Keeping an eye on your waistline has benefits that go far beyond fitting into your jeans. The fat that accumulates around your belly—known as visceral fat—is not quite the same as the fat in other parts of your body. Unlike other fat, belly fat can increase your risk of a host of serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.
That’s why your waist size matters: Men with a waist circumference larger than 40 inches and women with a waist circumference larger than 35 inches are considered to be at a high risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But there’s some good news if you need to whittle your middle—belly fat can be targeted with diet and exercise changes.
Get the right mix. A great way to attack belly fat is to eat a diet with the ideal balance of fruits and vegetables, wholesome carbohydrates, and lean protein. Fruits and veggies should make up about half of your plate come mealtime, while wholesome carbs (like high-fiber whole grains) and lean protein (think chicken, fish, and turkey) should each make up about a quarter of your plate.
Fight belly fat with healthy fats. It sounds counterintuitive to eat more fat when you’re trying to lose fat, but healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may actually target belly fat. Plus, these good-for-you fats have been shown to help lower your bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise your good cholesterol (HDL).
So where do you find them? Avocados, olives, nuts, and olive oil are great sources of monounsatured fats, while polyunsatured fats can be found in many plant-based oils, such as sunflower and corn oil, as well as in fatty fish, like tuna and salmon.
But here’s the kicker: Don’t simply add good-fat foods to your diet to get the benefits. Instead, make healthy swaps, such as trading out beef for salmon once a week. And even though these fats are healthy, eat them in moderation—up to 30 percent of your total diet—as they are still high in calories.
Break a sweat. There’s no way to dodge the need for more physical activity: When it comes to improving your waistline, you’ll need to torch calories and get your heart rate up. One of the best ways to do that is interval training. Take any activity that gets your heart rate up, like walking or dancing, and alternate bursts of more intense activity with lighter activity.
If you’re walking, for instance, try speed walking for 30 seconds, then walk at a moderate pace for two minutes and repeat this sequence. You’ll burn more calories, and over time, more fat.
Strengthen your whole body. You can’t lose fat in just one place, and you can’t target just one set of muscles and expect a transformation. Instead, aim for total-body strength workouts. The more muscle you have, the more efficiently your body burns calories. That’s good for blasting fat—and keeping it off.
You don’t have to pump iron to strength train—unless you want to. Simply use your own body weight to get the results you’re after. Try push-ups, planks, lunges, and squats, all of which engage multiple muscle groups. Aim for two to three strength training sessions every week.