Measuring your middle

So how do you know if you have too much belly fat? Measure your waist:

  • Stand and place a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hipbone.
  • Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly around you, but doesn't push into your skin. Make sure the tape measure is level all the way around.
  • Relax, exhale and measure your waist, resisting the urge to suck in your stomach.

For women, a waist measurement of more than 35 inches (89 centimeters) indicates an unhealthy concentration of belly fat and a greater risk of health problems.

Trimming the fat

You can tone abdominal muscles with crunches or other targeted abdominal exercises, but just doing these exercises won't get rid of belly fat. However, visceral fat responds to the same diet and exercise strategies that help you shed excess pounds and lower your total body fat. To battle belly fat:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Emphasize plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and choose lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy products. Limit added sugar and saturated fat, which is found in meat and high-fat dairy products, such as cheese and butter. Choose moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — found in fish, nuts and certain vegetable oils — instead.
  • Replace sugary beverages. Drink water or beverages with artificial sweetener instead.
  • Keep portion sizes in check. Even when you're making healthy choices, calories add up. At home, slim down your portion sizes. In restaurants, share meals — or eat half your meal and take the rest home.
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, for at least 75 minutes a week. If you use a step counter, remember that it takes an average of 10,000 steps per day to prevent weight gain. Some studies indicate it might take 15,000 steps per day to prevent the regain of weight after significant weight loss.

    In addition, strength training exercises are recommended at least twice a week. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you might need to exercise more.

To lose excess fat and keep it from coming back, aim for slow and steady weight loss — up to 2 pounds (1 kilogram) a week. Consult your doctor for help getting started and staying on track.

April 21, 2016 See more In-depth