: Spot reduction isn't a thing, so in order to lose fat in your midsection, you'll need to lose body fat all over.)

Eating nutritious foods and leading an active lifestyle are both greatly important in healthy weight loss and trimming down excess belly fat. However, some experts are looking into the reasons why some people struggle to keep off their weight loss after all their hard work and dedication. What they've found is that you need to consistently maintain healthy habits—such as a positive mindset—in order to keep the extra pounds off.

Read on to learn more, and next up, be sure to check out 5 Easy Daily Habits To Cut Calories and Lose Weight, Expert Says.

What are the dangers of too much belly fat?

woman holding belly fat

According to Harvard Health Publishing, too much abdominal fat—aka visceral fat—can be toxic to your well-being, resulting in a number of health issues like type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Visceral fat is located deep inside your stomach; you can't pinch it, but you can see it.

Harvard Health Publishing stresses the need for consuming lean protein and complex carbohydrates, getting up and active each day, and carving out time for structured fitness. Strength training with weights is the name of the game if you want to trim excess fat. Note that although engaging in "spot exercising," like sit-ups, can make your abs tighter, this alone won't get rid of your belly bulge.

Now, let's get into the healthy habits that'll help you shrink your belly and keep the weight off.

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Limit your consumption of calorie-dense foods and sugary drinks.

woman pouring soda

We all know sweet treats and sugary drinks taste great, but they're not doing anything good for your health once consumed. A School of Public Health study stresses the importance of staying away from sugary foods, as they are linked to bigger fat deposits in your belly and surrounding your heart.

It's also important to remember that weight loss and management involve a balance of calories you take in and calories you burn. According to Harvard Health Publishing, this is an important part of the weight loss journey. Research has found that in order to truly lose weight and keep it off, you'll need to focus on spending more energy than what you take in. And while losing weight and managing your weight loss usually requires more than just this, science still points to this as a foundational tool.

Increase your consumption of fruit and vegetables.

salad with fruit, veggies, and chick peas

Making sure you get enough fruits and vegetables in your diet is important for multiple aspects of your health. For instance, the dietary fiber in fresh fruits and veggies can help you keep up a healthy weight, decrease your chance of developing diabetes and heart disease, and prevent constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A review published in Nutrients also reveals there's a positive relationship between increased vegetable intake and a reduced risk of gaining weight or obesity. Needless to say, it's time to bump up your fruits and veggies game ASAP.

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Self-reflect, and know your goals.

woman journaling in bed before going to sleep

According to Harvard Health Publishing, research confirms that some of the most effective weight loss and management strategies are related to your mindset. For example, things like self-regulation, self-moderation, and self-efficacy have high value in your weight loss journey.

According to a review published in Obesity Reviews, while things like healthy eating and exercise obviously play a role in weight loss and keeping weight off, focusing on your goals and staying internally motivated is crucial to a sustainable, long-term experience.

Be proud of yourself.

happy woman cooking in kitchen

The process of losing weight or dieting can oftentimes bring shame or guilt to many of us—especially if it's a strict diet or eating plan with heavy restrictions. Because these diets are often not sustainable, you might feel guilty or ashamed if you break them or gain the weight back.

Working to shift your mindset toward showing yourself more kindness and feeling proud of what you've accomplished is a key to healthy weight loss, and research backs this up. A study published in Obesity looked at the long-term weight loss habits of a group of individuals. A majority of the participants stayed motivated by focusing on their enhanced health and overall appearance at the lower weight they achieved.

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

girl pushing donuts away, choosing salad instead, and holding a drink

According to experts at Harvard Health Publishing, the concept of getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable can help in the weight management process. In their gathering of research, they discovered that things like sometimes feeling hungry, changing stress-eating behaviors, and sometimes resisting cravings of certain foods are all behaviors that can help lead to sustained weight management in a healthy way.

However, it's important to not get this confused with pushing yourself to an unhealthy limit. While going outside of your comfort zone and adopting new habits can be beneficial to your health, it's crucial to always listen to your body and better understand your own boundaries. You know yourself better than anyone, so trust your instinct!

A version of this story was originally published in May 2022. It has been updated to include more information.

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa