Discouraged From Trying to Lose Belly Fat and Failing? Find Success With These Expert Tips

Losing belly fat can feel like such a struggle for many women (thank you, genetics, hormones, and happy hour), but even more difficult is preventing the belly fat from coming back once you've lost it. We asked registered dietitians and certified trainers to school us on the most effective ways to lose belly fat and keep it off for good!

You Have to Lose Overall Body Fat to Lose Belly Fat
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You Have to Lose Overall Body Fat to Lose Belly Fat

Many women want to spot reduce fat from their belly specifically, but exercise physiologist and NASM-certified personal trainer, Krissi Williford from Xcite Fitness told POPSUGAR, that spot reduction isn't possible. You can't do a hundred crunches every day and expect your six-pack to show. "Your best bet is to burn fat all over your body," she said. "The leaner you get, the less fat you will have on your abdominal area."

Krissi recommended that the best way to lose belly fat is to "follow a program for overall fat burning, which includes a diet of whole foods with a total calorie intake that is in a deficit for you, and muscle-building exercise (or resistance-based exercise)."

With a combination of healthy eating and exercise, both registered dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, author of The Anti-Inflammatory Kitchen Cookbook and ACE-certified trainer and weight-loss health coach Rachel MacPherson agree that you need to lose weight slowly in order to be successful at maintaining it. Aim for one to two pounds lost each week.

Keep reading to learn how to eat and exercise to reduce your overall body fat percentage, which will help you lose belly fat.

How to Eat to Lose Belly Fat
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How to Eat to Lose Belly Fat

In order to lose overall body weight, which will include belly fat, Leslie has a few eating tips that she recommends to clients:

  • Eat whole foods that are made from one ingredient, such as brown rice, fruit, sweet potatoes, and other veggies.
  • "Focus on eating lots of non-starchy veggies to help keep you full without eating too many calories," Leslie said. This includes spinach, kale, and other salad greens, bell peppers, carrots, and bok choy.
  • "Eat a lower-carb diet, not no carb — just not our typical Western excess grain diet." She recommends a diet that's 40 percent carbs, which includes veggies, fruit, whole grains, and a few fun treats mixed in.
  • "Avoid highly-processed, no-nutrition foods on a daily basis," she suggested, including refined grains and foods with lots of additives or chemicals.
  • Reduce refined sugars, and if you want to enjoy sweeteners in moderation, choose maple syrup or honey, she said.
  • Limit alcohol consumption, said registered dietitian Jessica Levings from Balanced Pantry. It "will cut out excess calories from the drinks themselves, and also from the poor food choices you're likely to make the next day," she said.
  • Have a treat every so often for balance, Leslie suggested, but choose ones that offer some health benefits such as low-sugar dark chocolate for antioxidants, or an oatmeal cookie which gives you some beneficial fiber.
  • If intermittent fasting interests you, incorporate 12:12 intermittent fasting, which means that you allow your body to digest your food for at least 12 hours overnight. Leslie said, "For a little extra boost for weight loss, aim for 14 hours. For many this is as simple as not eating after dinner, and having a little bit of a later breakfast," so for example, you'd fast from 8 p.m. until 10 a.m.
  • Use a calorie-tracking app to increase your mindfulness about what you put in your body, Leslie recommended. It can also show you how to balance your nutrient intake for the day. It can also shed some light about when you eat and if you tend to eat when you're hungry, just out of habit, or because you're bored. "Don't get caught up being specific on macros. There is no one perfect day. Do the best you can to have a higher protein, moderate fat, and lower-carb intake," Leslie said.
  • "Don't starve yourself. Starving or eating too little to 'diet' will only cause yo-yo dieting and a guilt and restriction cycle," Leslie said. Without enough food for survival (including our normal daily functions), registered dietitian Lisa Bunn, director of nutrition at the Genavix Wellness Network added that your body will send signals to conserve calories, slowing down your metabolism. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that women should eat at least 1,200 calories per day, and men should eat at least 1,800. Figure out your daily calorie needs either by meeting with a dietitian or by using this formula.
  • Krissi said that it's so important to be consistent. "Consistency with both diet and exercise trumps everything else."
How to Exercise to Lose Belly Fat
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How to Exercise to Lose Belly Fat

In Krissi's opinion, the best workouts to reduce overall body fat are "strength-based lifts and other types of resisted movement using weights, bands, and bodyweight." Total-body workouts are best where you focus on upper body, lower body, and core in each workout session. She said that you can also structure sessions to focus on certain areas like your arms, glutes, or core. If you need inspo, check out these strength training workouts.

"Work to increase your resistance or weights each week," Krissi suggested. As you get stronger you'll be able to move more resistance, and this is how you'll continue to get your muscles to respond to the exercise. Mix up the weight amount and exercises to prevent your body from adapting. Challenge yourself by learning new variations of the exercises you are currently doing, which Krissi said will increase your results.

"I recommend two to three days of full-body weight training sessions," said Rachel. "You can burn even more calories if you use one of those days as a circuit training day, pairing exercises in supersets, and limiting rest times. Always maintain form, go at a steady pace, and don't over train," Rachel said.

Don't forget about cardio! "I advise my clients to strength train three times a week and do cardio twice per week," said NASM- and ACE-certified trainer Holly Roser, "where their heart rate is elevated so it's hard to hold a conversation." Do cardio that's going to yield the highest calorie burn such as swimming, running, boxing, jumping rope, or an indoor cycling class.

"HIIT workouts are great at putting your body into an oxygen-deprived state," ISSA-certified personal trainer Jamie Hickey said, "where it will burn the highest percentage of belly fat." ACE-certified trainer John Kersbergen agreed and said, there's no need to suffer for hours at the gym. "The whole workout, including warmup, doesn't need to be more than 45 minutes to be effective." Here's a 45-minute HIIT workout you can do.

How to Keep Belly Fat Off With Your Diet
POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar

How to Keep Belly Fat Off With Your Diet

Although some people may find weight-loss success tracking calories, NASM-certified personal trainer Whitney English Tabaie, RDN, MS said you don't need to obsess over calories or macros to see results. Instead she recommended focusing on the quality of your meals and eating intuitively. "Aim to include a complex carbohydrate, plant-based protein, and healthy fat at each meal." Whitney explained that balancing your plate will ensure that you stay fuller longer and will reduce episodes of overeating, which could make you regain the weight back.

Meal prepping or food prepping can help you stay on track with healthy food choices and portion sizes, Leslie said. Make a week of overnight oats at once. Prep Buddha bowls for lunch. Prep one-pan dinners or soup freezer packs. And for your sweet tooth, make ahead healthy desserts like chocolate zucchini protein muffins.

"Finding an eating pattern that works for you and that is sustainable for your lifestyle in the long-term is the best way to lose weight and maintain weight loss," said Jessica. Working with a dietitian can help you figure out which foods you love and how to get more of the healthful options into your day.

How to Keep Belly Fat Off With Exercise
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How to Keep Belly Fat Off With Exercise

You can't expect to maintain your weight loss by going back to the old habits that made you overweight in the first place, Jamie said. She and Krissi agreed that you need to continue your exercise program and continue challenging yourself to keep your body guessing and to get stronger.

Keep up with consistent exercise by doing workouts you enjoy. Holly suggested working out with other people to keep you motivated. "We push ourselves more when we train with others, so try to get into a class or group that will encourage you to keep your workouts on track.

Remember that workouts aren't the only way to maintain weight loss with movement. Registered dietitian Emily Tills, MS, RDN, CDN said, "When you increase your NEAT (nonexercise activity thermogenesis), you can increase your overall calorie burn throughout the day without it feeling like a chore." Make a point to get up and walk around a few minutes every hour, take a walk during your lunch break, or walk up a few flights to get to the bathroom on a different floor in your office building. Wearing a fitness tracker can track your steps — see if you can get 10,000 a day.

Know What Weight Maintenance Means
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Know What Weight Maintenance Means

Krissi said to realize that weight fluctuates day to day, within about five pounds or so, and this is totally normal. Don't worry that you gained fat overnight because what you ate, how much you drank, whether or not you've gone to the bathroom, or how much you've been exercising can all affect your weight — so don't obsess about the number on the scale.

Monitor your weight by how you look and feel. Take weekly or bi-monthly pictures to ensure you're maintaining, because the scale numbers can go up, but your body could look leaner and more muscular.

Have Self-Love and Set Realistic Goals
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Have Self-Love and Set Realistic Goals

Remember that the goal of eating right and exercising is to be healthy and strong in body, mind, and spirit — not to focus solely on how you look, or how much belly fat you have. Appreciate how nourishing yourself with food makes you feel energized. Revel in the fact that working out regularly has made you stronger and more confident.

Along with self-love, make sure you're setting realistic goals. It's easy to get wrapped up in the "perfect" images we see on social media, but those photos don't tell the full story. It may not be possible for you to look like them, and that's OK! We are all on our own unique journeys, so celebrate your milestones and accomplishments and be excited with who you are and where you are on your journey to a healthier, happier you.