Nutrition

8 Things You Must Know Before Trying to Lose Belly Fat, Say Dietitians — Eat This Not That

If you are on a weight loss journey, you may notice that belly fat is notoriously difficult to lose. While the pounds may be shedding from your face, arms, and other body parts, the weight around your tummy may be holding on. So why is losing belly fat so hard?! There are four specific reasons.

“First, your stomach has a higher concentration of ‘beta’ fat cells, which don’t respond as easily to the fat-breakdown process,” says Cory Ruth, MS, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist, women’s health expert, and CEO of The Women’s Dietitian. “Second, the stress hormone cortisol (pandemic, I’m looking at you) is linked to storing fat around your midsection. Third, high levels of insulin tell your body to pack on pounds around your stomach. Lastly, genetics can play a role in where you store fat on your body, which may mean more belly fat.”

If you’re struggling to lose belly fat, or looking to start a journey to lose more belly fat, there are a few things you should keep in mind that may help you drop those pounds, according to dietitians. Here are 8 pieces of advice they hope you follow. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.

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“Crunches and sit-ups are great for toning and building abdominal strength, but these exercises don’t necessarily burn belly fat,” says Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, registered dietitian, and owner of the food blog Stirlist. “Instead, focus on decreasing overall calories and increasing your physical activity.”

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“Elevated levels of insulin (which can come from a carb-heavy, protein, and fiber-lacking diet) encourage more fat accumulation around your belly,” says Ruth. “Including more protein and fiber in your diet (and including complex carbs in moderation) can help turn the insulin-fat-gain-train around.”

RELATED: Surefire Ways to Lower Your Blood Sugar, Say Dietitians

High fiber breakfast whole grain oatmeal with fresh berries nuts and seeds
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“Eating a diet rich in fiber is essential to our overall health, and is often the missing piece when it comes to weight loss. Dietary fiber helps people maintain and even lose weight,” says Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Fiber keeps you full for longer, adds bulk to the digestive tract so you can have regular bowel movements and feelings of satiety, and provides you with a steady release of energy over time (it’s digested at a slower rate than foods low in dietary fiber). You don’t need to take a fiber supplement or eat foods fortified with fiber. It’s best to get fiber from REAL foods naturally rich in dietary fiber. Those foods are fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains like oats, barley, quinoa, whole wheat bread.”

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“Alcoholic beverages can increase belly fat or make it difficult to decrease belly fat if you’re overconsuming,” says Pankonin. “It’s also important to consider the foods that are often paired with alcohol, like fried foods. So being more mindful of beverage choices might also influence food choices as well.”

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“If you’re eating healthy, exercising regularly, and managing your stress well, but not making time to get enough sleep you could be compromising your health (and belly fat) more than you think,” says Ehsani.

“Getting enough sleep every night—at least seven hours per day—is essential for overall health and can help you lose undesired weight. The problem is, when we don’t sleep enough, our hormones that regulate hunger get thrown off, and we crave simple energy which comes in the form of sweets, treats, and sugary beverages. We are more likely to crave and reach for a quick pick me up of a sweetened latte, or cookie or potato chips. We know these foods are typically high in calories, sugars, fat and don’t provide us with much nutrition, making it difficult to lose belly fat.”

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“It works because inflammation and stress often go hand in hand. When stress levels are high, this can increase cortisol levels which can increase your appetite,” says Pankonin. “By learning to manage stress levels, this can help you manage multiple areas in your life including your food and beverage choices.”

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Protein is an essential food group we need every day, however a lot of people tend to eat small amounts of protein at breakfast and lunch, and then a big serving at dinner time. It’s best to space out protein and have high-quality sources all throughout the day. Protein takes longer to digest, keeps your blood sugar stable, provides you with feelings of satiety (fullness) which makes you less likely to overeat at each meal,” says Ehsani.

“You also don’t need to eat an animal source of protein at each meal to get enough protein. You can get protein from vegetarian sources too. Good sources of protein are Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, seeds, nut butters, eggs, tofu, seitan, tempeh, beans, legumes, whole grains like quinoa, wild rice, buckwheat, barley, oats.”

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“Water is essential to our health and making sure we are drinking enough of it each day can be challenging for some people. The goal is at least 64 ounces, or 8 cups, a day,” says Ehsani. “If you forget to drink, set alarms on your phone to remind you or calendar notifications. Drinking enough water each day is a simple habit that can greatly assist those struggling to lose belly fat. If we aren’t drinking enough water we could be compensating by eating too much at meals, mistaking hunger for thirst.”

While there’s no one answer for why belly fat is difficult to lose, you may feel discouraged if you’re having a harder time losing it.

“Every person is very unique. So if you’re needing some extra support, working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to figure out what health and nutrition habits need to be addressed will help you lose undesired belly fat,” says Ehsani.

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