Belly fat is an arch enemy for men and women alike. It tends to get worse with age, under stress, with a diet high in processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle. The good news is there are many effective strategies for achieving the tight tummy you’ve always wanted, and some of them might surprise you.
Visceral Fat 101
Visceral fat is fat that surrounds your internal organs and is concentrated around the belly. Interestingly, this type of belly fat is not only prevalent in overweight individuals, it’s also completely possible to be “skinny fat,” meaning that while you appear thin, you still have a lot of visceral fat.
Fat around the midsection has been shown to be more dangerous than the more visible fat that lies just under the skin, called subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat has been associated with multiple health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and more.
The major takeaway is that striving for a tight stomach does a lot more for your health than just improve your outer appearance, it can also reduce your risk of chronic diseases and even help you to live a longer, healthier life.
Without further ado, here are the top 20 ways to get a tight stomach and optimize your health:
1. Cut Back on Refined Carbs and Sugars
The first item on the list (and the most important) is omitting or at the very least cutting way back on refined carbohydrates and processed sugars. Refined sugar is linked with increased body fat, and particularly with dangerous visceral fat.
Processed sugars and refined carbs lurk in commercially prepared baked goods like cookies and cakes, candy, sodas, fruit juices and anything else made with white flour and white sugar. The simple truth is that it’s impossible to exercise your way to a tight stomach if you continuing eating these types of foods.
If cooking at home is new or feels overwhelming, I highly recommend that my clients invest in an Instant Pot Ultra, as this makes meal prep incredibly quick and simple.
2. Eat Whole Foods From Nature
On the flip side, replace those processed foods high in carbs and sugars with real, whole foods that come from nature as much as possible. This means veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes, healthy oils and fats, moderate amounts of meat, dairy and eggs.
These types of foods don’t have long ingredient lists with hard-to-pronounce names, and the body is more able to digest them and assimilate their nutrients. While there is not one-size-fits-all approach to diet, everyone who wants a tight stomach should be eating a largely plant-based, whole foods diet.
3. Fill Half of Your Plate with Veggies
Shoot for at least half of each plate filled with veggies. Fruit can definitely be a regular in your diet as well, but try to make your veggie to fruit ratio heavier on the veggies. Vegetables provide the raw nutritional materials to a lean and healthy body, not to mention their high fiber content helps to keep you full and control cravings.
Be especially sure to include dark, leafy greens every day such as kale, chard, arugula, lettuce, spinach, bok choy and more. Alongside these super-greens, add in a colorful variety of veggies every day. The brighter the colors, the more antioxidants your body is benefiting from.
4. Get More Fiber
Since we’re on the topic of veggies, it’s worth noting the profound importance of fiber for a tight tummy! Especially soluble fiber slows the digestion of foods and absorbs water, going a long way in controlling appetite and cravings. This type of fiber has also been directly linked to decreased visceral fat. Excellent sources of soluble fiber include avocado, flax and chia seeds, oatmeal, berries and legumes.
5. Eat Good Fats, Especially Olive Oil
Contrary to popular believe, plenty of healthy fats are key for a tight stomach and less visceral fat. Particularly monounsaturated fatty acids from olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds have been shown to prevent the accumulation of excess stomach fat.
6. Get Adequate Protein
Protein is an important macronutrient for weight loss and a tight tummy. It keeps you full, maintains muscle mass and has even been directly linked to decreased belly fat. If you’re an omnivore, go for the highest quality meats, fish and eggs possible, and for purely plant-based eaters opt for moderate servings of whole grains and legumes, nuts, seeds, nutritional yeast and plant-based protein powders.
7. Manage Your Stress
Back to those pesky stress hormones, but stress management really can’t be overemphasized in turning your body into a fat burning machine. High stress levels and weight loss completely butt heads on a physiological level, and it’s an uphill battle that you won’t win. If you know you’re under a lot of chronic stress, think of ways to incorporate some self-care into your daily routine. Meditation, deep breathing, gentle yoga, walks, talking with friends, epsom salt baths or any other practice that brings you a little bit of peace.
8. Move Your Body Daily
Exercise doesn’t have to be nearly as complicated as we make it. For a tight tummy and increased overall health, simply shoot to move your body as much as possible every day, at least 30 minutes per day. Find types of movement that you love such as dancing, yoga, pilates, chasing your kids around, walking the dog at a brisk pace or anything else you enjoy and fits into your daily routines.
9. Strength Train
Strength training is an important component to getting a tight stomach, but you don’t necessarily need a gym membership. Simply incorporating bodyweight strength exercises at home a few times a week can make a big difference in both decreased belly fat and overall strength, not to mention resistance work is important for injury prevention.
If you want to add weight without going to the gym, consider purchasing a set of adjustable dumbbells, like the Bowflex Select Tech Adjustable Dumbbells
10. Do Core Work
The term “core work” has a lot of myths around it, and it’s important to remember that core muscles extend beyond just your stomach. This key stabilizing muscle group wraps around your entire back and extend to the pelvis, spine and hip zones. While strengthening these muscles will help you get a tight stomach, they will also help you to stay injury-free.
Excellent core exercises for a tight tummy include bicycle crunches, extended leg raises, planks, side planks, bridges, reverse crunches, mountain climbers and Russian twists.
11. Eat Fermented Foods
Probiotics are “good” gut bacteria that are essential for a balanced and healthy gut microbiome. On the contrary, an unhealthy gut microbiome is linked with increased visceral fat and other health problems. You can achieve a thriving gut microbiome by eating naturally fermented foods high in probiotics daily such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, plain yogurt and kombucha tea. You might also consider taking a probiotic supplement, especially if these foods are not readily available.
12. Limit the Booze
Alcohol is the very definition of an “empty calorie” so it definitely won’t do you any favors in the belly fat department. Limit your consumption overall, and when you do imbibe opt for lower calorie and lower carb options like clear liquors and red wine. Definitely steer clear of sugary cocktails and heavy beer.
13. Up Your Step Count
It’s well documented that a sedentary lifestyle is not only unnatural but increases visceral fat, and many Americans spend the vast majority of their day seated at a desk and in their car. I’ve found that using a step tracker like the Fitbit Versa can work wonders for simply increasing awareness about how many steps you’re taking each day. Find ways to work in more steps, whether that’s taking a break on the hour and walking for five minutes, walking on your lunch break, waking up 20 minutes earlier and walking around the neighborhood, or whatever strategy works for you.
14. Drink Apple Cider Vinegar
There’s been a lot of hype around apple cider vinegar, but seemingly for good reason. ACV has been linked with less body fat, and also supports digestion. Try having 1-2 tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar in a cup of room temperature water ten minutes before meals.
15. Don’t Drink Your Calories
Sugary drinks are a hidden source of both sugar and calories. Four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon, and many fruit juices and sodas are over 20 grams. That means you’re getting 5 teaspoons of sugar in just one cup! Instead, choose water, unsweetened coconut water or plain sparkling water with lemon.
16. Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough water can help you to eat less throughout the day. In fact, often when we feel hungry, in reality we’re actually thirsty. Shoot for a minimum of half of your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water per day.
17. Eat Mindfully
Mindful eating is the practice of cultivating an awareness around food and eating. It involves being present during our meals and snacks, paying attention to how foods affect us physically, mentally and emotionally. Turn off electronics while eating, take a moment to express gratitude for your meal, chew thoroughly, put your fork down between each bite and allow yourself to register fullness and pleasure.
18. Keep a Diet Journal
While you don’t need to track calories indefinitely, doing so for a time can be quite helpful. Use a free app on your phone or computer and track what you eat for one week. You might be surprised to find that you are over or under-eating, both of which can lead to belly fat.
19. Get Sufficient Sleep
Beauty rest is key for a tight tummy! Studies show that poor quality or inadequate sleep makes it harder to lose fat due to an increase in the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Practice good sleep hygiene by turning off screens at least one hour prior to sleep, taking a relaxing bath, trying a meditation technique or any other practice that allows your body to wind down.
20. Experiment with Intermittent Fasting
While it might not be right for everyone, many people find success with some version of intermittent fasting. This simply means limiting your food intake to certain windows of time, and abstaining from food the rest of the day. This can be a very gentle approach like 12:12 (12 hours eating, 12 hours fasting), 16:8 or 5:2, where you eat 500 calories two days a week, and eat normally the other five days. It’s best to discuss this approach with a healthcare provider to ensure safety.
Try these 20 tips for the tight tummy you’re dreaming about! At the end of the day, you’ll probably end up feeling benefits that extend far beyond the flatness of your stomach, so all around it’s a definite win-win.