I have this fantasy where I eat pizza and Salt & Straw Chocolate Gooey Brownie for every meal but also have abs. I'm not talking, like, a six-pack, but just some nice abdominal definition. (You'd think I'd go all out since this is a fantasy version of myself, but IDK. I'm sure there's something to unpack there.)
While there are probably some people who actually can munch on pizza all the time and somehow manage to look like one of the Amazon warriors from Wonder Woman, that's just not the case for most of us. That's because belly fat is notoriously difficult to get rid of, and lower belly fat can be particularly frustrating. Sometimes I feel like no matter how clean I eat or how many crunches I do, that fat at the lower end of my abdomen just isn't going to go away. Like Winter in 2018 or millennial pink. Unfortunately, while there's no way to spot-reduce fat from certain areas, there are some diet and exercise changes you can make to help reduce fat overall.
I consulted Josh Gallegos, trainer to WWE superstars, and Whitney English, MS, RDN, CPT of Whitney E. RD. Here are their best tips for reducing lower belly fat. And no, crunches are not on the agenda.
So, What's Up With Belly Fat?
The fat around your abdomen is also known as visceral fat, and there are many components that factor into the amount of this type of fat a person has. "Everyone gains weight differently, and this is mainly a factor of genetics. However, a high consumption of alcohol and refined sugar have been associated with increased abdominal adiposity or 'visceral fat,'" English said. High amounts of abdominal fat have been linked to medical issues like metabolic syndrome and PCOS. "Remember though, we're talking about a high amount of abdominal fat, not a minimal amount of midsection softness that some people are worried about for aesthetic reasons," she clarified.
Look to Your Diet
The saying "abs are made in the kitchen" is surprisingly accurate. So is the phrase "you can't outrun a bad diet." Because they really are, and you really can't.
"There aren't specific foods that contribute to fat loss around the midsection specifically, but high-fiber foods will assist with fat loss overall by helping to maintain a steady blood sugar level and control your appetite," English said. "High-fiber diets are also associated with less abdominal adiposity." She recommends incorporating quinoa, sprouted grain bread, lentils, and leafy green veggies in your diet as much as possible. "Including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet will also help provide the body with phytochemicals, which can fight inflammation associated with body fat," she added. In essence: aim for a balanced diet that includes fiber-rich complex carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats.
Another key component: water. "Make sure you're hydrating appropriately," English said. "Dehydration can contribute to bloating as the body holds on to excess water. This can make you feel puffy around the midsection."
Exercises That Can Help Reduce Belly Fat
"On top of eating well, high-intensity interval training is key," Gallegos said. HIIT has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce belly fat.
He recommends trying a Tabata workout of jumping rope. (For the uninitiated, Tabata is a terrible/great workout where you complete 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest for eight rounds.) For this, he says your core has to be engaged and it works most of your muscle groups. "And the best part is you can do it anywhere," Gallegos said.
And we're sorry to tell you this, but he says to do more burpees. "Everyone hates them," he acknowledged, but they're great for conditioning. "In HIIT, it's the perfect way to keep your heart rate up."
Lastly, Gallegos says to try a couplet (aka two movements back to back) of ab exercises. "Good ole fashioned sit-ups (butterfly style) and Russian twists with weights will blast both your abdominal muscles and obliques in a short period of time," he said.
At the end of the day, though, English wants us to remember to keep things in perspective: "A little softness around the stomach is perfectly normal and determined mainly by genetics — six-packs are not the norm!" she said. "Embrace your beautiful bod for what it is." I'll raise a slice of pizza to that.