Q: I’ve grown a little bit of what you might call a beer belly. I see all of these diets that claim to target ab fat—are they legit?
A: Nope. Sorry, fellas, but no special fad diet will zap your beer gut or magically eradicate that flabby spare tire around your waist. We know you’ve been tempted to snag one of those exercise-optional diet books detailing how folding monounsaturated fats into meals or carb-swapping can effortlessly melt away flab, but save your money. While these diets may help you lose weight, there is limited scientific research proving any one diet or plan can specifically bulls-eye belly fat, says Gina Neill, RD/LDN, a clinical dietitian at Chicago-based Loyola University Medical Center.
Now that we’ve swallowed the truth serum that shedding belly fat is hard–and there’s no quick fix, including flash dieting—let’s move on to what works. Genetics can play a role in where people store excess weight, but battle-of-the-bulge is usually the result of diet and exercise choices...combined. So the tried-and-true road to dropping pounds, says Neill, is cutting calories and amping up fitness. It isn’t new and flashy, but it works.
And while there is no guaranteed-to-get-you-lean diet, certain foods may help. One study in Obesity of 1,000-plus adults analyzing lifestyle factors affecting abdominal fat found that for every additional 10 grams of soluble fiber ingested daily, such as from one-half cup of beans, visceral fat (the thick, dangerous abdominal fat surrounding organs) was cut by 3.7% over five years (that’s a waistline reduction of about 1.5 inches). Among grains, oats are highest in soluble fiber, but barley and rice bran also rank high, along with non-grain beans, citrus fruits, and strawberries (all lower-calorie than processed junk). You can also get your 10g in eating two small apples or a cup of green peas.
What about exercise? The same study also found that regular vigorous physical activity significantly reduces belly fat, and that even moderate exercise (we’re talking brisk walking here) can assist belly-shrink.
One final word: heavily drinking any type of alcohol can lead to the belly-pack (sexy six-pack’s nasty cousin), so take it easy. That’s a harsh directive, yes, but remember the rewards you’ll reap from this challenge. Not only does belly fat harm health—upping risk for hypertension, diabetes, fatty liver disease, even (gasp) erectile dysfunction—just imagine all the ladies salivating over your muscles while eyeing your new hot-rod bod at the gym. Plus, as belly fat vanishes, testosterone levels rise.
MF EXPERT: Gina Neill, RD/LDN, CNSC, is a clinical dietician at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago.