Created for Greatist by the experts at Healthline. Read more
If you’re trying to slim down for health reasons or want to fit back into that pair of jeans that probably just shrunk in the wash, you’ll need a little scientific know-how, patience, and a side of body positivity.
But before you can burn those jiggly bits, you need to first understand them.
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus…
And the differences extend to how our bodies store, process, and burn fat.
What’s a healthy body fat percentage?
For women it’s thought to be somewhere between 21 to 35 percent.
For men, this sweet spot falls somewhere between 8 to 24 percent.
Other factors matter too, like age, lifestyle, and body type.
Little-to-no fat is little-to-no good
Having too little body fat can be just as dangerous as having too much. Your body needs a certain level of “essential fat” in order to function optimally.
This means maintaining a minimum body fat percentage between 10 to 13 percent for women and 2 to 5 percent for men. Falling below that can cause a bunch of unpleasantness, including:
- vitamin deficiencies
- increased risk of heart disease
- nervous system damage
- a weakened immune system
- fertility issues
Without body fat, your body may even start to break down muscle, which can make you feel weak and tired.
So how much fat is on me?
There are many ways to measure body fat percentage. Some are simple and affordable, while others are a little more pricey and may not be super accurate.
Some different ways to measure body fat include:
- skinfold calipers
- hydrostatic weighing
- dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA)
- body circumference measuring
For the most accurate body fat measurement, turn to a doctor or trainer. Weight and size charts aren’t one-size-fits-all, as they don’t consider key factors for a person’s overall health. And health is what matters most.
Having muscle mass helps you burn fat faster. Studies have shown that quick weight loss results in more accompanying muscle loss than gradual weight loss.
That’s a reason to slow down, stop obsessing over calorie counting, and focus on preserving those sweet muscles.
And don’t obsess over the scale. A small amount of muscle weighs more than a large amount of fat, so the readings can be discouraging and misleading.
Instead, track body measurements with a tape measure and a notebook — the OG fitness “app.”
Even if you don’t consider yourself a body builder, carrying your own body weight around all the time does build muscle. And the more weight you’re carrying around, the more muscle you have (snap!) — so what if it’s hiding under a few rolls?
The following tips for burning fat also help maintain muscle mass in the process.
1. Strong is the new skinny
Strength training (aka resistance training) may conjure up images of extreme bodybuilders or Mac from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” But it’s not all about getting jacked.
Successful strength training requires contracting your muscles against a resisting force such as from lifting weights or supporting your bodyweight in a yoga pose.
One study showed that 10 weeks of resistance training may boost the number of calories burned while resting by 7 percent and reduce body fat by 4 pounds (1.8 kg). Burning calories while at rest? Sign us up!
In another study, weight training reduced visceral fat (internal belly fat) by 78 percent in folks with metabolic syndrome.
Visceral fat may sound like a Marvel villain, but it’s actually a type of fat that forms around the organs in your belly and can lead to dangerous consequences. You can fight off the evil visceral fat by adding strength training into your workout regime.
The most common form of strength training is — you guessed it — weight lifting. But if pumping iron isn’t your thing, you can try yoga, gym machines, exercise bands, or rearranging furniture in your house to achieve the same results.
Strength training in the form of weight lifting, yoga, or other resistance equipment is a great way to decrease unhealthy belly fat (the kind around your organs), increase muscle mass, and burn more calories while at rest.
2. HIIT me baby, one more time
High intensity interval training (HIIT), is a type of high-energy workout that combines bursts of intensity with short periods of rest to keep your heart rate up and at ‘em.
It burns more calories in a shorter amount of time than other forms of cardio, and has been shown to increase fat loss.
One study showed that HIIT burns up to 30 percent more calories than doing other forms of cardio for the same amount of time.
Ready to give it a try? On your next walk or run, try alternating between walking and sprinting for 30 seconds at a time. Recovering your breath without stopping your activity (known as active recovery) will improve your overall fitness.
Sounds like a “HIIT” to us! #DadJoke
HIIT exercises can help amp up fat burning and crunch calories in a shorter amount of time than other exercises can.
3. Don’t say “no” to cardio
Walking, running, dancing, and kickboxing are all forms of cardio (aka aerobic exercise). This type of exercise conditions your heart and lungs.
Research suggests 20 to 40 minutes of moderate to hardcore cardio per day is ideal for burning visceral fat and reaping other fat loss and metabolism-boosting benefits.
Need some #inspo? Try swimming, biking, running, or chasing your dog around.
Just 20 to 40 minutes a day of aerobic exercise, like running, can help you jump-start fat loss.
Keeping up with your fitness, fat levels, and the Kardashians (#NoShame) is a lot! But don’t forget to eat. Small adjustments to your diet can have a big impact on your body composition.
4. Pour a refreshing (shot) glass of… vinegar?
Hear us out! Research has shown that consuming vinegar promotes heart health, controls blood sugar, and fires up your body’s fat-burning furnace.
A 2018 study revealed that tossing back 1 to 2 tablespoons of vinegar every day for 12 weeks was helpful in lowering body weight, decreasing belly fat, and shrinking the waistline.
Is it magic? Not really, it just fills you up and keeps your appetite at bay.
So the next time your BFF asks if you want tater tots, say “no way brah — I’m chugging apple cider vinegar” (aka ACV).
Fo’ reals — dilute some ACV with water and drink it with meals to curb overeating. Not a fan? Add vinegar to salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.
Consuming 1 to 2 tablespoons of vinegar per day can help you cut extra calories and burn body fat by keeping you full.
5. Move (bleep), get out the whey!
Protein is more than just a supplement you blend into your post-workout smoothie. Found in a variety of delicious and nutritious foods, protein can curb your appetite and burn body fat — including our old arch nemesis, visceral fat.
According to one study, eating a high-protein diet helps your body boost metabolism and retain muscle mass.
Examples of protein-rich foods include:
- lean beef
Protein will also help you feel full for longer — helping reduce overall calorie intake.
Add protein to your diet to burn more fat, reduce hunger, and maintain muscle mass.
6. Are you a good fat, or a bad fat?
In the magical land of nutrition, not all fats are created equal. While some fats are wicked (we’re looking at you trans fats), some fats are actually good for you.
Because fat takes its sweet time in the digestive tract, it takes longer for your stomach to empty afterward. Much like protein, fat fills you up and suppresses hunger.
Try these delicious fats:
- coconut oil
- olive oil
Word of caution: Even though they’re super delicious and a necessary part of a healthy diet, they’re still high in calories. So a little serving goes a long way.
Fat digests slowly, keeping you full for longer. Avoid trans fats, but eat healthy fats like olive oil and avocados.
If the word refined sounds classy, it’s actually anything but… when it comes to carbs, at least.
Refined carbs have undergone processing to remove bran and germ from grains. This means their fiber and nutritional awesomeness has also been stripped away.
What’s more, consuming too many refined carbs can lead to fat gain, specifically — (dun dun dun) visceral fat.
By reducing the amount of refined carbs in your diet, you can reduce the amount of fat build-up in your body.
Refined carbs are found in some of the yummiest party foods, such as pastries, pastas, and cereals. Because they often have a high glycemic index, these sneaky carbs can increase the ebbs and flows of your blood sugar levels — leaving you all sorts of hangry.
Try swapping out refined carbs with delicious whole-grain alternatives, like quinoa, barley, oats, and whole wheat. We guarantee you’ll feel happier and healthier when you do!
Refined carbs make us hangry — literally. They’re stripped of their nutrients, they raise blood sugar levels, and they increase belly fat. Go whole wheat and whole grain, or bust.
8. Fiber arts
Soluble fiber moves through your digestive system slowly, absorbing water as it goes and making you feel full for a long time.
A 2012 study that included 1,114 adults found those who increased their soluble fiber intake by 10 grams per day saw a loss of 3.7 percent in belly fat over 5 years without changing their diet or exercise habits!
In the same study, increased fiber intake helped participants lose almost 4.4 pounds (2 kg) during a 4 month span of time.
Fill up on these high-fiber foods:
- whole grains
- nuts and seeds
Eating a high-fiber diet will boost your overall health while helping you stay lean.
9. Sayonara soda & bye-bye booze!
Regularly sipping on sweetened beverages like soda, juice, and frappuccinos can add tons of empty calories, which can contribute to body fat.
Another culprit? Alcohol. Booze contains a bevy of calories — and it’s generally not listed on the bottle. So that rosé you’re sipping during The Bachelor every week contains more calories than empty promises made in the fantasy suite.
Alcohol also lowers your inhibitions, which can cause you to overindulge or make unhealthy food choices.
What’s more, studies show that these types of drinks are also linked to increased belly fat.
Swapping these drinks for a refreshing glass of water or sparkling essence water is a refreshing, zero-calorie alternative.
Another alternative is hot or iced green tea. It’s loaded with antioxidants and caffeine to boost your energy, immune system, and fat-burning potential at the same time.
Can’t quit those calorie-rich drinks? Start small. Swap one or two of your sugary drinks each day with water or green tea, or replace that rosé with a single glass of heart-healthy red. You’ll soon reap the benefits!
Sugary drinks and alcohol are high in calories and increase the risk of belly fat. Boost weight loss and burn fat by switching to water or green tea.
10. Be pro-biotic
Probiotics are a type of good bacteria that targets your gut.
In a recent review of 15 different studies, researchers found that those who added probiotic supplements to their regular diet showed a decrease in weight and body fat percentage, compared to those who were given a placebo.
Adding probiotics to your diet is as simple as taking a daily supplement or eating yogurt, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut, or kombucha.
Probiotics promote gut health, which can help you lose weight and reduce fat.
11. But first… coffee
For those of us who worship at the temple of Starbucks, here’s some welcome news: coffee can aid in weight loss!
Coffee contains caffeine, which stimulates the body’s nervous system, helping to rev up your metabolism and break down fat.
Studies have revealed that caffeine can boost your metabolism (and energy levels) by 3 to 11 percent! With more energy comes more activity, which is perfect for pushing through those early morning or evening workouts.
In fact, one study of 2,623 people found higher caffeine consumption was linked to maintaining weight loss.
The caffeine in coffee stimulates the nervous system, speeds up metabolism, and bolsters fat breakdown. Have another cuppa.
12. Unleash your inner Iron-(wo)man
Who knew pumping iron and consuming it burned fat? Iron is an essential mineral that your body needs in order to create healthy blood cells.
Most folks don’t get enough iron and are at risk for adverse effects of iron deficiency. This is even more prevalent for women, kids, and those who are vegan or vegetarian.
Low iron levels can affect your thyroid — a gland found in your neck that produces hormones which keep your metabolism in check.
Low iron levels can throw your thyroid out of whack, stalling its ability to produce these important hormones, leading to weight gain, fatigue, weakness, and a slew of other crummy effects.
In one study, 21 women who were treated for iron deficiencies not only lost body weight, they also saw smaller waistlines.
Having low iron levels can cause headaches and make you tired, dizzy, or short of breath.
Have your iron levels checked at your next physical. A simple blood test can signal if you need to take a supplement.
Food sources of iron include:
- fortified grains
- dried fruits
- leafy greens
Low iron levels can throw your thyroid out of whack, which can lead to tiredness, weakness, and a slowed metabolism. Consider eating iron-rich foods or adding a daily supplement to your regimen.
13. Cruising down the intermittent fasting lane
To eat or to fast? That is the question. But wait, you can do both — with intermittent fasting! With this type of diet, you alternate periods of eating with periods of fasting, which can help you shed pounds and lose fat.
There are many different approaches to intermittent fasting. Some involve eating only during certain hours, while others take it a step further and restrict eating to certain days.
In one small study, participants who only ate during an 8 hour period each day while doing resistance training showed signs of both decreased fat mass and maintained muscle mass.
Intermittent fasting can be adapted to your lifestyle.
Some of the more popular approaches to this diet are:
- eat stop eat
- the 16/8 method
- the 5:2 diet
- the warrior diet
Intermittent fasting combines alternating periods of eating and fasting. Studies show it can help shed body fat, decrease weight, and maintain muscle mass.
14. The keto diet (Atkin’s 2.0)
You’ve likely heard about the keto diet, but what is it really? The key to keto is increasing your intake of healthy fats and proteins, while decreasing carb consumption to under 30 to 50 grams per day.
This puts your body into a state of ketosis, meaning your body doesn’t have enough blood sugar to burn for energy, so it burns fat instead. Cutting carbs can lead to significant weight loss.
Research has shown that keto is more effective in promoting weight loss than traditional low-fat diets. And don’t worry about feeling hungry or unsatisfied — thanks to the emphasis on extra proteins and fats, you’ll feel full for longer.
There are several variations of the keto diet, and you can choose what’s best for you based on your lifestyle. As with any major diet change, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor or nutritionist to find what version will work best for you.
The keto diet helps promote weight loss by significantly decreasing carbs and increasing proteins and healthy fats. The lack of carbs in your system means your body has to burn fat instead.
In addition to changes in diet and exercise, there are other factors to consider when trying to zap some fat.
15. More zzz’s, less lbs
Whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, getting enough sleep matters.
Several studies have linked adequate sleep with weight loss. In one study, 245 women who participated in a 6-month weight loss program increased their likelihood of weight loss success by 33 percent, thanks to getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
While sleep patterns are different for everyone, most researchers agree that at least 7 hours of sleep is ideal for healthy weight management.
On the flip side, not getting enough sleep can alter your hunger hormones and lead to a higher risk of weight gain.
To help promote more (and better!) sleep, develop and stick to a regular sleep schedule. Avoid caffeine and your phone in the hours before going to sleep.
Getting at least 7 hours of sleep is probably the best tip for losing weight and keeping it off.
16. Hakuna matata
We all experience stress at some level.
Stress causes our bodies to release a hormone called cortisol, which raises blood pressure, squashes the immune system, and can lead to weight gain.
By finding ways to reduce stress, you can prevent the spread of cortisol and achieve a happier life overall.
Some ways to reduce stress include:
Anything that can calm your mind and promote relaxation has stress-busting potential. Find what works for you. Life may be full of stress, but it’s how we manage it that’s important.
Chilax. Being stressed releases the stress hormone cortisol. It wreaks havoc on your physical and emotional health.
Body fat gets a bad rap, but it’s essential for your health. Fat keeps your metabolism in check and your hormone levels balanced. You definitely want some fat to stick around.
But with the good comes the not-so-good. Some types of fat — like our old nemesis visceral fat — can put you at risk for a variety of life-threatening diseases.
No matter your reasons for wanting to burn some body fat, focus on getting there through healthy, manageable lifestyle measures like those outlined above:
- strength train
- try HIIT
- do some cardio
- drink vinegar
- eat protein
- eat healthy fats
- avoid refined carbs
- eat whole grains
- get enough fiber
- limit alcohol, sodas, and other sweetened drinks
- take probiotics
- drink coffee
- keep your iron levels in check
- consider intermittent fasting
- consider the keto diet
- get enough sleep
- reduce stress