Overweight does not necessarily equal unhealthy.
There are actually plenty of overweight people who are in excellent health (1).
That’s because the fat under the skin is actually not that big of a problem (at least not from a health standpoint, it’s more of a cosmetic problem).
It’s the fat in the abdominal cavity, the belly fat, that causes the biggest issues (3).
If you have a lot of excess fat around your waistline, even if you’re not very heavy, then you should take some steps to get rid of it.
Belly fat is usually estimated by measuring the circumference around your waist. This can easily be done at home with a simple tape measure.
Anything above 40 inches (102 cm) in men and 35 inches (88 cm) in women, is known as abdominal obesity.
There are actually a few proven strategies that have been shown to target the fat in the belly area more than other areas of the body.
Here are 6 evidence-based ways to lose belly fat.
1. Don’t eat sugar and avoid sugar-sweetened drinks
Added sugar is very unhealthy.
Studies show that it has uniquely harmful effects on metabolic health (4).
When you eat a lot of refined sugar, the liver gets overloaded with fructose, and is forced to turn it all into fat (6).
Liquid sugar is even worse in this regard. Liquid calories don’t get “registered” by the brain in the same way as solid calories, so when you drink sugar-sweetened beverages, you end up eating more total calories (9, 10).
Studies show that sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to a 60% increased risk of obesity in children, per each daily serving (11).
Make a decision to minimize the amount of sugar in your diet, and consider completely eliminating sugary drinks.
This includes sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices and various high-sugar sports drinks.
Keep in mind that none of this applies to whole fruit, which are extremely healthy and have plenty of fiber that mitigates the negative effects of fructose.
The amount of fructose you get from fruit is negligible compared to what you get from a diet high in refined sugar.
If you want to cut back on refined sugar, then you must start reading labels. Even foods marketed as health foods can contain huge amounts of sugar.
Bottom Line: Excess sugar consumption may be the primary driver of belly fat accumulation, especially sugary beverages like soft drinks.
2. Eating more protein is a great long-term strategy to reduce belly fat
If weight loss is your goal, then adding protein is perhaps the single most effective change you can do to your diet.
There is also some evidence that protein is particularly effective against belly fat.
One study showed that the amount and quality of protein consumed was inversely related to fat in the belly. That is, people who ate more and better protein had much less belly fat (19).
Another study in Denmark showed that protein was linked to significantly reduced risk of belly fat gain over a period of 5 years (20).
This study also showed that refined carbs and oils were linked to increased amounts of belly fat, but fruits and vegetables linked to reduced amounts.
Many of the studies showing protein to be effective had protein at 25-30% of calories. That’s what you should aim for.
So make an effort to increase your intake of high-protein foods such as whole eggs, fish, seafood, legumes, nuts, meat, dairy products and some whole grains. These are the best protein sources in the diet.
If you struggle with getting enough protein in your diet, then a quality protein supplement (like whey protein) is a healthy and convenient way to boost your total intake.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, then check out this article on how to increase your protein intake.
Bottom Line: Eating enough protein is a very effective way to lose weight. Some studies suggest that protein is particularly effective against belly fat accumulation.