“How Do I Lose Belly Fat??”
“How do I lose belly fat?” or “How fast can I lose belly fat?” or “If I work out every day can I have abs by summer?” Some form of this question has got to be the most asked question in gyms all over America. When I worked at the campus gym throughout college I would get this question at least once a week. Everybody, especially girls, wanted abs and I always enjoyed trying to help them. There is no one size fits all answer as we are all different. That said there are some common rules or laws that everyone needs to know about.
Did You Pick The Right Parents?
Before you start trying to tone up the ole midsection know that the majority of how your abs look and are shaped is genetic. There is nothing you can do to change the way your tendons stretch across your stomach. Everyone has abs but they don’t all look the same. I only say this because most people have this idea in their head of what their stomach “should” look like. Look at the pictures below. Both guys are super lean but the first guy kind of has a jagged “four pack” where the last guy has a ridiculous “10 pack”. There is nothing either guy can do to make their stomach look like others.
Spot Reduction Is A Myth
It would be really nice if we could pick the areas where we would lose fat from but we can’t do that. All you can do is lose fat and let your body decide where it will come from. Again this is just genetics. I have done hundreds of body fat tests and girls tend to hold fat in their hips, thighs, and arms. While guys tend to hold most of there fat around there stomach and love handles. You can do all the crunches in the world but that doesn’t mean you are going to zap away the fat on your stomach. You are just getting better at doing crunches.
So “How do I lose belly fat?” isn’t really the right question. The question should be more like “How do I lose body fat?” since we can’t specifically lose it from one area.
How Do I Lose Belly Fat
Now that we got the disclaimers out of the way let’s get into how to it’s done. I consider this a basic a guide, which turns some people off because they want the advanced secrets of how its done not the boring basics. I’m here to tell you that 99% of dieters out there are messing up some or most the steps below. They are busy worrying about the glycemic index of a potato is vs rice while missing the big picture. The steps below are the necessary foundation for making any health and nutrition program effective.
Step 1 Goal Setting
Before you start slashing calories or running for hours you need set some goals. I wrote an article HERE that’s all about goal setting for weight loss that I recommend. To give a quick summary you need to come up with a realistic, measurable goal that truly motivates you. You need to be able to visualize that goal and how you would feel after you achieve it. Instead of “I want abs to impress whoever” go with something like “I want to get my bodyfat to a healthy level so that I can enjoy life more and have more fun with my kids.”
Seriously, don’t brush over this step. There is a reason almost all professional athletes spend time writing goals and visualizing themselves performing well. You need to get your mind right before you begin.
Step 2 Track You Progress
When an airplane goes from New York to LA it is actually off course over 90% of the time. The pilot has to constantly keep adjusting course. If you didn’t make those adjustments along the way you would probably end up in Seatle instead of LA. The same is true with losing fat. Along the way, you will have to make adjustments so we need a way to track progress so we know what and when to adjust.
A bathroom scale is great but the scale can lie a bit. I’m sure everyone that has tried to lose weight knows that your weight can fluctuate a great deal from day to day and hour to hour. These big swings are primarily a caused by the amount of water in the body. In order to better track our fat loss progress, we need something else.
The easiest thing to do is to get a bathroom scale which tracks body fat. They cost about the same as a regular scale but also aren’t very consistent when it comes to bodyfat. I have one but I treat it as just another data point that is super easy to collect. I do NOT make adjustments based on that bodyfat reading.
What I recommend is fat calipers for measuring fat loss. Once you get practiced up you will be able to get very consistent results with these. It takes a little practice to learn how to separate the fat from the muscle but once you do you can get within 1mm on every pinch. I recommend taking the average of three measurements at the same spot once per week. If you were pinching 15mm and now 14mm you have lost fat even if the scale has stayed the same. Don’t get too caught up trying to figure out the exact percentage. These aren’t that accurate but are extremely precise.
Step 3 Go To F*****g Sleep
Our bodies need lots of sleep for just about everything we do. Not only does sleep help you feel better and remember where you put your keys but it is critically important for losing fat. Study after study shows that when people are sleep deprived their diets are basically useless. Participants that did lose weight while sleep deprived actually lost more muscle than fat. The absolute worst case scenario. You would be better off not losing weight at all if you aren’t sleeping enough.
Not getting enough sleep makes you hungrier during the day and gives you more waking hours to eat. Lack of sleep makes you tired and unwilling to hit your workout. Too many long nights will also decrease your willpower making it much more likely you swing by McDonald’s instead of making yourself that smoothie.
So how much sleep should you be getting? Most people will need about 7-8.5 hours. Some need more like 9-10 hours. And yes about 3% of the population honestly can get by on 5-6 hours of sleep. These people are mutants (they have a genetic mutation that allows them to essentially sleep faster) and we all hate them. You probably aren’t one of them. Personally, I do best on 7.5-8 hours and Theresa is more like 8.5-9 hours. Best way to find out how much you need is to head to bed at the same time every day for a week and wake up without an alarm clock.
I also use a FitBit to track my sleep to make sure I’m getting enough. Whenever I see my performance suffering in the gym checking my sleep is one of the first things I do.
Step 4 Time To Hydrate
Just as much of the population walks around chronically sleep deprived many of us are also walking around dehydrated. Water makes up roughly 65% of our bodies and is plays a role in almost every bodily function. Athletes were found to have a measurable decrease in strength and endurance from just being slightly dehydrated. That means if you aren’t drinking enough you will have to cut that treadmill session short and miss out on some calorie burning.
Dehydration also leads to overeating. We get roughly 20% of our water through the food we eat. When your body isn’t getting enough water it is more likely to encourage you to keep eating to get fluids that way. There is also science that suggests that drinking more speeds up your resting metabolism through increased cell volume. Basically, you burn more calories even while doing nothing.
Now that you are convinced, how much should you be drinking? I am hesitant to give an exact number because it is so different for everyone depending on activity level and environment. My advice is to always have a water bottle with you and drink to your thirst. Urine should be clear to light yellow. For most people, this will mean a half gallon to a gallon per day.
Real Talk: To anyone who doesn’t like plain water please grow up and drink it anyway. Not everything that goes into your mouth has to be an amazing culinary experience for you.
Step 5 Eat Less
For some reason in the fitness industry, the calorie has become this demonized unit of measurement. People now try to act like calories don’t matter that it is about timing your meals or getting the correct ratio of carbs and fat. The truth is if you want to lose weight you have to consume fewer calories than you burn. PERIOD!
Seriously I don’t care if your diet is 100% organic, non-GMO, locally sourced chicken breasts and veggies. If you eat too much you will gain weight. The importance of calories has never been proved better than by the professor who lost 27 pounds eating nothing but twinkies. Or by John Cisna who lost 60 pounds eating nothing but McDonald’s.
Twinkies and McDonald’s are thought to be pure junk that will make you fat. However, if you eat fewer calories than you are burning you are going to lose weight. Please don’t interpret this as me saying to go on all fast food diet I’m just trying to drive home the importance of reducing calories in order to lose fat.
The best way to be sure you are eating less is to get a food scale and weigh and measure everything. At least for a few weeks. This allows you to get all scientific on what on your fat loss journey. As accurately as you can track your calories for the week. If your weight hasn’t gone down reduce daily calories by 250 and do another week. Once you start losing a pound a week just hold there. I good starting point for calories for weight loss is 12 calories per pound.
If you don’t want to weigh and measure you can try fasting for 24 hours a one or two times a week. The problem is you don’t have the data to make adjustments when things slow down. So you may end up needing to track calories anyway.
Step 6 Move More
Technically exercise isn’t necessary to lose fat. It does, however, make it easier by creating a bigger calorie deficit. I really more recommend exercise as a way to look better once you get the weight down and for general health. If you have zero muscle and lose a bunch of weight you will look better but you will have that “skinny fat” body.
What you do for exercise is entirely up to you. My advice is simply to do what you enjoy doing. The best form of exercise is the form that you will stick to on a consistent basis. Lift weights, bike, run, yoga, soccer, basketball, tennis, hiking, etc… Aim to get 2-3 hours of activity per week. Start with just a walk on your lunch break if you have never done much before.
Wrap Up Losing Belly Fat
Now, most people will read this and want to know why I didn’t give more details. Seriously, I didn’t even mention carbs, fats or proteins. I never talked about making your body produce ketones. Why didn’t I recommend fasted morning cardio?
The reason is the 80/20 rule says 20% of your efforts will produce 80% of your results. Above is that 20%. Just by mastering the above you will be able to get into phenomenal shape. If you ever want to get “shredded” and “ripped” so you can get on stage then we can start talking about how to optimize to get the remaining 20%. For most of us who just want to look good on the beach, this is all you need.
Any questions? Feel like I missed anything? If you have ever dropped fat what were the keys to your success?
PS: If you want more information on the subject of body transformation there is no better book on the market than Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle by Tom Venuto.