How to Lose Lower Belly Fat: It Isn't Just About Exercise

How to lose lower belly fat: Woman smiling on beach
How to lose lower belly fat: Woman smiling on beach

First off, we want to start by saying you're beautiful at any size. We're here to support your health and fitness efforts, and part of that is encouraging you to love yourself and your body. 

Body fat is natural. What's important is that you know how to take care of yourself, what type of fat could be a health concern, and what type of fat is simply present as part of your body. We'll cover a holistic approach for how to lose lower belly fat and why belly fat, in particular, could be more of a concern for your overall health than, say, junk in the trunk. 

How to Lose Lower Belly Fat: 5 Doable Changes

How to lose lower belly fat: women happily dancing during a Zumba class

These changes may help you lose lower belly fat. They represent a holistic and healthy approach to full-body health and overall wellness. While there's no way to tell your body to lose fat here and not there, by making a few lifestyle tweaks, you'll set yourself up for a trimmer waistline.

1. Tweak Your Macros

The verdict is in: Diets don't always work. Going on some fat fast or cutting your food intake so that you're hungry all day is not the road to success or happiness. Just consider focusing more on proteins and healthy fats than on carbohydrates (including sweets). Protein helps build muscle tissue. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism may be. As a bonus, protein keeps you full longer than carbs or fats, and it takes more energy to break down than simple carbs.

This advice doesn't mean to stop eating carbs. Rather, choose healthy, whole-food carbs like winter squash, broccoli, legumes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, or other whole grains. Skip the bread, pasta, and crackers (even the ones claiming to be whole grain), or be smart about when and how much you choose to eat. 

Healthy fats include raw coconut and coconut oil, avocados and avocado oil, grass-fed butter and ghee, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Stay away from trans fats and processed oils like soybean, vegetable, corn oil, or seed oils like safflower and Canola.

If you're curious about adding antioxidants into your diet that could help promote fat loss without giving you the jitters, give Cira's Flare a try.

2. Get Enough Sleep

Inadequate sleep really kills the mood, doesn't it? Sleep hygiene is super important for belly fat loss. Keep reading to learn about a stress hormone, cortisol, and how it relates to belly fat. But first let's talk about the best strategy to get some zzzs. 

Start your bedtime routine at least an hour before you want to sleep. Turn off your screens or grab a pair of blue light blocking glasses to tell your body that it's time to wind down. Dim the lights, slow down, and get yourself into a chill zone before bed. Try not to drink too much water so you don’t have to pee at night. 

If ear plugs and eye covers help, use them. Same for blackout curtains. Make sure your bedroom is cool enough that you don't wake up sweating in the night. Even if a solid eight hours aren't in the cards for you every single night of the week, a calming bedtime routine will maximize your sleep quality.

3. HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)

How to lose lower belly fat: woman running on the beach

Cardio and strength training are great, but HIIT can be even better, especially when it comes to burning belly fat. Interval training helps your body burn calories long after you're finished at the gym. The phenomenon is called afterburn

When you're done pushing yourself with a HIIT workout, your body makes up for all that huffing and puffing with excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This burns more calories than just going on a long walk or bike ride. When you add strength training into a HIIT workout, you'll get a double whammy by increasing your muscle mass and getting strong. Try these leg workouts!

4. Focus on Your Core During Your Full-Body Workouts

Every workout is an ab workout if you make it so! Working your abdominal muscles won't make your lower belly fat disappear, but it will strengthen your core. That's important for your long-term health, avoiding back pain and injury, and improving your posture. Whatever workout you do, whether it's cardio or strength training, keep good posture and focus on your breathing. Tighten your core on the exhale, release it on the inhale.

5. But Really, What About Abs?

Here are some awesome ab-focused exercises that target the muscles under your belly button. Add these to a HIIT workout or tack them on in sets at the end after you get your heart rate up. We recommend doing 45-second timed intervals or three sets of 15 for these exercises. 

  • Planks: Start at 15 seconds at a time and do three reps. Work your way up to holding for a solid minute or adding in movements like bringing your knee to your chest one at a time or walking your hands forward and back/right to left.
  • Creative crunches: Adapt a standard crunch. Do cross-body crunches with your feet off the ground to target your lower abs. Or try a jackknife crunch where you lift your straight legs up to 90 degrees and reach up to touch your knees.
  • Scissor switches: Like you would with a crunch, you'll start on your back with your head raised in a crunch position and your legs straight. Lift both legs 45 degrees from the ground. Cradle your head in your hands. Lift one leg and then the other, so they look like scissors. 
  • Butt lift: Start on your back with your legs straight up, perpendicular to the ground. Focusing on your lower abs, lift your butt off the ground about one inch and lower. Try to keep the movement as slow and controlled as you can. As you get stronger, you'll be able to hold your butt up off the ground for two seconds, then three. 

Remember, targeted ab work is a lot less important than the other lifestyle factors on the list. 

Read on to learn about a type of fat you might not know about and why lifestyle factors can help you on your way to health and wellness.

Visceral Fat vs. Subcutaneous Fat

There are basically two kinds of fat you should know about: visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Let's start with the one you know best, even if you're not familiar with the term: subcutaneous fat. 

Subcutaneous fat cushions your body. It sits between your skin and your organs. It's a muffin top, inner thigh fat, and fat on arms and legs, and it makes a booty bounce. It might be gross to think about, but a good visual example of subcutaneous fat in the animal kingdom you've probably seen in person is a cut of prime rib at a fancy restaurant: That thick layer of fat that lines the outside of the lean muscle is the kind of fat we're talking about. 

A few inches of this fat here and there are perfectly healthy, especially for women. In fact, women need more of it than men, biologically speaking. 

On top of that, how much your body likes to store is much more about genetics than you've been led to believe. That's why one person who eats a low-carb diet and works out three times a day still has more body fat than their skinny best friend who doesn't do anything. 

Visceral fat, however, may not be as visible. It lines your organs and grows beneath your muscle rather than on top. You might see this kind of fat in a hard beer belly. It's in fatty liver disease and the type of fat linked to heart disease. You might not see it at all if you're genetically thin with a crappy diet.

It's present in skinny people with insulin resistance or full-blown type 2 diabetes. So this kind of fat (the kind you can’t always see) is a cause for concern. This is also the kind of fat that relies on your diet. You can’t get rid of it through aerobic exercise alone.

What we're trying to say here is that whether you're skinny or fat on the outside isn't a good indicator of your health and wellness. You may want to trim your waistline for your own satisfaction, and that's great, but it's not quite the health indicator we once thought it was. Thin people can be fat on the inside (TOFI) and fat people can be just fine on the inside. 

While getting rid of subcutaneous belly fat might be an aesthetic preference, don't let mainstream media tell you that all excess fat is bad and unhealthy. Make sense?

Fat Factors: All the Moving Parts of Life

Woman relaxing on a cliff

Life never stays the same. We get older, our sleep habits change, our hormone levels change, the time we have for physical activity may ebb and flow, and the same goes for our health goals and how hard we want to work to achieve them. In other words, a healthy lifestyle keeps evolving. And focusing on lifestyle changes rather than dieting is a useful way to reframe your approach. 

Dieting vs. Lifestyle Change

Most science says that dieting doesn't work in the long run. But that doesn't mean that you can't improve your sense of wellbeing or your physique through healthy lifestyle changes like cutting your total carb count or tracking your food to help you get started. Switching your mindset away from dieting and focusing on food quality and full-body health can help you reap the health benefits of lifestyle changes and keep them long-term, rather than the yo-yo dieting approach we're often sold.

Genes and Jeans

There's no way to tell your body where you want it to burn fat (your genes might prefer fat storage in your belly or boobs when all you want is a bigger butt, for example). But accepting yourself and working hard for your health aren’t mutually exclusive. You can love who you are and still get your sweat on. Not only does exercise make you feel awesome by flooding your body with feel-good hormones (endorphins), it also helps you decompress, take a load off, and sleep better. 

Get your heart rate up every day (and make it fun by inviting a friend to join you!). Keep your blood sugar in the normal range with healthy carbohydrates (rather than sugar and white flour-based snacks), and you'll be well on your way to looking great in your jeans, regardless of your genes.

Stress and Lower Belly Fat

Your ability to lose belly fat can change for the worse if you're under a lot of stress. Cortisol shoots up when you're stressed out — that's why it's known as the stress hormone. This hormone is not all bad. It has a role in the fight or flight response that can get you out of a dangerous situation. And cortisol levels naturally rise every morning to help you get out of bed. 

But when you're constantly stressed, overworked, and pushing yourself too hard for too long, cortisol becomes a problem. Without going too far down the physiology rabbit hole, high cortisol levels are directly linked to increased belly fat, and we're talking about the bad kind — visceral fat. 

So, it's not over the top to say that too much stress is bad for your health. And this includes working out too much or too hard, eating too few calories, not sleeping enough or well, as well as the things you'd normally associate with stress like work or relationships.

It doesn't help you lose weight or cut belly fat to burn your candle at both ends, so chill out and get enough sleep to be your best self.

You're Glowing

Two women in Cira workout gear

Cira is all about supporting you where you are in your health and fitness journey. While we always want to give you the very best advice to help you reach your goals, you're beautiful just the way you are. Humans come in all shapes and sizes; there's no one-size-fits-all standard of what "healthy" looks like. 

Women naturally tend toward having more subcutaneous fat than men. Instead of focusing on losing all fat, it’s important to focus on self-care that can help prevent or reduce the more dangerous visceral fat. 

The tips we shared today will help you lose lower belly fat, and they'll also contribute to your overall health and wellbeing, which is what we care about most. Take our quiz to find out what will help you on your way to your very best self.