Can You ACTUALLY Banish Belly Fat? The Quest for a Flat Stomach

If I had to pick one question we get above all others at Nerd Fitness, it would probably be: “How to lose the fat around my midsection? I want to get rid of my belly fat.”

This makes sense!

After all, everybody wants a flat stomach, and we get sold every day on products that promise results with minimal effort:

  • “Use the ab-coaster 2000 and get a flat stomach in minutes a day!”
  • “One weird trick scientists hate to banish belly fat forever”
  • “Eat this super food to target belly fat and get toned!”
  • “7 minute abs. Who the hell has time for 8-minute abs?”

I have no product to sell you. Instead, I’m going to give you the ACTUAL truth about about 6-pack abs, targeting belly fat, and how to get a flat stomach.

I promise: by the end of this article you’ll know everything you need to know about a flat stomach, and a strategy to make it happen. The rest is up to you…

You already have abs. You just can’t see them!

The “get abs” and “target belly fat” industry is booming.

Whatever the product, workout, or service is, they are trying to sell you quick fixes for a flat stomach that will not get you a flat stomach quickly. That is, unless you also make another BIG change, which is what Saint from the NF community focused on to get to the above results (without any ab product, routine, or service), but I’ll get to that shortly!

Here are the things you need to know moving forward:

Everybody has abdominal muscles. Yep, even you! They might be tiny, or weak, but everybody has 6-pack abs. They are just hidden under a layer of fat. Depending on how big you are, your strong abs could be buried under a lot of fat. No judgment, just reality.

Fat does NOT turn into muscle – they are two different things. Like oil and water, fat sits on top of muscle. You could have ridiculously strong abs ready to pop out, but if they are buried under a lot of fat, no amount of exercise will give you a flat stomach or make those abs pop, because it doesn’t address the fat on top of your muscles.

A flat stomach only appears when you have a low enough bodyfat percentage. The reason there are 1,000,000,000 ab workouts on YouTube is because people know there’s BIG money in the ab-industry for people desperate to get a flat stomach! And ab exercises are much easier to market as exciting than “eat better, get strong, move more, for a long long time.”

So, if you are somebody who tortures yourself for 30 minutes a day in the various ab machines or you’re doing 1000 crunches every day, it’s not doing what you think it’s doing. I’m giving you permission to stop cold turkey.

Why? Because…

You CANNOT target or spot-reduce belly fat!


This applies to any area you might want to target with exercises, or any product that says it targets that area:

Doing Thighmaster workouts to target the inside of your thighs will not make the fat on your thighs disappear. Instead, it could make your thigh muscles UNDER the fat stronger. Despite what Carol from Step By Step tells you.

Doing more arm exercises to tone your arms will not make your arms less flabby. It could make the arm muscles UNDER the fat stronger.

Doing thousands of ab exercises will not shrink your stomach. It could make your ab muscles UNDER the fat stronger.

Now, please feel free to continue doing exercises that target these areas! This can actually help preserve muscle as you fix your nutrition (which is covered below). Just don’t expect the exercises themselves to reduce fat in that area.

Yup, this means all the “secret ab routines” you see about targeting certain abs (Upper abs! Lower abs! Obliques!) mean diddly-squat about getting rid of the fat on top of those muscles – those are only necessary when you are at a low bodyfat percentage. Which means you can stop doing 10 different ab exercises to hit the different muscles in your stomach. It’s not a good use of your time!

Next, you’re going to ask me (I promise I’m psychic): “Okay, if targeting areas of my body with certain exercise doesn’t make me lose fat in that area, then how DO I lose belly fat?”

Depending on your age, weight, sex, and genetic makeup, your body will lose fat in a certain order, from certain parts of your body, that you can’t control.

Historically, men tend to carry more fat in their stomachs and butt as they get fatter, and women tend to carry more fat in their thighs, hips, and stomach as they gain fat.

The opposite holds true during weight loss. As you lose weight, your body will lose fat in certain areas in a certain order based on your genetics and how your particular body type chooses to shed body fat.

Cool? Cool.

Yes. That means we need to put a great plan in place to lose ALL fat, knowing that as long as we lose enough of it, we’ll ALSO lose belly fat along the way.

A Deep Dive Into Your Nutrition.

Following the strategies we lay out below and throughout Nerd Fitness WILL get you a flat stomach (if you actually do the work), but it won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be effortless. You’ll need to change your nutritional relationship with food and focus on a few key things:

1) Consume fewer calories than you are currently consuming. In order to do that, you need to know how much you currently eat, you need a plan to eat less, and then you need to track how consistent you are with that plan.

KNOW HOW MUCH YOU’RE EATING: Use an app like MyFitnessPal or DailyPlate to diligently track your calorie intake (I bet you’ll be surprised that you’re eating more than you realized), and then adjust your numbers down from there.

For example, if you want to cut back on beers you drink each week (a GREAT plan for getting a flat stomach) then you first have to record how many drinks you actually have, every day. An actual number. We all know you tell the doctor “a few drinks a week” but that won’t cut it here!

Your plan then should be to reduce that number – by one or one hundred (please don’t drink 100 beers a week). But, nonetheless, a reduction in beers consumed is the key here.

After a week, track your calories again, and compare actual numbers. Did you drink less? A plan is only as good as your ability to follow it. If you didn’t follow through, was the plan too complex? Goals too ambitious? Were you also trying to launch an interstellar satellite your first week of dieting?

We’re looking to cut back on calorie-high, nutrient-poor food first. Candy. Carbs. Sugar. Then move to counting calories, and then maybe onto more advanced/involved tactics like tracking your macronutrients and weighing and measuring food.

If you’re looking for big wins here, ditch the liquid carbs. Soda, gatorade, fruit juice, and alcohol are calorie dense, nutrient poor, and loaded with sugar/empty calories. We’ve had people in our community lose 50+ lbs (20+ kg) simply by cutting out liquid calories from their diet.

2) Consume more vegetables. We’re talking the leafy greens and similar vegetables in this case. No, pizza is not a vegetable. Recommended daily intake is 2 ½ – 3 cups of vegetables a day. Depending on your current intake, this might sound absurd.

I know some people who average zero a day.

If that’s you, it’s okay, no judgment – we all start somewhere. The great part about more vegetables in the diet is it tends to help #1: eating less calories. Vegetables take up stomach space, are low in calories and high in nutrients.

You may be one of those people currently eating zero vegetables – something you don’t need to track to know! OK, now let’s add some veggies into the day.

What’s that? You HATE veggies? I got you covered there too.

3) Eat better carbs at better times. Now we’re starting to get a bit more complex. When you are eating carbs, aim for starchy carbs – sweet potatoes, rices, squashes and such. Look for carbs that aren’t processed or liquid. The ingredient list should just be that item (e.g., “sweet potato”, not “cultured wheat starch solids, vinegar, soy lecithin”).

When we do have carbs, the body best handles them after a workout. The energy depleted and the hormonal changes that occur after a tough workout is the best environment to introduce carbs.

A note on low carb diets: With low carb diets (I see you Paleo), a lot of junk carbs (sweets, breads, alcohol) are also restricted in the process. This is good, and often leads to weight loss. Carbohydrates also hold water in the body, so we’ll also see water loss (and subsequent weight loss). All of this is exciting and people think “I’m never touching a carb again!”

However, your brain uses glucose and your muscles use glycogen as fuel sources. We get this glucose and glycogen from carbohydrates, so some carbohydrates are good.

We are NOT going to be talking about extremely-low carb diets – like a Ketogenic diet – here (which produce ketone bodies, which the brain then uses for fuel), as these are more extreme diets and one should seek advice from a doctor or nutritionist first. That’ll be a more advanced topic for another day.

4) Protein, protein, and more protein! The one constant in your nutritional strategy should be protein. Animal sources at every meal. This helps conserve the muscle you have as calories are reduced and you start to lose weight.

Just like vegetables, this can be as simple or as complex as you want it. Maybe you’re just making sure there’s a protein source at each meal (if it was lacking before). Maybe you’re figuring out rough portion sizes. Maybe you’re taking it to the max and actually weighing your food. The point is, you should be including it throughout the day and week.

A note on vegan/vegetarian diets: This is another topic that entire books and articles are written about, so we won’t dive into them here. Of course, it is absolutely possible to build muscle or lose fat on a vegan/vegetarian diet. Certainly you can get to a flat stomach, you just need to be diligent with your calorie tracking and macros, like we recommend you do above.

Just like you can be an unhealthy paleo person, you can also be an unhealthy vegetarian! My friend Matt runs, and there are resources like if you are looking for more resources in this realm.

5) Healthy Fats! If you are cutting back calories from junky carbs, restricting your carb intake to after your workouts, and you’re loading up on vegetables, then you might struggle to eat enough calories every day.

This is good, but too few calories can also be detrimental to progress (see below)!

Enter the fats. You’ve already got protein and veggies in the meal; healthy fats will round out a good meal. Avocados, olive oil, mixed nuts and the like are great sources. But, but, but! Understand that these healthy fats are calorically dense, so snacking on them all day tends to blow your calorie count way up (see #1).

Here at Nerd Fitness, we’re a fan of the idea behind the Paleo Diet (we’re more “Paleo-ish” though), as it covers the list we just outlined above and gives you a simple, if strict, framework to follow. Even if you don’t follow things to the letter, a Paleo-ish diet – and the countless resources that have sprung up for it – are a great starting point for many people.

If you’d like further reading, we recommend the following:

We also have a TON of free, healthy recipes here on Nerd Fitness that you can use to start cooking healthier meals and improving your relationship with food too:

Our recommendation: do not drastically change 100% of your diet right away. Do not go on an “ab blasting diet.” Instead, slowly adjust your food and build the habit of eating healthy. Remember, simple first.

You have a much wider margin for error to start making progress at the beginning when you just want to start losing some weight.

By the time you get down to the teens on your body fat percentage, you need to be WAY more diligent, militant, and restrictive on your nutrition. Remember that it won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen in “minutes a day” unless you’re spending those minutes eating a flawless diet!

A final warning on your diet: don’t go super low calorie and starve yourself!

There needs to be a reduction in your calorie intake to lose weight and body fat, but many take that and apply the logic: “If some calorie restriction is good, then a lot must be better!!”

Slow down. Restricting your calories too much causes a mess of your hormones and will halt efforts to lose body fat, as well as compromise your health (weakened immune system, malnutrition, turning into Grumplestiltskin, etc).

So remember, when it comes to your nutrition:

  • Know where you are starting: Take starting photos (front and side). Track your calories for a few days.
  • Know what you are doing/looking to accomplish: What your goals are, and why!
  • Know how you are going to track/measure progress: Decreasing calories, more veggies and protein, etc. BE SPECIFIC!
  • Start simple, and add complexity as you need to!

Exercise: The other side of a mis-weighted coin

Now, because you’re both smart and curious (and good looking, and modest), you’re putting it all together: “Steve, if I can’t target belly fat, and food is 80-90% of the puzzle, what’s the other 10-20% of the equation?”

Weight loss pills and horse tranquilizers!


It’s exercise.

Let’s lay down some ground rules here:

RULE #1: Don’t do another crunch for the rest of eternity. The fat on your belly doesn’t give a flying f&*$ how many crunches you do.

Below are three members of the NF community (myself, Team NF’s Staci, and my friend Saint) all got “shredded” and “6-pack abs bro!” without doing a single crunch:

I’m not sharing these stories with you to brag or sell you on a “workout scientists HATE!” or a supplement or ab machine. I’m going to “sell” you the truth, FO’ FREE!

The three of us above never did a single crunch or “ab workout.” Instead, we all got stronger and then focused 90% of our effort on the actual important part of the equation: our nutritional strategy. In other words, we ate in a way that decreased our body fat percentage.

Remember: no amount of exercise will give you a flat stomach! You have to eat in a way that allows your body to burn more calories on a daily basis than it consumes, and your body fat percentage will start to decrease.

Why you don’t need to do another crunch ever again: Are you sitting down right now? Do a crunch right there. With a crunch we’re training those muscles to be strong in that rounded back position – reinforcing the terrible slouching posture and problems we see from prolonged sitting. Don’t worry, we’ll give you some alternatives below.

Starting today, you are no longer allowed to touch a single ab machine at the gym.

Yes, I hear you when you say “I can feel the burn in my abs when I do ab routines! That means it’s working!” These routines might very well be making your abs stronger.

What I’m telling you is that because targeting your abs will not give you a flat stomach, any time spent in the gym on your abs is time NOT being spent focused on more efficient exercises that will actually you faster results.

Think of it like an “ab opportunity cost”: When you do an ab exercise, your body will burn some calories like any physical activity. However, if doing 15 minutes of crunches burns 100 calories, and doing 15 minutes of certain OTHER exercises burns 500 calories…you’d be a fool to do the crunches, right?

You’re a busy person (I know it, everybody is), and you only have so much time you can dedicate to fitness. Which means if you ONLY have 30 minutes to work out, you should be focusing those 30 minutes on BIG WIN exercises, not isolating your abs. It’s bad math.

Pick the highest leverage movement and get the hell outta there!

Rule 2: Do big, strong, compound movements: I’m proud of my physique, because I work hard to look like I do. However, my flat stomach isn’t because I focus on it for training. My training is focused on getting stronger, and the abs are a side effect.

When people ask me, “What are the best ab exercises?” my answer confuses them:

Squats. Deadlifts. Lunges. Push-ups. Pull-ups. Dips. Rows. Going for long walks. And eating better.

They then look at me funny and repeat, “no, I said ab exercises.” To which I reply with the same thing. Here’s Staci doing her “ab workout” with a 410 lb deadlift:

A post shared by Staci Ardison (@staciardison) on

Obviously, the “ab workout” name is a joke and misnomer, as Staci isn’t focused on her abs. Instead, she’s focused on getting stronger, and the flat stomach is a side-effect:

A post shared by Staci Ardison (@staciardison) on

The compound movements I mention above recruit nearly every muscle in your body, including your abs/core. Because they recruit and require so many muscles, your body will burn a TON more calories and have to rebuild more muscle after you train than if you spent your time doing only ab exercises.

Sure, if you have unlimited time and you are desperate to do ab exercises, you can do those AFTER you do your strength training workout, AFTER you’ve got your nutritional strategy locked in. But only at the end. And I’ll share with you some good core-strengthening exercises in the next section.

However, I would keep my focus on big, compound movements – regardless of your age or sex – and do those first and foremost, and get really strong with them. Then, and only then, if I had extra time, I was a masochist, and I also had my nutritional strategy together, I would do ab focused exercises.

Here are some free workout strategies you can follow:

I’m less concerned about what exercise plan you follow, as it’s a much smaller piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting a flat stomach!

“But Steve, I STILL want to do ab exercises!”

Damn, you really like ab exercises, eh? Alright, alright! If they make you feel like you’re doing something, you actually enjoy them, and you feel the burn, go for it!

AS LONG AS YOU START YOUR WORKOUTS WITH BIG COMPOUND MOVEMENTS, then you can ALSO do ab exercises at the end of your routine if you have time. Deal? Deal!

  • For starters, STOP doing:
    Any ab machine exercise at the gym – these are torture devices and a waste of time.
  • Crunches and sit-ups – these are incomplete exercises that depending on your current health could be doing more harm than good.

Good? Good.

You see, the abs and midsection are much better suited to transfer movement (swinging a bat), as opposed to creating movement (short range of motion in a crunch). So let’s first focus on exercises that create STABILITY and NON-MOVEMENT.

Instead, do one of the following exercises at the end of your routine. Go nuts, you crazy animal:

Front planks and side planks classics for a reason. Help your entire body engage and keep stable.

Ab wheel rollouts tough, and often abandoned because they are so tough. When planks put you to sleep, step it up with these.

Pallof press an anti-rotational movement that you can do with bands or cable machine, kneeling or standing. Be sure to work both sides!

Waiter’s Walks / Farmer’s Walks You know that feeling when you’re carrying something heavy? Yeah, that’s the abs! Grab a single dumbbell and hold it overhead (Waiter’s Walk), or a grab one or two dumbbells by your side and take a walk (Farmer’s Walks).

Hollow body holds this will help you prepare for things like handstands and improve core strength.

Cardio, cardio, and more cardio?

In the quest for a flat stomach, far too many people chain themselves to treadmills or ellipticals, going along for hours at the same slogging pace.

Does it do any good? A little! Is our time better spent doing something else? Absolutely.

First off, as it bears repeating, nutrition is going to be the biggest key to finding those abs. It’s all about getting the most bang for your buck:

  • If you are spending an hour on the treadmill, but don’t spend any time on your nutrition, you won’t see any results.
  • You are better off doing a half-hour on the treadmill and and then half an hour on improving your nutrition.
  • Or, do 30 minutes preparing a healthy meal, knock out some push-ups and squats, and then go play video games.

Now, we’re not discounting aerobic exercises or simple walking. We love walking! It’s great! It’s movement! It may absolutely be the best thing for you when you are just starting out!

But, if you have a choice in cardio, it’s best to prioritize and do interval work. For one, it tends to take less time than traditional aerobic exercise, improves your VO2 max (oxygen usage), and helps improve the body’s hormones to be more responsive to fat loss.

Less time and better results? Sign me up! If you LOVE cardio, like biking or aerobics classes, do them. But only after you’ve fixed your nutrition!

Sleep and Stress: The Last Part

OK, OK, our math might be a little off (as nerds we’re horrified). Nutrition has the lion’s share of importance in this journey at 80-90%, exercise was sitting at about 10-20%, but if we had to carve out a few percentage points for something else, it would be sleep and stress.

Too little sleep and too much stress wreaks havoc on our body’s hormones and can make it that much more difficult to lose body fat – especially around the midsection.

As you’re getting everything else dialed in, see what else you can do to help this area.

Further reading:

How to Know You’re Getting Closer

Depending on your goals – ranging from “I want to be less doughy” to “I want to be absolutely ripped” – your level of dedication, length of focus, training, nutrition, sleep schedule, and stress level will determine how quickly you can reach your goals or how militant you need to be.

To gauge your progress, make sure you are taking photos and measurements at least every month (or every other week). You might not see progress day-to-day, but comparing photos side-by-side after a few weeks can certainly help.

Here’s how to measure your progress.

“What bodyfat percentage will reveal a flat stomach?” We’ve written an entire guide on how to track your bodyfat percentage, and setting your proper expectations there too. If you’re interested in tracking your BF, I would highly recommend you set aside time to read that piece too!

Here are some estimates that you can compare yourself against right now, and use as a guide to know where you need to get to:

Hope and Action

I want to leave you with one final important thought:

You’re here because you want a flat stomach. That’s awesome! I know feeling more confident physically in your skin can lead to a dramatic improvement in your outward confidence and self-esteem too. I know my life improved as a result of taking care of myself physically, and that physical strength created an inner strength and confidence that carried over to the rest of my life.


A flat stomach isn’t a panacea for all of your troubles! Just like money can’t buy you happiness, or confidence, or abs, or a toned stomach. If you’re unhappy and self-loathing now, getting obsessive about a flat stomach won’t make you happy later.

Good luck in your quest for a flat stomach and strong body – just don’t lose yourself along the way. That’s what we’re here for at Nerd Fitness: helping you reach your goals in a healthy and permanent way!

So remember, whether it’s nutrition or exercise:

  • Know where you are starting: Take photos. Track your calories for a few days.
  • Know what you are doing/looking to accomplish: What your goals are, and why you’re doing this!
  • Know how you are going to track/measure progress: Decreasing calories, more veggies and protein, etc. Be SPECIFIC with your data to get closer to improvement.
  • Start simple, and add complexity as you need/want.

If you are seeing progress: GREAT! Keep doing what you’re doing.

If you are NOT seeing progress after a few weeks: That means you need to tweak things – usually your nutritional strategy. Go back through this article line by line and make sure you are implementing your plan accurately. Ask yourself:

  • Is your tracking accurate?
  • Are you properly accounting for all the things we listed?
  • Do you need to get a little more complex with your tracking?
  • Can you recruit a coach or lean on this NF community for more help?

This has been a public service announcement from your favorite (I hope) truth-telling, fit nerd.

Now back to your regularly scheduled advertisements of “secret six-pack ab-blasting belly-fat targeting weird trick that scientists hate!”

Brave? Leave a comment below with all of the crazy ab products you’ve bought or hours spent doing ab workouts. It’s okay, you’re among friends. I used to do abs 6 days a week! Sigh.

Questions? ANYTHING you want to ask about belly fat, abs, routines – leave a comment and we’ll reply. Thanks for reading!

No more crunches!



photo sources: threefatcats: Where’s the remote Snickers?!, Ochre Jelly: Jaba the Hut lego, wwarby: Tasty Treat, stavos: Spiderpig, lucidtech: New Years Resolutions, UNE Photos: Sport UNE gym, Roehan Rengadurai: Sleeping Beauty, Tripp: Big Fat Cat, Yukari*: fat cat, tiago sousa garcia: The little writer II

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  • curryfiend

    Giving this a read during work…those kitty pictures really made my day. Also, lots of great food for thought. 🙂

  • okay, so I need to lose almost 100 pounds.
    My problem is that I can eat really well for a couple of weeks, but as soon as i see a dip in the scale it’s like it flips a trigger in my brain and i’m suddenly ravenously hungry. I don’t binge and purge, but I do binge. Its like i simply cannot get full…or satisfied… i just stay hungry… for DAYS.
    I am not a big sweet eater, I LOVE vegatables. I love baked fish and chicken and am not a fan of red meat or processed meats. I do like salty things like chips, cheese, butter, and breads. BUT, when i binge, I CRAVE everything,,,sweet and salty alike.
    This whole binge thing is so crazy. It’s like my body sabotages my efforts.
    Is this mental? Hormonal?
    What the heck do i do to fight it?

  • Melissa Mead

    Loved this article (because cat pictures, duh). I’m glad I’ve given up ab workouts (used to do P90X, HATED their ab exercises!!). I do a lot of yoga now, am taking pole classes, and am doing much more bodyweight stuff and have found it works my abs harder than any machine or ab workout ever has!!
    Except for the ab wheel thing, that’s pretty legit.

  • Peter Ransome

    Not a doctor!
    Tried intermittent fasting? Just start by finishing your evening eating & drinking (aside from water) at some fixed time. Then delay breakfast for (say) an hour next day. The 15 min more each day, da by day. Drink black coffee (but not after breakfast for the rest of the day, to keep the sensitivity to it). Lots of fizzy water if that floats your boat. Suddenly you are eating in an 8 hr window by magic. Emjoy being hungry in the mornings (and sharp, and focussed, and productive, and seeing and hearing all the things you normally miss) a it’s the feeling of fat fleeing the body.

    And as a cancer beater, low carb rules.

    Cheers from Europe
    Peter in Geneva

  • Danielle

    I’m no militant vegetarian, but I do take issue with you pushing animal protein and the footnote implying it takes some extra effort to plan a nutritious adequate protein vegetarian weightloss program. It takes no more effort than any other weightloss plan. Eat mostly whole foods. One of my favorite meals is a burrito bowl with about 1 cup – 1.5 total of stewed zucchini, peppers, onions, kale, tomatoes, corn, and chipotle peppers, seasoned to taste with paprika, chili powder, cinnamon and a bit of lime or lemon, served over 1/2 cup quinoa and brown rice blend, topped with a 1/4 of avocado. If you still include dairy, top with a big spoon of Greek yogurt and/or throw in up to a 1/4c shredded cheese, or opt for vegan alternatives. Chock full of protein, veggies, and good carbs, while being totally satisfying.

  • Natureluvver

    As much as I understand that it’s extreme to say anything positive regarding a vegetarian/vegan diet, I do think it’s unfair to say it requires careful planning and tracking. Heavy protein intake is completely unnecessary and protein deficiency is a myth. Everything has protein, including plants, and if you’re getting enough calories (i.e. not starving yourself) you’re getting enough protein as well. I tried the Paleo diet touted by NF and had some results, 20 lbs lost, but I felt absolutely miserable the whole time and felt absolutely deprived. I went vegan, lost the remaining 30 lbs, I eat a TON of carbs, in the form of fruits and vegetables, pastas, rice, and potatoes, I always get enough protein, I’ve never once tracked calories, and I feel fantastic.
    Whole foods are really all you need to be healthy as a vegan

  • Charlie

    What has worked for me is to stay off the scale. Go by how your body feels, and how your clothes fit. Avoid the temptation to look at the number, and go by what you see in the mirror.

  • Jay Worden

    There is a book (very cheap) that will answer this question completely. It’s called The Easy Way to Lose Weight by Allen Carr.

  • Victoria Clemmons

    Is Mr. 3% Bodyfat nude? The way his hands are positioned would lead one to believe so.

  • Julietee

    Is there a resource for working out many carbs you should have? I’d love a numerical answer so I can measure then gague visually from there. Great article!

  • Tony Langdon

    Great article. I’m going to keep this one as a reference, for the next person who asks me about improving their abs/losing their belly. Some great advice there, but spelled out in a better way than I usually manage. 🙂 Just about to share it. 🙂

    There were also a few tips I picked up on ab exercises, my normal training and competition provides plenty of core workouts! In the gym, I’m more a fan of things like squats and planks anyway, and I do yoga too. I’ll be factoring those in for when I return to the gym next month (I go seasonally, because of how my training and competition workload vary through the year).

  • A D’Silva

    Sending to all my female friends currently gracefully jogging on the treadmill and doing post run crunches… Hoping the chubby cat pics lure them long enough to get to the end of the article 🙂

  • Emma Daley

    I am EXACTLY the same. As soon as I see that lower number on the scale – I am STARVING. I have been fighting this for a long time and I am yet to come up with a solution. I have no idea why it happens. I feel your pain!

  • Such a thorough post! So glad to read an article that isn’t feeding you a bunch of bs about how to “blast the belly fat”. The reality of how to get visible abs may not be as sexy, but the way it’s laid out here is sane and promotes health – which is what really matters at the end of the day!

    I think I’m in the 20-25% bf range and while I don’t have a lot of extra fat hiding my abs, they aren’t as visible as many of the women I see on Instagram “fitspiration” accounts. I’m pretty ok with this, since I feel that going lower than 20% may compromise my health. Despite knowing this, it’s still been quite a journey to rewire how I think about fitness and health. Thanks again for the great post!

  • Jim Bathurst

    A few words! First, for those recommending intermittent fasting, it tends to work better for men than women. Longer periods of calorie restriction for women tends to throw their hormones for a loop and not give as good results. Just what I’ve seen.

    As for your experience, and the experience of Emma Daley – it may be a matter of increased stress at seeing that lower number on the scale. You both said these cravings/binges were set off by seeing the scale number. A few things –

    1) You may see the dip and think “oh man, I’m losing weight, but I KNOW I’m going to screw up/back slide again!”. There’s an overwhelming amount of pressure/stress on yourself to keep that number that low, and to keep it moving down.

    2) While you might see that low number on the scale, it is perfectly normal to see the scale move back up in the next few days, even when the eating is on point. We are looking for the AVERAGE over the days and weeks. Things will move up and down, but as long as the average is gradually going down, we have things locked in.

    3) When you see that natural increase in weight after a dip, you may think “WTF? I was doing everything right! What did I screw up?!?”. Nothing. Remember, track the average. These past experiences may be setting up a very stressful situation in your mind as you anticipate this situation again.

    4) If you’re eating healthy, a slight increase in weight after a dip is not the time to drastically alter plans and cut calories/scrap everything. I don’t veer my car wildly left and right when I drive, I make small adjustments as needed. Stay the course. Watch the average!!

    So what to do? Remember that it’s a long game. Muscle is not gained in a day. Fat is not lost in a day. Watch the averages and understand that the fluctuation up and down is normal.

    Next, we could certainly pack away the scale and just “go by feel” or “how clothes fit”, but this is naturally imprecise. A better option is to practice stress-reducing techniques (breathing, meditation, gratitude journals), so that you approach any weigh-in as information to gather, not a statement of you as a person or your hard work so far. Reduce the stress!

    Hope this helps! All the best!

  • Jim Bathurst

    Haha, yeah the ab wheel is legit.

  • Jim Bathurst

    We are not against vegans or vegetarians by any means, there are just additional factors to take in account that we didn’t want to unpack in this article.

    Those going with more a plant-based lifestyle need to make sure they are getting all the essential amino acids in the proper amounts – especially if reducing belly fat is a goal.

    Some plants contain all the essential amino acids (EAA), but in a much lower amount than you’d find in animal-based products. A vegan/vegetarian may then have to consume more calories with these plants/grains/legumes to get the same amount of EAAs.

    And, of course, some plants don’t contain all the essential amino acids, so one has to eat the proper combinations of foods to make sure they cover their bases.

    All things to consider and beyond what we wanted to cover here. We’ve updated that section with our favorite resources to help any vegan or vegetarian! Thanks for your comment!

  • Steelyvisionary

    I have to admit that I used to do only weight machines at the gym, and the ab crunch machine was one of them (the horror!). It never felt like it did much of anything, and I never saw results. Once I switched to barbell exercises and an approximately 80% paleo diet, I’ve dropped 15 lbs since January 2017 while adding weight to my exercises. I gotta mention that I wouldn’t have done this well this year if not for my accountability partner I met in Rising Heroes! Never underestimate the value of committing to healthy decisions with someone else.

    Anyway, great article Steve! Always look forward to these!

  • Jim Bathurst

    Thanks for your comment! You can read my response to Danielle above too.

    We didn’t want to unpack in this article all the considerations/details that a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle will entail. Mainly – the need to get essential amino acids in your diet through a variety of sources in the correct amounts.

    We are glad you’ve found something that works well for you! We always encourage people to explore and find their own best option! All the best!

  • Jim Bathurst

    Haha, probably just wearing bodybuilding shorts. Look at any bodybuilding photo, and you’ll see the shorts are very small in order to show off the other muscles!!

  • Jim Bathurst

    As with many things, it depends!! Depends on your current situation/composition, current goals, and current program.

    Generally speaking, on non-workout days you can look for carbs around 0g/lb bodyweight to 0.5g/lb bodyweight.
    On light workout days – 0.5-1g/lb bodyweight a day
    On harder workouts days – 1g/lb bodyweight and above

    Don’t get hung up in the exact numbers (as there are other factors for determining exact numbers), just see that carb intake is going to be relatively higher on tougher workout days.

  • Jim Bathurst

    Congrats and nice work!!

  • Thank you ALL for your responses! What a tremendous encouragement you are! I appreciate all the advice and the DIFFERENT things suggested. I have tried IF before and lost about 15 pounds before going off the rails.
    Right now i am working with Weight Watchers, because I DO binge and feel like i need to have a concrete idea of how MUCH i am eating. I’ve only been with it 3 weeks and have lost 4 pounds overall, even with my 3 pound gain after my binge last week. I am trying to get back on track this week.
    I WANT to be a healthy weight. I know that this is a LIFE change and not a DIET thing.
    I need to get in the gym. I have a membership. It is just SOOOOOOOOOO intimidating to go in there with my big ol fat self when there are so many who are SOOOO fit and trim.
    Thank you again for your input.
    VERY helpgul!

  • Jim Bathurst

    You are working hard and finding what works for you! That’s awesome!

    As for the gym, it’s scary to go alone. Take this!

  • Ben Stark

    Loved that you used a picture of elliptical machines, treadmills, and rowing machines all being used but the rowing machines to intro your section on cardio. Every gym I’ve gone to, that seems to be the case. Which is very sad, if people only knew…
    Great article, loved that you really focused on the importance of diet. I really learned while recovering from my back surgery how important it is to watch your diet. I do think for me at least, doing endurance work is extremely important. It may be just my love of it, it may be the reality that I make gains quicker there than every do than in strength training, or helps me feel better, but I am at my best when I put a few hours a week at some endurance work following the 80/20 principle. Of course I still make time to lift 2-3 times a week.

  • Oh…my….WORD!!!!!!
    Woo HOO!!!!
    LOVE this article! EXACTLY what i needed!
    Oh my GOODNESS!
    I feel like….
    oh my goodness, i ACTUALLY feel like I CAN do this!!!!!
    Okay…I have church tonight, but totally going to the gym tomorrow.
    I am actually ahead of the game because i HAVE worked with a trainer last year and know where all the stretching and body weight areas are! We have a room that has dumbbells, “steps” (like for step aerobics), yoga mats, and those big heavy ropes (2 of them side by side that you flop up and down), medicine balls, and plates (that you put on the end of barbells) and even a chair for people like me who don’t squat well!
    There are windows that look out to the Cardio area, but the room itself is almost always empty.
    Okay (deep breath) I can do this.
    THANK YOU!!!!!!!
    Oh my GOODNESS!!!

  • Courtney

    This is an awesome article, thank you so much for sharing! I used to only do crunches and sit ups and wondered why I never saw changes. The last year or so has been a focus on eating better, bodyweight exercises and fun workouts I enjoy. Side note – I did a sugar detox a few months ago and ended up in ketosis on accident and since then I have been trying to maintain it. I lost a LOT of weight and felt amazing – my Rheumatoid Arthritis hardly bothered me at all. I would love to see more information on keto as I know a lot of people that have had weight loss success on it as well as people who have “fixed” their conditions (infertility, arthritis pain relief, interstitial cystitis relief, etc). Thanks, Steve!

  • Stephanie Reynolds

    Are you getting enough water?? also it could be you don’t have enough protein. Also, the sugars in fruit can actually cause you to feel hungrier too, if you eat an apple maybe eat a piece of cheese with it.

  • I am probably not getting enough of either.
    THANK YOU!!!!!

  • Ariana Wolfmare

    Actually, one slight caveat to this whole concept… Visceral fat is linked very heavily to insulin resistance, and by changing your diet to lower your carb intake, you can to an extent target just ‘belly’ fat. Diet is, of course, the biggest factor, and for some of us ‘Paleo-ish’ isn’t enough.

    Of course, the reality there is, you’re targeting an underlying hormone problem, which then allows your body to actually utilize the fat instead of store it.

  • Jim Bathurst

    Completely understand what you’re saying! Yes, the visceral fat will be reduced by getting the hormones in line (we talk briefly about hormonal balance). We just don’t want people to think they can target subcutaneous fat with just exercises though (usually the more common belief and concern).

    Getting one in line does tend to take care of the other. Win win!

  • Willie Trotter

    Great post for me to start from. I didn’t know that focusing on my abs wouldn’t work. Their are other factors involved that I didn’t know about that are basic to building muscle. No wonder what I’ve been doing has given little results. Thanks for the blue print.

  • Ariana Wolfmare

    Yeah. Visceral fat runs a lot deeper, and at least in my opinion, has a much more visible effect on appearance and self esteem. Not to mention how the underlying hormonal issue can actually contribute to depression and low self esteem, even without considering appearance.

    For me, making a complete overhaul in one go, getting all the starchy things and sweets out of my house at once, and remembering every single day how awful I felt has meant that I haven’t ‘cheated’ once… I don’t even want to. Getting away from carbs is like trying to beat a drug addiction – literally. It triggers the same parts of the brain as getting a heroin fix.

  • Roberta Kelley

    I finally decided today to quit running. I hate doing it, but have always felt that I should. I kind of enjoyed it at one point, but now that I live at a much higher elevation than I’m used to, I just end up with a headache and I just get so bored. I think I’m going to try out interval training again (I did sprints and jumping in track through college) but as far as long distance, I’m done. Especially now that Steve tells us it’s not even the best workout out there, so I feel much better about my decision 🙂 I will stick to more fun forms of cardio (like dancing!) and strength training, which I always enjoyed more anyway. Thanks for giving me out on the running front!

  • Danielle

    Thanks Jim! I’ll definitely check those links out. The thing that draws me into Nerd Fitness is the inclusivity and advocation of finding what works best for you and living your own adventure, so the original wording struck me as oddly out of sync with that usual overall message. I appreciate your time to comment, edit and provide additional resources. That’s awesome of you and the NF team and reflects your commitment to empowering us all to strive towards leveling up!

  • Aggro7795
  • Obitim

    I’m disappointed you didn’t go with ‘abportunity cost’ Steve!

    Otherwise another great article! Cheers again!

  • Determined

    I was scared to go by myself also. Nice, fit looking women and then there is me…I decided that instead of being envious, I need to be determined. If my determination works, I too will look like those fit women.
    But I am determined to look good so no matter what I will keep going and just keep telling myself I to will look good if I don’t give up…Sounds easy, but it isn’t , not gonna lie. Just take it day by day… Oh and I figured if I can beat cancer, I can beat this fat problem also. Good Luck to you!!!

  • Robert R.

    The part about not being able to spot-reduce belly fat is a very painful
    truth. There’s just something about my biology (cough cough *genetics*
    cough cough), that assures I’ll always have a big layer of lard around
    my midsection, no matter how many calories I burn. My arms and legs
    could be skinny as toothpicks and I’ll still have a big flabby gut &
    lovehandles! It’s just completely ridiculous.

    So for years I figured all I really can do is work to build chest & shoulder muscle, so that the belly *looks* smaller. I dunno what else to do?

  • Camilo Gómez

    Hey guys.

    First of all, kudos for this excellent article.

    I have one (several actually but I wanna keep focus on this one) question.

    I am 29 year old, 5’8” and 150 pounds guy who, with a great effort, has accomplished to build some muscle mass in the last year. In this process, unfortunately, I gained some fat (not that I have ever see my abs before, though).

    Now I am trying to cut this fat but I am afraid to lose the muscle I built. For this reason, I am trying to be very careful with what I eat (vegetables, protein, complex carbs, etc.) BUT I haven’t decreased significantly my whole calorie intake, which has led my body-fat percentage to keep the same over the last couple of months.

    I was wondering whether I have to choose between a) keeping the muscle and not seeing my abs or b) being able to see my abs but losing the muscle.

    I’d appreciate any comment on the subject.

    Best regards from Colombia.

  • If your goal is to lose weight from your belly, involve exercises which uses your belly like push-ups. Don’t sit right away after you had your meal..give it at least 15 minutes. – MedShape Weight Loss Clinic in AZ and MN

  • Jim Bathurst

    You will need to reduce your calories in order to reduce bodyfat (and start seeing those abs). In order to help preserve your muscle mass it’s important to keep the protein intake high each day and give the muscles a REASON to stay around (i.e., get some weight lifting in!)

  • Jim Bathurst

    I find that improving the quality of the food you get, and then more accurately tracking what you eat (using an online calorie counter and a food scale) can make a difference.

    You can work hard in the gym – which is great! – but it will still come down to changing the nutrition. Getting more specific in how you track your food will help.

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  • Camilo Gómez

    Thanks a lot. I’ll try that 🙂

  • Courtney Doolittle

    I know I’m late to this, but my problem isn’t consuming too many calories. It’s consuming too little. I’m transitioning to a plant based diet and I’m having a hard time sustaining on rice and beans (paycheck hasn’t come in yet)..My goal is 1200 calories but sometimes I don’t even make it to 1000. :/ I’m also doing strength training like chair lifts, pushups, and planks, and I walk about 3 miles daily yet I’m only losing about a pound every two weeks. Is it possible that I’m gaining muscle? Any advice?

  • hey Courtney,

    Firstly, congrats on dropping a pound every other week! That’s fantastic 🙂 Secondly, I don’t believe it’s possible for you to be gaining muscle while losing weight – your body needs excess calories to build muscle – if you are strength training you COULD be maintaining your muscle while losing weight (which would slow your overall weightloss down, as you’re keeping the muscle and losing the fat).

    I don’t know how much weight you need to lose overall, so 1 pound every other week could very well be a good pace! Now, if your weightloss stalls, i would probably take a closer look at your calorie tracking and make sure you are only eating 1000 to 1200 calories.

    Most people underestimate how many calorie they consume by upwards of 40-100%. If you need to, read the back of the box, measure/weigh your food and really make sure you know what a portion size is for the foods you’re consuming. Things like rice, pasta, beans might be measured differently dry/cooked, have serving sizes that are tiny compared to the amount you’re eating, etc.

    So, congrats – what you’re doing is working! Keep doing what you’re doing!!! If your weight loss halts, the first place I would look would be getting really specific on your calorie tracking to make sure you are eating as little as you think you are. And then, adjust!

    you got this, thanks for the question!

  • NewbieRebel

    Yes, no more ab exercises, that’s great news! I never liked them and probably never will. I guess I can chuck my Tony Little Ab crunch thingy away, finally!!! Thanks!

  • Stasha

    Hey! I know your comments are kinda old, but I decided to reply anyway. I also have a history of binging, and I have also joined WW in an effort to get it under control. I know the opinions around here aren’t very favorable, but I find the points tracking to be easier than calorie counting, and I need the structure of tracking my meals, otherwise I won’t lose.

    I’ve been doing this successfully for a while now. Even so, I still binge sometimes. It is much less often, but it does happen – you have to be able to move on and keep going. One bad day doesn’t mean you throw in the towel for everything.

    Also. A binge is a binge, but when I first started I decided that if I was GOING to binge, it would be on watermelon. I went through a lot of watermelon last summer, but better melon than cookies.

    You can totally do this. I’m down 125 lbs so far 🙂