It's no secret that diet plays a much bigger role than exercise when it comes to weight loss, including shedding dreaded belly fat. It isn't a quick fix, though — and that's a good thing. "Simple diet swaps and exercise can take you a long way," Rebekah Blakely, a registered dietitian nutritionist for The Vitamin Shoppe, told POPSUGAR. "Things that claim to be quick fixes result in initial water weight loss, followed by muscle loss instead of fat, which makes it harder to keep the weight off."
But just as you can't target fat loss with exercise, you should expect that the weight may not come off exactly the way you'd like when you're making changes to your diet. "Most healthy diets can help you lose belly fat, but you won't only lose it from your belly, and you won't necessarily lose it from your belly first," said Lindsey Toth, MS, RD, senior dietitian for Swanson Health — your genetics dictate where you lose and gain weight. As long as you manage expectations, there are a number of foods that can help you lose reduce fat all over.
How Should You Eat to Lose Belly Fat?
If you're looking for a structured eating plan, Lindsey explained that a low-carb diet will likely be more effective for shedding fat than a low-fat diet. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who ate a healthy amount of protein, as well as more fruits and vegetables (as opposed to refined grains and starchy veggies), had a smaller waist circumference over a five-year period. "Reducing overall carb intake lowers blood sugar, which in turn reduces our insulin response," Rebekah said. "Insulin is a fat storage hormone, so the more you have circulating, the harder it is to actually burn body fat."
If you're not one to pigeon-hole yourself into a specific diet, there are a number of foods you can eat to lose fat. To start, Lindsey recommends eating 10 grams of soluble fiber a day, as research from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that doing so can significantly decrease visceral fat — the deep belly fat that surrounds your organs. You can find soluble fiber in foods like apples, oats, carrots, black beans, and avocados.
Protein is also key to helping you lose belly fat. "Protein initiates the release of satiety hormones, which help with decreasing hunger," Rebekah said. "Having adequate protein in your diet also helps maintain muscle mass during weight loss, which keeps your metabolism functioning at its best." Things like Greek yogurt, eggs, nuts, and lean poultry will keep you fuller longer and reduce how much you snack between meals. And while you're adding these power foods to your diet, keep in mind that you'll need to eliminate some empty calories to help with fat loss. This includes refined carbs and sugar, which can both contribute to weight gain.