How to Burn Belly Fat (The Truth!)
“How to burn belly fat” is one of the most asked questions of people just getting into fitness. In fact, not counting all the different variations of that question, over 12,000 people in the US type that question into Google every month.
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as straightforward as people probably want to believe.
After all, they’ve seen copy like “fat blasting workouts!” and “fat MELTING exercises!“. The fitness industry is part of the problem. It’s helped to create the idea that fat can be zapped directly by doing “one weird thing!”
Unfortunately, if you’ve got fat on your midsection that you want to get rid of there’s no easy solution.
How Fat Loss Works
There is only one way to lose belly fat (or any kind of fat) and that is being in a calorie deficit – although there are many different methods you can use to achieve this.
There are NO special foods that “burn belly fat”. You also CANNOT target fat on any specific part of your body with specific exercises.
That’s right – nothing you eat will directly burn fat, and neither will any amount of crunches!
You just need to expend more energy than you take in – in other words, burn more calories than you eat. This idea can often send people running scared. They might be aware that they eat 2 or 3,000 calories per day. They think “there’s no way I can spend long enough on the treadmill burning that off!”
Well, there’s good news. The calories you burn in a day is made up by a lot more than what you burn exercising. There’s no need to try to outrun your fork.
You can (and should) also get into a calorie deficit through reducing the “energy in” side of the equation, as well as increasing the “energy out” side (in other words, eat less food).
Here are all the ways your body expends energy (burns calories):
Basal metabolic rate – calories you burn just by existing, these are the calories you burn every day as your body does all the necessary functions to keep itself alive – e.g. Breathing and respiration, digestion, pumping your blood, replacing cells etc. For most people this will be the largest portion of their daily calorie expenditure, unless they exercise a lot.
NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) – this is what you burn through all your daily movement that ISN’T structured exercise. NEAT is all of your daily steps, small movements like waving your hands as you talk or tapping your feet, dancing in the kitchen and doing the dishes.
EAT – this is nothing to do with eating, it actually stands for Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This refers to the calories you burn running, playing sports, lifting weights, doing a spin class, etc.
The last way you expend energy is through the Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF). This refers to the energy you expend in order to digest food. Some foods are more energy intensive to digest than others (it ranges from about 0-30% of the caloric value of the food eaten)
How to lose belly fat (actually)
When it comes to losing belly fat, you just need to be in a calorie deficit where you take in fewer calories than you burn, for long enough for your body fat levels to reduce to your desired level.
You can do this by increasing any one of the four ways you expend energy (Basal Metabolic Rate, NEAT, EAT, TEF). However, the real key is to reduce your energy intake. It’s easier to eat fewer total calories across the days/weeks to get into a calorie deficit.
- It is possible to increase your BMR by increasing the amount of lean mass you have. You do this by building muscle through strength training with correct nutrition and recovery.
- You can increase your NEAT by moving more. Go for more walks. Track your daily steps and try to beat your own records. Park in the space farthest away, take the stairs every time, do chores, cook from scratch, do some gardening, take calls on a headset and walk around whilst on them, etc.
- You can increase EAT (exercise activity thermogenesis) by exercising more. More workouts, more exercises, more sets, more cardio etc. However, don’t be tempted to do this to burn fat. It’s not necessary and you may not be prepared for the negative consequences that you likely could get. Training is a stress and elevates cortisol levels. You could end up struggling to recover, being run down and losing lean mass.
Note that none of this means you should try to get into the largest possible calorie deficit you can manage. This leads nowhere good!
What if your calorie deficit is too big?
If your calorie deficit is too big, there’ll be a range of negative consequences. These include intense hunger and cravings, loss of muscle mass, tiredness, reduced immune function and serious negative hormonal changes. If you spend too long in an aggressive calorie deficit your cortisol levels can become chronically elevated and your testosterone levels could drop through the floor.
A 20% calorie deficit is a good spot to aim for.
Keep in mind that if you reach this 20% level through a reduced calorie intake alone (which is very possible) you will then be increasing the deficit further if you add in more exercise or general daily movement.
You Must Have Patience!
Once you’re doing this and it’s working (you’re seeing consistent losses on the scales from week to week) you still have to be patient. You’re not going to notice a difference overnight.
It takes weeks to see a noticeable difference and probably months to get to the levels you desire. It might even take years if you’ve got a really significant amount of fat to lose. The time it will take to reach your goal depends on your start point and how big your calorie deficit is.
Rapid fat loss isn’t advised if it’s over a period longer than a couple of weeks (as mentioned above). You won’t be able to maintain it and you’ll likely end up in a worse position than you started in anyway. Anything up to a 20% calorie deficit is quite easily sustainable with no ill effects.
You could go for a smaller deficit and it will take longer to reach your goal, but you’ll probably find it easier to stick to the process!
If you need a plan for how to get started, I’ve got a free fat loss guide you can download here.