If you tend to gain weight in your midsection and no amount of crunches seems to reduce your belly fat, you're in the company of millions of (frustrated) women. As many of us have learned the hard way, belly fat is a particularly stubborn area of the body. But don't despair just yet — losing that weight in a healthy manner and keeping it off is possible. The most effective way to reduce belly fat is to do so naturally, which requires a multipronged approach.
Of course, diet and exercise are natural ways to lose weight, so those techniques should remain top priorities. But there are also lifestyle changes and adjustments that can be made that will help you get rid of that belly fat naturally. Here are the experts' recommendations for how to tackle the aforementioned multipronged approach to losing belly fat.
Taylor Pontikos, IIN nutrition coach and coach at BoxUnion Studio, told POPSUGAR that sugar and carbs are major culprits when it comes to belly fat. "Carbs turn into sugars when they're processed in the body," she explained. "Unless you're burning off those sugars right after you eat them, they are stored in the body as fat. And for most of us, our belly is where we store unwanted fat."
Joseph Sudimack, physical therapy technology program director at Carrington College, said we should be eating small, nutrient-dense meals throughout the day. "These meals should include all the colors of the rainbow, which will help us ingest all the nutrients our bodies need to function," Sudimack said. Eating small meals throughout the day allows our bodies to effectively utilize nutrients rather than storing them.
"If we only eat once a day, our bodies go into starvation mode and attempt to store as much as possible, since our bodies do not know when it will receive nutrients again," Sudimack explained. Although his advice is to eat often, the major caveat is that we need to be aware of the calories we're ingesting and the calories we're expending each day. If you ingest 2,000 calories per day and expend only 1,500, you'll gain one pound per week. Conversely, if you eat 1,500 calories each day and expend 2,000, you'll lose one pound per week.
"Knowing the amount of calories that your body needs to function properly and how many calories you are expending each day can help you lose belly fat," Sudimack said.
Finally, make sure you're drinking plenty of water. Pontikos told POPSUGAR that ideally, you should drink at least half your bodyweight in ounces of water each day — it's how your body flushes out fat, including that dreaded belly fat.
Contrary to what many of us have spent our lives believing, crunches aren't the solution to burning belly fat. But exercise is a crucial aspect of losing belly fat naturally. Yoga isn't necessarily the first form of fitness that comes to mind for getting rid of belly fat, but yoga instructor David Rachford explained why integrating it into your routine will be beneficial.
"Hormone regulation and optimization is the reason why yoga works so well," Rachford explained, noting that it's also a great practice for strengthening muscles and bones. The fact that yoga has been scientifically proven to reduce stress also plays a major role. "The stress hormone cortisol is linked to increases in belly fat," Rachford told POPSUGAR. "Yoga practice, particularly breathing through the nose, or Ujjaii breath, reduces cortisol, and yoga has been proven to reduce stress."
Sudimack said we should all exercise daily. Depending on your routine and preferences, exercise can be done all at once or be broken up throughout the day. "For example, if you go on three 10-minute walks or runs a day, that equals 30 minutes of total exercise for that day. If you do this every day, you are exercising for over three hours a week, which can help you lose belly fat," he said. This is also true of "resistance-based exercises," such as dumbbells, barbells, and resistance bands, as well as aerobic equipment workouts on treadmills, ellipticals, StairMasters, and upper-body ergometers.
The other natural techniques for getting rid of belly fat involve lifestyle changes. Health coach Sai Aparajitha Gopalakrishnan told POPSUGAR that her biggest tip for losing weight and belly fat isn't related to diet or exercise — it's to lower your stress levels. "Stress releases cortisol, which promotes fat storage, especially around the belly area," Gopalakrishnan explained. "It's our bodies' way of making easy energy accessible for us for any panic- or anxiety-provoking situations."
She also advised against any form of restrictive dieting, noting that this in itself can cause stress and result in binge eating — which is, of course, exactly what we're trying to avoid. "When they veer even a little bit off their diet plan, women berate themselves and go on an even more restrictive diet, which is stressful for the body," Gopalakrishnan said. "In dieting so restrictively, they start having cravings and end up binging on the very same foods — usually junk food like chips and sweets — that they tried so hard to avoid in the first place."
Gopalakrishnan's net advice is to be kind to ourselves and engage in self-care, because these tactics ultimately result in the loss of weight and belly fat. "While we certainly can't spot reduce our belly fat with either exercise or diet, just giving ourselves a break, relaxing, sleeping well, and being more self-compassionate can help us reduce belly fat," she said.
Getting enough sleep is another natural way to lose belly fat. "If you don't sleep, your hormones do not function properly," Vyda Bielkus, expert yoga teacher, Health Yoga Life coach, and cofounder of Health Yoga Life, told POPSUGAR. She recommended an easy breathing technique to lull yourself to sleep. "Simply close off the right nostril with your index finger and breathe in and out of your left nostril only. You'll be hitting zzz-land in no time," Bielkus said.
Be patient with yourself, and remember that belly fat won't disappear overnight or immediately after you integrate these techniques into your routine. Think of all these tips — including diet and exercise — as lifestyle changes that will make you an overall healthier person in addition to getting rid of that stubborn belly fat.