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Even if you’ve never sipped on an IPA or lager in your life, you’ve surely heard of a beer belly. It’s a colloquial term (interchangeable with many others) to describe the gut shape that develops in folks carrying some extra abdominal fat. And while our culture has thankfully grown to embrace bodies of all shapes and sizes, there are serious health risks that come with being overweight or obese, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
More often than not, a big beer belly can creep into this territory.
So if you want to know how to get rid of a beer belly, it’s important to first understand one critical fact — a beer belly doesn’t come from beer alone. Yes, it can contribute — actor Chris Pratt famously quit drinking beer when he lost 60 pounds and bulked up for Guardians of the Galaxy.
But excess fat comes from an excess of calories — regardless of the source — and if you consume more calories than you burn, you will likely see your weight increase. Beer is generally caloric, lacks nutritional value and can contribute to this caloric surplus, but it’s not the only cause of a beer belly. When consumed in excess, any food high in calories can lead to belly fat.
Losing fat hinges on a switch in that balance between calories burned and consumed. Through a conscious diet and exercise program, you can more efficiently reach a caloric deficit each day and work to ditch that beer belly. To better understand this process, we caught up with Julia DeLissio, RDN, CPT, who walked us through some of the misconceptions about belly fat, and offered some great suggestions for losing it.
How To Lose Belly Fat
Though it’s natural to want a diet and exercise routine that specifically target the fat in your stomach, it’s unfortunately not that easy. According to DeLissio, losing belly fat is a myth.
“When engaging in a weight loss lifestyle shift, you will lose weight globally from your entire body,” she said. “There is no such thing as ‘spot reduction’ which is the idea that you can pick and choose which areas you lose fat.”
However, there are certain foods that, over time, can lead to weight in the abdominal region, DeLissio says. Foods high in trans fats, sugar and alcohol are major culprits for a distended (or bloated-feeling) stomach. Some of these might include:
- Fried foods (fries, fried chicken, etc.)
- Baked goods (usually ones prepared with shortening or certain vegetable oils)
- Sugary drinks (from sports drinks to sodas)
- Sweets (candy, cookies, etc.)
“Fat can accumulate between vital organs, pushing the belly forward, leading to that beer belly appearance,” DeLissio said. “This appearance can also be due to certain conditions where an individual is retaining a lot of water in their peritoneal cavity. In terms of those who are not distended from a condition, some individuals may typically gain weight in their thighs, and others may gain in the abdominal region. This can be due to genetics, lifestyle, or both.”
For a diet focused on fat loss, DeLissio says to decrease saturated fat, sugar and alcohol. She offered a few great tactics:
- Switch up your cooking fats. Instead of solid fats like coconut oil or butter, use liquid fats like avocado oil.
- Watch the drinks. Cut back on those high sugar sodas and watch what you put in your coffee. Creamers are often loaded with extra sugar.
- Eat fruits, don’t drink fruit juice. “You’ll get fiber and less sugar for the volume of food consumed,” she said.
Alcohol & Weight Loss
So we’ve established that a beer belly doesn’t necessarily come from beer. But if you’re drinking a few pale ales after work every night, those calories will add up, not to mention the long list of potential health risks that excessive alcohol consumption can bring.
But if you’re committed to losing fat, limiting the quantity of alcohol you consume is a good place to start. Alcohol itself contains 7 calories per gram, so your favorite alcoholic beverages mostly contain “empty” calories, meaning they don’t come from key macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates or fat.
Here’s a quick look at the approximate caloric profiles of alcohol:
- Whiskey (1.5 oz) — 105 calories
- Red wine (5 oz) — 125 calories
- Light beer (12 oz) — 64 calories
- IPA (12 oz) — 200+ calories
- Hard seltzer (12 oz) — 100 calories
If you’re unwilling to cut alcohol completely out of your diet, DeLissio recommends going light on mix-ins with added sugar (soda, juice, etc.) and limiting the quantity in general. Sometimes, according to DeLissio, it also helps to ask yourself why you’re drinking in the first place, and how it affects your overall attitude.
“Are they drinking because of stress, a bad relationship, or a job they hate?” she said. “Sometimes if you get to the why of the issue at hand, you can decrease consumption while improving mental health and overall quality of life.”
There’s also the late-night hunger and cravings that accompany a night of drinking. We’ll be the first to admit — a cheeseburger or quesadilla tastes pretty great after a few beers. But those added calories, plus the calories you’re already consuming in beverage form, won’t do you any favors for losing a beer belly.
“Drinking can also make you hungry, and people tend to skip out on eating if they are counting their calories and factoring in their alcohol intake,” DeLissio said. “This creates a less than ideal situation for success, and involves swapping vital protein and fiber from the diet for alcohol.”
So, to sum things up here’s how to balance drinking alcohol and weight loss:
- Understand why you drink. If you can identify triggers for your alcohol consumption, it can help you cut back.
- Drink fewer calories. Opt for lower-calorie beverages like light beers, seltzers or liquor without caloric mixers like soda.
- Resist the “drunchies”. Late-night snacks won’t benefit your weight loss journey, no matter how delicious they seem.
- Avoid binge drinking. A “no drinking on weekdays” policy makes sense, but compensating with weekend binge drinking defeats the benefits. According to DeLissio, a drink per day has fewer health consequences than seven on the weekend.
“Drinking happens and it’s a part of life,” DeLissio said. “However recommending food over alcohol is always going to be optimal in terms of reaching your goals and being physically healthy.”
Workouts To Lose Belly Fat
We’ve covered fat-torching and calorie-burning workouts a ton here at SPY, but the gist is this — the more intense the workout, the more calories you’re going to burn. And remember, you burn fat globally, not in one region, so the best fat-burning workouts will offer results for your entire body.
Here are three tactics for burning fat through exercise.
1. Cardio for Fat Loss
Aerobic exercise ramps up your heart rate and helps you burn calories efficiently. The key is to find an exercise you enjoy. And while you’re at it, try incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which blends periods of high resistance training with slower intervals to recover (think — sprint for 30 seconds, jog for two minutes). This burns more calories in a shorter amount of time.
Using the HIIT philosophy or simple steady-state cardio, try any of the following cardio exercises to help lose that beer belly:
2. Strength training
Though cardio might be the obvious fat-burning exercise solution, strength training burns a lot of calories in its own right. It’s also been proven that strength training boosts your Resting Metabolic Rate, which means your body continues to burn calories even when the training session is done. Opt for full-body, compound strength exercises that engage multiple muscle groups at once to optimize for burning calories.
- Bench press
- Military press
3. Circuit training
Can’t decide between cardio or strength training? Try both. Circuit training — combining multiple strength and aerobic exercises into one workout with limited rest — is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories. It’s one of our favorite methods for getting in a killer workout when you’re strapped for time, and represents one of the best workout hacks.
Here’s an example of a simple circuit:
After completing each exercise, move on to the next without stopping. You can rest for 30 seconds to a minute after each round through the circuit. Repeat the circuit three to five times.
- 10 deadlifts
- 60 seconds of jump rope
- 10 pull-ups
- 10 squat jumps
- 10 push-ups
For a bodyweight workout you can tackle at home, check out the video below.