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To anyone slimming down for health reasons or personal preference, belly fat can feel like the last jiggly bit to go.

If you’re wondering why — and how long it’ll take to win the battle —science has the answers.

How long will it take to torch my belly fat?

Short answer: It depends.
Long answer: The timeline for belly fat loss is directly related to your overall weight loss. Your best bet is to leverage both nutrition and exercise to burn all your excess jiggle. As your overall body fat diminishes, your belly will too.

Fat gets a bad rap, but it’s an essential part of life. Bad things happen when bodies don’t have enough fat.

If you think you’ve got too much of a good thing, there are healthy ways to lose belly fat. (Detox teas, shrink wraps, and cleanses are not healthy ways).

Remind me why crash diets don’t work? 🤔

A research review showed that super fast weight loss makes you lose more muscle mass than slow, steady weight loss. One study showed that rapid weight loss might also mean that you’re losing mostly water weight.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a healthy weight loss pace is 1 to 2 pounds per week.

Here’s the lowdown on the timing and science of losing belly fat.

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Illustration by Maya Chastain

A life without fat is downright dangerous. Your body needs a certain percentage of fat to keep running on all cylinders.

According to the American Council on Exercise, most healthy women have about 21% to 35% body fat. For men, it’s more like 8% to 24% body fat.

Too little fat, and you’ll be dealing with nasty side effects like vitamin deficiencies, hormone issues, and even nervous system damage.

Visceral: The vicious side of fat

So, having fat on your body is healthy. But what about extra fat around your belly? That’s usually visceral fat, which is vicious AF. According to Harvard Health Publishing, visceral belly fat builds up inside your abdominal cavity, between your muscles and organs.

Too much visceral fat = high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and an increased risk for health probs like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, there are so many factors that play into how slowly or quickly you burn belly fat:

  • a family history of obesity
  • age
  • sex (women tend to have more stubborn fat in their butts and thighs, while men build up visceral fat in their bellies)
  • daily activity

For years, folks have repeated the “rule” that burning 3,500 calories makes you lose about a pound. The reason is that 1 pound of solid fat equals about 3,500 calories.

A 2013 research review indicated that it’s also important to pay attention to factors like exercise and macros.

Estimating a timeline

Still, using the 3,500-calories-per-pound method could help you figure out a target date for your fat loss #goals.

Here’s some info to help you calculate your timeline:

  • Peeps who cut 500 calories per day lose about 1 pound per week (4 pounds per month).
  • The more you weigh, the more energy and calories you burn during daily activities.
  • Stepping up your fitness game helps you burn calories faster. Workouts also build muscle — which weighs more! Time in the gym might not shrink the number on the scale faster, but it will help you lose belly fat and build lean muscle mass.

Remember, the CDC recommends pacing yourself at 1 to 2 pounds of overall weight loss per week. So, it could take 1 to 2 months before you notice your waistline shrinking.

Two words: Calorie deficit. Losing body fat is best accomplished through a combo of diet — cutting excess calories — and exercise — burning more calories.

Start with a few meal and snack time tweaks. We’ll get to the belly-busting moves in a sec.

Looking for a place to start? Here’s a calorie calculator to help estimate your deficit goals.

Ditch the drinks

Goodbye caramel macchiatos, helloooo dark roast!

But seriously, liquid calories are sneaky. Depending on your habits, you could easily consume 500 fewer calories per day:

  • Try sipping water instead of sweetened sodas.
  • Swap your sugary latte for black coffee.
  • Choose simpler cocktails like a vodka soda over a fancy margarita.
  • Try cutting back on the booze altogether.

Rebalance your food groups

One study showed that keto has been all the rage for years. Living the lower carb, higher fat life makes a difference when it comes to belly fat.

Snub those “classy” carbs

Oh, and those refined carbs you love? Not so civilized after all. One study with rats showed that eating too many refined carbs can result in increased visceral fat… the very thing you’re hoping to torch.

Pack in the protein

And don’t forget the protein. High-protein meals will keep you from losing muscle mass while you lose belly fat.

A research review found that participants who ate more protein on their diets lost more fat and kept more lean muscle mass.

Use smaller plates

The oldest trick in the book, am I right? One study showed that using smaller plates and bowls results in smaller servings.

You can also keep yourself from overeating by noshing slowly, avoiding dinners in front of the TV, and asking for half your restaurant entrée to be put in a doggy bag ASAP.

Pay attention!

Ever smash a bag of Doritos during a Netflix binge? 🙋‍♀️

Ever noshed on a 1,000-calorie drive-thru crispy chicken sandwich? 🙋‍♂️

Only you can speed up your belly fat loss. It’ll take some perseverance and body positivity.

A few more mindful eating tips:

  • Got a sweet tooth? Choose fruit instead of a prepackaged dessert.
  • Chew slowly. It’ll help you enjoy your food and eat a little less.
  • Try grilling your foods instead of frying them.
  • Say sayonara to the fast-food lane.
  • Try using a calorie calculator to help you stay on track.

Spot targeting — truth or tall tale?

No matter what you call it — spot reduction? Belly targeting? —there’s no proof that you can lose weight in just one area.

In a 2011 study of 24 relatively sedentary folks, the group who did ab exercises for 6 weeks didn’t lose belly fat — though they did get stronger!

Another study of 40 women with larger body sizes compared a diet-only to a diet-plus-abs-workouts approach. Both groups lost about the same amount of weight.

So, while the women who worked their abs probably felt more svelte, they didn’t lose more belly fat than their friends.

The moral of the story? Spot targeting is all marketing hype. If you decide to lose excess belly jiggle, expect the rest of your bod to shrink a bit too.

TBH, the scale is not your best friend. You can weigh yourself weekly to track overall weight loss, but losing belly fat is about so much more than weight. It’s about health, how your clothes fit, and how you feel.

And if you’re working out, you’re probably building muscle, which weighs more than fat. Muscle mass is a good, healthy thing! But it can be discouraging if you measure your success by a number on the scale.

Your best bet for measuring belly fat loss is a good old-fashioned tape measure.

To get an accurate read, always wrap the tape around the same place — your belly button. Stand up straight, but don’t suck in. Pull the tape snug, but don’t tighten it so much that you’re pinching your skin.

Like we said, there’s no such thing as spot-targeted weight loss. But that doesn’t mean your sweat sesh is in vain!

Pump it up to slim it down

Resistance training, aka weightlifting or body weight exercise, is super helpful for anyone hoping to drop some excess lbs.

First, you’ll start developing abs of steel under your shrinking belly. Second, you’ll start burning more calories in your sleep! Yep, for real.

A 2012 research review showed that resistance training can boost the number of calories you burn while resting by up to 7 percent. Talk about revving up your weight loss potential!

HIIT your #goals

One study showed that high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIT) burns up to 30 percent more calories than other forms of exercise. It’s all about that calorie deficit, right?!

A 2010 research review concluded that HIIT is the absolute best workout style for reducing belly fat.

Giving HIIT a whirl is easy. Just plan a workout that involves high energy bursts of exercise broken up by short rests. For instance, you could sprint for a minute, walk for 30 seconds, then repeat the cycle.

Fat is an important part of any healthy body. Excess belly fat, on the other hand, is often caused by unhealthy visceral fat.

Whether you want to lose belly fat for health reasons or to feel like a more svelte version of yourself, it’s going to take some time.

Instead of trying a questionable detox tea or going on a crash diet, commit to losing belly fat in a healthy, sustainable way.

Cut out empty liquid calories, swap refined carbs for healthier foods, and start a workout routine if you can. It’s also a good idea to chat with your doctor about any weight or belly fat concerns.

There’s no one-size-fits-all timeline for losing belly fat. Be patient, focus on feeling good, and remember that your long-term health matters most.