When it comes to shedding stubborn belly fat, exercise alone is not the answer. The master key really lies with what you eat, and perhaps more importantly when you eat, followed closely by the type of exercise you engage in.
Scheduling your eating to a narrow window of time each day is the version of intermittent fasting I recommend for those struggling with insulin resistance and excess body weight.
Other healthy lifestyle habits such as sleep and stress reduction are also helpful, as they help keep your cortisol levels low. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, when elevated, depletes lean muscle and holds on to fat in the abdominal region.
It’s important to realize that the benefits of reducing belly fat go far beyond aesthetics. Abdominal fat—the visceral fat that deposits around your internal organs—releases proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter your liver, affecting how your body breaks down sugars and fats.
The chronic inflammation associated with visceral fat accumulation can trigger a wide range of systemic diseases linked with metabolic syndrome.
This is why carrying extra weight around your middle is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and other chronic diseases, and why measuring your waist-to-hip ratio is actually a better indicator of your health status than body mass index (BMI).
Three Dietary Keys for Shedding Abdominal Fat
To shed abdominal fat, you need to reduce your overall body fat. It’s simply impossible to target just one area for fat reduction. Diet is key here, as poor diet promotes fat accumulation and causes your body to hold on to excess fat.
In terms of your food choices, the following two are foundational for successful weight loss:
Reduce or eliminate added sugar from your diet. This includes all forms of sugar and fructose, whether refined or “all-natural” such as agave or honey, as well as all grains (including organic ones), as they quickly break down to sugar in your body.
That said, processed fructose (such as high fructose corn syrup) is by far the worst of the bunch in terms of causing metabolic dysfunction. Because your body metabolizes it in the same way it metabolizes alcohol, it promotes insulin resistance and fat accumulation to a greater degree than other sugars. Processed fructose is a staple ingredient in most processed foods and sweetened beverages, where it can hide under 60 different names, so the easiest way to avoid it is to swap out processed foods for whole, ideally organic, produce.
As a general rule, if you’re insulin resistant (and you likely are if you’re struggling with abdominal fat) keep your total sugar/fructose intake below 15 grams per day. If your weight is normal and you have no other signs of insulin resistance, the recommended daily amount is 25 grams a day
Increase healthy fats in your diet. Following a low-fat diet is a sure-fire way to sabotage your weight loss goals. To shed fat, you actually need to eat healthy saturated fats, and plenty of them.
Most who are insulin resistant will benefit from 50-85 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fat until their insulin resistance resolves.
This includes avocados, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, raw dairy, organic pastured egg yolks, coconuts and coconut oil, unheated organic nut oils, raw nuts, and grass-fed meats, as well as animal-based omega-3s.
As noted in the featured article, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) found in nuts, olive oil, and avocados have been shown to boost abdominal fat loss:
“When researchers in one study asked women to switch to a 1,600-calorie, high-MUFA diet, they lost a third of their belly fat in a month.”
For more healthy diet details, I suggest you review my Optimized Nutrition Plan, which is a comprehensive and step-by-step guide to help you make health-promoting food and lifestyle choices.
The third dietary key for shedding abdominal fat (and fat in general) is intermittent fasting. This is really one of the most effective ways I’ve found to address excess weight, as it “resets” your body to start using fat as its primary fuel rather than sugar.
My Intermittent Fasting Recommendations
The version of intermittent fasting I recommend for those with insulin resistance is simply restricting your eating to a specific window of time every day, such as an eight-hour window.
For example, you could restrict your eating to the hours of 11am and 7pm. Essentially, you’re just skipping breakfast and making lunch your first meal of the day instead. This equates to a daily fasting of 16 hours—twice the minimum required to deplete your glycogen stores and start shifting into fat burning mode. I have experimented with a number of different schedules, and this is my personal preference as it’s really easy to comply with once your body has made the shift from burning sugar to burning fat.
Fat, being a slow-burning fuel, allows you to keep going without suffering from the dramatic energy crashes associated with sugar. And if you’re not hungry, or not eating for several hours is no big deal, I recommend following this eating schedule until your insulin/leptin resistance improves, your weight normalizes, and your health issues resolve, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, etc. After that, just do it as often as you need to keep yourself healthy without insulin resistance.