Q&A: Do ‘Belly Fat’ Diets Work?

With summer upon us, the interest in losing excess belly fat seems to kick into high gear. Book publishers have not

Tamara Duker Freuman, RD

failed to notice this interest, and diet books with titles like the “Flat Belly Diet” and the “Belly Fat Cure,” which promise dramatic results without exercise, have become instant bestsellers. But is there really a diet that’s proven to reduce belly fat specifically?

For starters, any diet that promotes weight loss will promote excess fat loss from the belly. Whether you choose a low-fat diet, a low-carb diet or just a plain, old balanced diet with fewer calories than you normally eat, if you expend more calories than you take in, you will lose weight. And some of that weight will come from your midsection.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose where our weight loss comes from: there are no specific foods proven to promote the preferential loss of fat from one area of the body over another. While one popular book uses flimsy science to suggest that there is magic in healthy monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and an herbal concoction called “sassy water,” the truth is that any belly fat reduction on that plan likely derives from the otherwise sensible, low-calorie, Mediterranean-style diet plan it promotes for overall weight loss. And another popular diet plan’s focus on a low-sugar, moderate carbohydrate diet may, in fact, promote weight loss, but is poorly-balanced nutritionally and may promote bigger health problems than just belly fat–like sky-high cholesterol, for one. If it looks like a gimmick and sounds like a gimmick… well, you know.

Having said that, I don’t mean to imply that your diet and lifestyle can’t contribute to your flat belly goals. There are certainly some things you can do, in addition to losing weight overall through a sensible, non-gimmicky diet, to help improve the appearance of your midsection.

  • Drinking alcohol makes you more prone to storing fat in the belly, so if you are looking to trim your waistline, the first thing I’d do is lay off the booze. And since no one type of alcohol promotes more belly fat storage than another, swapping from, say, beer to vodka, isn’t going to help you out (sorry).
  • Research has shown that smoking appears to induce physiological changes that favor the storage of fat in the belly, even if you’re not overweight. So if you haven’t found the motivation yet to give up the cigarette habit, add losing that belly pooch to the long list of great reasons to quit!
  • High-sodium foods promote excess water retention can contribute to abdominal bloating and distention that give the appearance of a bigger belly. So if a flat tummy is your goal, start slashing the amount of sodium in your diet. Since over 75% of the sodium we eat comes from restaurant food, fast-food and processed (packaged) foods, cutting back on sodium usually means eating out less and cooking meals at home from fresh, whole/minimally-processed ingredients. (For more tips on following a low-sodium diet, click here.)
  • Similarly, some of my favorite, healthy foods are (unfortunately) known to cause more than their share of gas, which can also give the appearance of an inflated abdomen. So if foods like beans or broccoli cause you distress, cut down on your portions or try replacing them with other nutritious veggies instead. Likewise, foods that are very high in inulin (a.k.a. isolated chicory root fiber) can also cause a fair amount of gas, so read the labels of packaged foods that claim to have very high amounts of fiber; they often achieve these impressive fiber stats by loading up their products with added inulin. Stick to high-fiber foods that contain fiber from natural sources, like whole grains and bran.
  • Drink plenty of plain old water. Staying hydrated (in conjunction with a diet adequate in fiber) prevents constipation–a major contributor to preventable abdominal distension. And contrary to what you might think, drinking enough water actually helps prevent bloat-inducing excess water retention (particularly in conjunction with that low-sodium diet.)

Good luck, and I’ll see you and your flat belly on the beach this summer!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *