Lose the Belly Fat

November 18, 2021  
The real secret to losing belly fat, according to science. Learn six steps that actually work. 

Before I tell you how to lose belly fat, I’d like to say this: There’s nothing wrong with belly fat. In fact, in many cultures, it’s desirable to have some extra squish. Certainly, at various points in history, luscious roundness was the look. (Google “Renoir’s bathers” or “Rubens’ nudes.”)

And yet, in modern popular culture—despite some progress celebrating more diverse body shapes—we still overwhelmingly glorify the six-pack and the itty-hourglass waist. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those shapes either.) Either way, many of my clients come to me wanting to lose belly fat.

Fair warning: This story will be different than what you usually find. That’s because I’m going to give you practical, realistic, big-picture answers, and those answers might not be what you expect.

Why Belly Fat Even Matters

If you sliced someone’s belly open, you would find fat in two places; just under the surface of the skin, and deep in the abdomen.

The padding (aka fat) just under the surface of the skin is called either subcutaneous fat or peripheral fat. This is the kind you can pinch and is relatively benign

Deep in the abdomen, the fat often surrounding vital organs like the liver, stomach, and intestines is called visceral fat or central fat. This contributes to chronic inflammation, the formation of arterial plaque, and blood clots. It’s also associated with an increased risk for metabolic disorders, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Generally, if someone has more subcutaneous fat, they’ll also have more visceral fat—but not always. Occasionally a person can appear quite lean, with little subcutaneous fat, but still have higher levels of visceral fat.

Where we store fat relates to hormones, genetics, and certain medical conditions.

Things that can increase visceral fat include:

  • A higher body fat percentage: Although genetics and hormones will determine how fat is distributed, people with more body fat are more likely to have higher amounts of belly fat.
  • Being a man: Compared to premenopausal women, men are more likely to carry extra fat around their midsection. That’s because their visceral fat stores seem to absorb a greater proportion of dietary fat.
  • Being postmenopausal: Mostly due to hormonal shifts, women tend to experience a shift in body fat distribution post-menopause, with a decrease in leg fat, and an increase in abdominal fat.
  • Ageing: As fat cells age, they secrete more inflammatory factors and also get redistributed from subcutaneous stores to visceral depots.
  • Having chronically high levels of cortisol: Visceral fat soaks up and breaks down excess cortisol.
  • Having certain gene variants: Several genes have been linked to body fat distribution. While all people carry these genes, certain versions of these genes predispose a person to carry fat around their midsection, compared to their hips and legs.

We can’t do anything about our age, sex, or genes, but we do have control over a few other things, so let’s get to that.

“Belly Fat” After Pregnancy - It Might Not Be What You Think It Is

Immediately postpartum, women will lose about 6 Kilograms (bye baby, placenta, and other tissues).

After that, more weight loss may slowly occur as the uterus returns to its regular shape, and fluid levels normalise.

Many women find, however, that their bodies, especially their bellies, look different—even if they return to their pre-pregnancy weight.

This is likely because their abdominal tissue stretched to accommodate their foetus. Now it’s fluffier, and doesn’t compress tissues and fat as well as it used to.

Lingering diastases recti—a separation of the abdominal muscles—can also make the abdomen look more rounded.

(If diastases is giving you problems, see a pelvic physiotherapist. They can assess the degree of diastases, give you safe ways to move your body, potentially repair some of the abdominal separation, and improve symptoms.) Though strengthening key core muscles (like the transverse abdominis) can help both issues, it takes time.

With so many other changes going on in your life (remember sleep?), this news can be tough to take. But remember; your body just did a really amazing thing! So while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to work on your body after pregnancy, make sure you approach that work with love, compassion, and a hell a lot of high fives as each small win is celebrated.

How to Lose Belly Fat in 6 Steps

Here is the secret to achieving incredible results: you must develop the ability to apply basic (sometimes boring) healthy behaviours over and over and over again.

What I’m about to share will probably trigger your inner “I know this already” voice. You might roll your eyes and think there’s nothing new here. Nothing “cutting edge” or “sparkly.”

But, if you use these steps, you’ll see results, and be able to keep them.

1. Know Why You Want to Change Your Belly

This will help you set clear goals and stay motivated.

Maybe you’re thinking, “This is easy. I’m here because I want to lose belly fat! Step 1 is now complete!”

That won’t cut it - let’s get specific:

  • Has your doctor told you to lose weight for health reasons?
  • Are you pretty healthy, but feel like your pants are getting tighter, and you just wanna know what’s up?
  • Are you looking to get totally shredded, with visible abs?

Whatever your reasons, write them down and keep asking why you want to achieve it. For example, why do you want visible abs? Why is that important to you? Why is the answer to that question important to you? To help with this, have a read of Find Your Why.

2. Accept That There’s No Trick to Spot-Reducing Belly Fat

We all want the easy way out of stubborn problems.

Especially when life (laundry, sick relatives, rebellious toddlers, injuries, and what’s that smell in the teenagers room) feels challenging enough.

Plus, there’s no shortage of books with titles like The Belly Shrinking Diet or magazines promoting “4 Exercises to Give You Abs in 4 Weeks” to make us think that spot-reducing is not only possible, but easy!

But just like you can’t lose fat only off your left tricep, you also can’t lose it just from your belly.

Belly fat loss goes along with overall body fat loss, which usually goes along with changes to diet and exercise.

The sooner you give up on what doesn’t work, the sooner you can move on to what does!

(Note: I’m excluding surgical and pharmaceutical treatments from my strategies to lose belly fat. To date, these are the only reliable methods to “spot-reduce” fat from the abdomen. Liposuction and body contouring can surgically remove fat from the belly, and hormone replacement therapy can change how fat is distributed in the body.)

How quickly you can lose belly fat depends on how quickly you can lose fat all over your body. (As a really rough guide, to lose about 2.5 cm of fat around the waist, it takes about 2.5 Kg of overall fat loss).

3. Consume a Diet Centred Around Minimally-Processed foods.

I like to call this a Low HI (Human Intervention) diet. While there aren’t any foods that will magically shrink your belly, highly-processed, highly-palatable foods can easily derail efforts to get leaner.


They’re just really easy to overeat, and are usually high in calories and low in nutrients.

Minimally-processed foods—like lean proteins, colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds—are more satisfying, and are so much better for you.

Most people have an easier time losing fat when they consume:

  • 1-2 palms of appetite-regulating protein-rich foods (chicken, yogurt, tofu, or eggs) per meal
  • 1-2 fists of colourful veggies per meal, which helps fill you up on fewer calories
  • Fibre-rich whole grains, fruit, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Now this is a very big generalisation as specific amounts vary from one person to another, and now you’re probably thinking, “Steve, that’s not that helpful!”

You’re right, but if you are currently eating lots of processed foods, making this change will definitely help. Also have a look at my free fat loss e-course or my Metabolic Nutrition program if you want to get a more information or specific coaching.

Trans fats, an ingredient often found in processed foods, may actually cause belly fat:

In one study, rats were fed either a high saturated fat diet, or a high trans fat diet. After eight weeks, rats on the high trans fat had significantly more visceral fat, compared to the rats on the high saturated fats diet.

Trans fats are often listed as “partially hydrogenated oil” on ingredient labels, and are found in many shelf-stable baked goods, crackers, and biscuits. So try to reduce or eliminate those foods.

4. Eat Slowly, Until Satisfied

You might assume people need a strict food tracking method to start losing fat, but that’s not the case.

This is especially true when they learn to listen and respond to their internal sense of hunger and fullness, a skill known as internal appetite regulation.

By relaxing, eating slowly, and tuning into their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, most people can make phenomenal progress. This is truly a ninja skill when it comes to fat loss.

5. Find Movement That You Like

You can’t burn away belly fat with abdominal exercises or vibrating waist belts.

And while it is true that resistance training (FIRE) and short intense cardio sessions (ICE) is known to boost visceral fat loss, there’s an important caveat: they only work if you do it consistently—and long term!

In other words, one exercise-until-you-hurl session isn’t gonna flatten your belly. Neither will two. Or three. Or seven. Or fifteen.

It takes session after session after session—week after week, month after month—to see and maintain results.

So if you love ICE workouts more than ice cream, great. Keep it up.

On the other hand, if the idea of sprints and burpees makes you want to hide under the bed, know that you’ve got options—lots and lots and lots of options. Ultimately you need to exercise in a way that’s doable, pain-free, and enjoyable—because that’s the exercise you’ll do regularly.

6. Approach All of The Above With Self-Compassion (Instead of Criticism)

Self-compassion is an attitude of generosity, honesty, and kindness towards yourself. It helps you see yourself clearly, and then take steps to help yourself.

But being nice to yourself to lose belly fat? Well, it sounds like a load of crap, doesn’t it?

Research shows self-compassion is linked to healthier eating and more consistent exercise habits —as well as lower rates of anxiety and depression, less perceived stress, and greater well-being overall.

Conversely, self-criticism is linked to unhealthy eating behaviours, as well as higher rates of anxiety and depression.

So what does self-compassion look like in practice?

There are three main elements:

Mindfulness: This is when you’re aware of what you’re doing, thinking, feeling and experiencing, but you’re not judging yourself for it.

Example: “I’m feeling bad about my belly. And I notice that I also feel frustrated and impatient to change…”

Common humanity: Acknowledging that you’re not alone—that everyone goes through what you’re dealing with at some point.

Example: “That’s OK. So many people struggle with aspects of their appearance.”

Self-kindness: Being generous and decent to yourself.

Example: “Take a deep breath. This body has carried me through a lot. Maybe I can do something small to care for it right now.”

Welcome To The Journey

I just told you six ways to reduce belly fat, but they’re just the start.

A healthy body is the result of many habits that support all dimensions of your life. Habits will beat good intentions every time, so instead of trying an ‘all or nothing approach’ and getting frustrated when you don’t get the permanent result you are looking for, work on changing your poor habits into good ones, one habit at a time. Here are plenty of articles on ways to help with that.

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Want to work with me or have a chat to see if I can help you?