The absolute truth about burning belly fat

The secret is that there are no secrets. Spot reducing doesn't work, but lowering your overall body-fat percentage can help you slim your waistline

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I’m about to do a bait and switch. Yes, we are still going to discuss belly fat, but I am not going to reveal some new miracle-happy-wonderful-ancient-berry-abdominal-crunch-master-9000 secret to targeting your belly flab. The truth is, there are no secrets to burning belly fat and there is no way to target it.


For the majority of human existence, famine was so prevalent that the ones that survived were those who could store enough body fat to get through the lean times. Natural selection weeded out a lot of the skinny folks, to the point where the majority of us can get fat just by looking at cupcakes.

How we evolved means that your body decides where you will lose body fat from first, and last. There is absolutely no way to will, spot train, or magic power your belly fat off first. You just need to lose fat in general until you reach a realistic and sustainable goal, and some of the fat you lose is going to be from your belly.

Understanding body fat percentages

For a woman to be able to reveal her abdominal muscles (which I don’t really advise as a goal), she needs to get below about 14 percent body fat. For a man to do this, he needs to get below about eight percent body fat. This is because the belly is the last place a man loses fat, and the first place he stores it. For women, the target fat deposit zones are the butt and thighs.

Also, women are programmed by evolution (that again!) to have a higher body fat percentage overall than men are, because it’s actually healthier for them. A 2000 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that a healthy body fat range for men under 40 years old was between eight and 19 percent, but that for women in the same age group the range was higher: from 21 to 33 percent.

What I’m saying is, don’t get carried away. Don’t sacrifice health or sanity for vanity’s sake.

Losing the fat

I’ve got some personal experience with this. It’s not easy. The basics are to eat a healthy diet and exercise. The more exercise, the better, and the healthier and more calorically restrained the diet, the better. All within reason, of course. Don’t kill yourself in the gym or starve yourself.

There is a lot more to it than this though: Psychological and motivational issues. Self-esteem. Time management. Genetics, again. Health and metabolic disorders. Financial issues. These are things you need to work out and work with and it doesn’t happen in a day. Deciding that you want to lose fat and get in shape requires serious commitment. It’s sort of like taking on a part-time job that costs you money.

But it’s worth it, and here are my top ten tips for losing fat, being healthy, building muscle and boosting your physical performance.

A note about stress and belly fat

Stress causes your adrenal glands to go berserk to mobilize energy resources, and you need to burn that stuff off. If you don’t then it leads to bad things like insulin resistance, storing of visceral (belly) fat, and suppression of gonadal, growth and thyroid hormones.

Fortunately, exercise is shown to be a proven stress reliever.

Toning that midsection

I’m not a big fan of exercises that specifically target the muscle groups within the midsection because I see it as a waste of time. If you’re never going to be so lean as to see these muscles (and the vast majority of women never will), then what does it matter what they look like? Instead, focus on the large, twisting midsection exercises that are more functional and can serve to improve your posture, strength, stability and can also help in terms of tightening things up (a little).

Here are some images, with apologies for the male-centric focus; I got tired of hunting through Google:

The post-baby bump

If you have this, there is only so much that diet and exercise can do. It comes down to a simple decision: accept it as a badge of honour, or opt for a potentially dangerous and expensive surgical procedure that is going to leave a massive scar. Your call.

In conclusion, talking about belly fat by itself doesn’t make a lot of sense because we’re talking about an entire ecosystem that is you, dear reader. All the stuff that makes up you is intertwined, and it’s important to look at things like fat loss, health, and improved physical abilities from a holistic perspective that takes your entire body, mind, soul and life into consideration. You are greater than the sum of your parts.

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. He writes the column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Los Angeles Times
and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get a free metabolism report at Body For Wife. Email James at