These Dietary and Exercise Tweaks May Help You Lose Abdominal Fat — and Improve Your Overall Health

If you're looking to build abdominal strength and lose abdominal fat consider these expert-approved diet and exercise tips.

Woman Doing Side Plank
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Fat can be found in almost any part of your body—and despite what social media may make you believe, it's a totally normal part of human anatomy and is nothing to be ashamed of.

But some folks, for a plethora of reasons, may be looking to lose fat in certain areas, such as the abdomen, where excess fat tends to accumulate when estrogen levels begin to decline in one's 40s, says Steven R. Smith, M.D., the senior vice president and chief scientific officer at Advent Health Research Institute. "This fat is often just a redistribution of fat to the abdomen rather than a gain in total fat."

Again, your body—and abdomen, in particular—doesn't need to change if you feel comfortable, healthy, and your best. But if you're thinking about trying to lose abdominal fat, consider these expert tips first. (And, of course, speak with a healthcare provider before adopting any of these practices.)

What Is Abdominal Fat?

Essentially, abdominal fat takes two major forms: subcutaneous fat (the visible kind just below the skin) and visceral fat (the kind embedded deep within your abdomen that wraps around the organs clustered there). Though the first kind of fat is easier to see, the latter kind generally poses a greater health risk because of where it sits in the body. With fat, it's all about location, and each fat "depot" has a highly specialized function. "We used to think all fat was created equal, that it was just a storage bin for excess calories," says Elizabeth Ricanati, M.D., a consultant to the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. "But that's not true."

Fat, like muscle, is now known to be metabolically active. It produces dozens of chemicals, including hormones that signal to the brain that someone is hungry or satisfied. "Indeed, we now think of fat tissue depots as endocrine organs," says diabetes researcher Philipp Scherer, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Texas.

In other words, fat releases hormones that vary depending on where it's located. For example, research suggests that the hormones produced by fat in the thighs may provide a health benefit. "We don't know all the details, but it is clear that the fat in the hips, and particularly in the thighs, protects against some of the health consequences of obesity, such as diabetes, by producing substances that increase insulin sensitivity," says Dr. Smith.

Visceral fat, on the other hand, is known to produce inflammatory agents that can, over time, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colorectal cancers. (These 15 foods might help combat that inflammation.)

How to Lose Abdominal Fat Through Diet

First things first, know that you can't strategically lose weight around just your abdomen (or any part of the body for that matter), and there aren't any magic foods that help you lose abdominal fat specifically, Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., told Shape. Instead, focus on simply losing weight overall. One study linked following a calorie-restricted diet for 16 weeks to a reduction in body weight and subcutaneous and intra-abdominal fat, but calories aren't everything. So if tracking your calorie intake isn't your jam, consider trying these strategies to achieve your goals.

Stay Hydrated

When you sip on water (or any fluid, for that matter), your stomach expands, and specific neurons that detect stretching in the organ tell your brain that you're full, Jennifer McDaniel, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D., a registered dietitian nutritionist and the owner of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy, previously told Shape. Consequently, when you drink water before a meal, you could experience fullness cues sooner, she says. In turn, you may not consume as much during your meal, which may contribute to overall weight loss.

Munch On Healthy Snacks

Eating small portions of healthy snacks throughout the day can keep you from becoming hangry and help you potentially lose weight, and in turn, abdominal fat. Munching on healthy snacks may help curb your appetite, which can prevent overeating at the next meal, as well as provide you with essential nutrients to keep your body functioning properly, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Eat Fiber-Rich Foods

Noshing on fiber can help increase your metabolic rate. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who substituted high-fiber grains for refined grains had a higher resting metabolic rate, which means they burned more calories throughout the day. Try incorporating fiber-rich foods and snacks into your diet to score that benefit and then some.

How to Lose Abdominal Fat Through Exercise

Along with tweaking your diet, switching up your exercise routine could help you reach your health goals and lose abdominal fat. Consider these tips when planning out your workout program.

Take Walks

In addition to providing mental health benefits, walking can do your physical health some good—including strengthening your joints and muscles. Plus, a small study found that folks who walked three times a week for 50 to 70 minutes for 12 weeks experienced significant reductions in both subcutaneous and visceral fat.

Don't have that much time available all at once? According to fitness experts, bouts of exercise as short as 1 minute each can still be beneficial. Just make sure to hit the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity daily.

Perform HIIT Workouts

After you've finished a high-intensity interval training (aka HIIT) workout, your body will continue to use calories, thanks to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. After the workout, your body requires more oxygen to restore itself to homeostasis—your body's normal, resting metabolic state—so you're also using more energy (read: burning more calories) to get the job done, according to the University of New Mexico.

Plus, HIIT workouts offer some extra perks, A small 2019 study found that folks who performed interval exercises had greater EPOC than those who did steady-state exercise. Burning calories through physical activity can create a calorie deficit that may result in weight loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Do Resistance Training

Along with strengthening your bones and defining your muscles, lifting weights can increase your lean body mass, which increases the number of overall calories you burn during the day, Jacque Crockford, C.S.C.S., spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, previously told Shape. Aim to strength train for at least 30 minutes two to three times a week and switch up lower- and upper-body exercises.

Try Core-Strengthening Exercises

Remember: It's impossible to target your abdomen for weight loss, so performing countless crunches won't get you very far in your journey. "Crunches work only the muscles on the front and sides of your abdomen, but it's important to target all the muscles of the core to get more defined abs—including lower back, hips, and upper thighs," says Lou Schuler, co-author of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs.

To build a strong core and potentially lose abdominal fat, Schuler recommends these core stabilization exercises based on a training program devised by co-author and personal trainer Alwyn Cosgrove. "Core exercises like the plank help train muscles to stabilize the spine and pelvis so you can avoid back pain and improve posture," says Schuler. "Planks also burn more calories than crunches because they work more muscles."

Try these three plank exercises from The New Rules of Lifting for Abs and you'll be on your way to a stronger core.

Side Plank

This move is more challenging than a traditional plank because you're supporting your entire body weight on two points of contact instead of four. As a result, you'll need to work your core harder to stay stabilized.

A. Lie on left side of body with elbow directly beneath shoulder and legs stacked. Place right hand on left shoulder or on right hip.

B. Brace abs and lift hips off the floor to balance on forearm and feet. Body should form a diagonal line. To make the move more challenging, raise right arm toward the ceiling and lift right leg in the air.

Hold for 30 to 45 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

(If you can't hold that long, stay up as long as you can and then repeat until you've held for 30 seconds total.)



This advanced plank exercise involves full-body movement, such as using the arms and legs, while incorporating resistance to strengthen your entire core. To make it more challenging, do one push-up before you walk back to standing.

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands at sides. Hinge at the hips to fold forward, reaching palms to the floor (bending knees if necessary).

B. Keeping core tight and legs straight, walk hands forward to come to a high plank position.

C. Roll back onto toes and bend knees while walking hands back towards the feet. Roll up one vertebra at a time to return to the starting position. That's one rep.

Do 10 to 12 reps.

Alligator Drag

This plank uses your entire core to keep your body stabilized and burns additional calories by adding movement (dragging yourself along the floor). It mixes cardio, stability, and strength training all into one exercise.

A. Find a stretch of floor that allows you to go forward 10 to 20 yards and grab anything that will slide over the surface with minimal friction. Dinner plates or plastic bags work on a carpeted floor, while towels work on wood or tile.

B. Start in push-up position with feet on the slides, towels, or plates.

C. Walk forward with hands to the end of the runway (aim for at least 10 yards). Rest for 60 to 90 seconds (or as long as you need to recover) and repeat the alligator walk back to the starting position. That's one set.

Do 2 sets.

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