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Ways to Target Your "Belly Fat"

The science behind blasting belly fat.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Belly fat is unhealthy—there's no two ways about it. While excess fat in general is concerning, abdominal fat is particularly dangerous and can lead to issues such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. "We found that apple-shaped persons—even if totally healthy and with a normal blood pressure—have an elevated blood pressure in their kidneys. When they are also overweight or obese, this is even worse," says Arjan Kwakernaak, MD, PhD. Worried about your belly fat? Here are five science-backed ways to target it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Do You Have 'Stress Belly'?

shred belly fat

Unmanaged stress can exacerbate belly fat—and excess belly fat leads to more stress, experts warn. "We… found that women with greater abdominal fat had more negative moods and higher levels of life stress," says Elissa S. Epel, PhD. "Greater exposure to life stress or psychological vulnerability to stress may explain their enhanced cortisol reactivity. In turn, their cortisol exposure may have led them to accumulate greater abdominal fat. These relationships likely apply to men as well. However, excess weight on men is almost always stored at the abdomen. On the contrary, in pre-menopausal women, excess weight is more often stored at the hips. Therefore, for women, it is possible that stress may influence body shape more than for men, leading to abdominal fat instead of lower body fat accumulation."


Focus On Your Sleep

woman peacefully sleeping at night in bed

Yes, it's tempting to stay up late binge-watching your favorite shows, but if you don't prioritize sleep, that belly is likely here to stay. "Our fat cells need sleep to function properly," says Matthew Brady, vice chair of the committee on Molecular Metabolism and Nutrition at the University of Chicago. "If you're sleep deprived, your brain may feel groggy, and it turns out that your fat cells also need sleep or they are metabolically groggy. When fat cells are functioning properly, they safely store fat away for future use such as when you are sleeping or exercising. Fat cells remove fatty acids and lipids from circulating in the body and damaging other tissues. But when your fat cells stop responding to insulin properly, then lipids leave the fat cells and leach out into your blood."


Clean Up Your Diet

slow aging and lose belly fat

No, you don't have to starve yourself or cut out entire food groups, but be sensible and make smart choices. "Balance, variety and moderation are still important," says psychologist and registered dietitian David Creel, PhD. "Eating lean proteins, lots of vegetables, moderate amounts of fruits, moderate amounts of whole grains and low-fat dairy, still works for the majority of people."


Move It

Tired senior woman after jogging. Tired senior woman resting after running outdoors. African female runner standing with hands on knees. Fitness sport woman resting after intensive evening run

Regular exercise is a great way to fight belly fat and improve overall health. 

"Patients want to know why they can't just do sit-ups to melt away the fat," says Dr. Creel. "When you do sit-ups, you're strengthening muscles in the abdomen, but that doesn't specifically target the fat or loose skin around our stomach. It's also important to understand that where we gain or lose fat is influenced by our genetics… Any added muscle will increase our calorie burn at rest, whereas cardiovascular exercise will give our metabolism a boost during and for a short time after exercise. Exercise may also have indirect positive benefits on weight by helping us sleep better and manage emotional eating."


Be Mindful of Sugar Intake

Coffee and Sugar Main Picture

Excess sugar consumption can lead to fat deposits around major organs, studies show. "When we consume too much sugar the excess is converted to fat and stored," says PhD student So Yun Yi. "This fat tissue located around the heart and in the abdomen releases chemicals into the body which can be harmful to health. Our results support limiting added sugar intake."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan