How To Lose Belly Fat Without Losing Weight – 8 Effective Methods To Try In 2024

Ellie Busby, MS, RDN
Do you want a flatter stomach without losing muscle mass in the rest of your body? Here’s how to lose belly fat without losing weight in 2024.
how to lose belly fat without losing weight
Build muscle mass for a tighter tummy without losing weight. Photo: Shutterstock

Do you want a flatter belly without sacrificing muscle mass? If so, you might be wondering how to lose belly fat without losing weight.

For many people, the ideal body frame is a tight tummy and more muscle mass in the chest, arms, back, shoulders, legs, and buttocks. 

It’s not possible to spot reduce or build a customized body. However, there are workouts and exercises that can improve your body composition when combined with a weight-loss diet.

Here are eight ways to cut belly fat without sacrificing muscle mass.

8 Ways To Lose Your Belly Fat Without Losing Weight

Here’s how to lose belly fat without losing weight in 8 steps:

  1. Eat a calorie deficit.
  2. Build muscle.
  3. Do resistance exercises.
  4. Try high-intensity training.
  5. Eat more protein.
  6. Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
  7. Drink more water.
  8. Get more sleep.

8 Ways To Lose Belly Fat Without Losing Weight

Are you an athlete looking to strengthen your core while still gaining weight for an event? Or do you want a flat stomach without compromising muscle mass? No matter what your goals are, these tips can help. 

Here’s how to get a flat tummy without losing weight:

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Enter A Calorie Deficit

One proven way to burn belly fat is by entering a calorie deficit. This occurs when you burn more calories than you consume. You can do this by consuming about 500 fewer calories per day[1] than you currently take. 

However, remember that you don’t get to pick where you lose fat when you enter a calorie deficit. You may lose fat from all over your body, not just your abdominal area.  

Focus On Building Muscle 

how to lose belly fat without losing weight
Building muscle mass can help reduce overall fat. Photo: Shutterstock

Muscle mass is denser than fat mass, meaning it weighs more but takes up less space. So you might even gain weight if you build muscle while losing fat.

The more muscle mass you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate,[2] or BMR. BMR refers to how many calories you burn at rest. So, having a higher muscle-to-fat-mass ratio helps burn more calories, which can help you burn belly fat

Resistance training is one of the best ways to build lean muscle mass and get lean. It includes lifting weights or doing body-weight exercises, such as push-ups and pull-ups. 

Aim for two resistance training sessions per week.[3] Focus on exercises such as chest presses, shoulder presses, squats, lunges, back rows, bicep curls, tricep extensions, planks, and glute bridges. 

Balance Your Blood Sugar

Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are associated with increased visceral and belly fat. Improving blood sugar balance can help distribute fat more evenly around the body.

This is all to do with your metabolic health. Many whole foods, including fruits and legumes, spike blood sugar less[4] than processed foods, which can help distribute fat. 

Too many blood sugar spikes can lead to insulin resistance, which is associated with excess belly fat.[5] Balancing your blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity can help redistribute fat from the belly. 

Try High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Exercises

Research shows that high-intensity interval training[6] — also known as HIIT — is as effective as longer periods of low to moderate-intensity exercise for burning belly fat. 

Examples of this type of exercise include doing an explosive movement for 30-90 seconds, such as box jumps, sprints, or fast cycling, followed by lower-intensity jogging or slower cycling for 2-4 minutes. Repeat this sequence for 12-20 minutes. 

Because it takes less time to do and is more effective than lower-intensity workouts, HIIT can maximize your fat loss and time spent at the gym. This makes it a popular workout among busy adults looking to burn calories. 

Eat More Protein 

Protein is made up of compounds called amino acids — the building blocks of muscle. During exercise, muscle tissue is broken down, and protein is needed to help build and repair it.  

Research[7] shows that eating more protein alongside resistance training increases muscle growth more than exercising alone. Aim for 1.2-2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day — depending on how much exercise you do.

Eating more protein reduces hunger levels, too. One study found daily whey protein consumption reduced appetite[8] in those with abdominal obesity.

Here are some good sources of lean protein to choose from:

  • Organic chicken and turkey.
  • Pasture-raised eggs.
  • Grass-fed beef.
  • Raw nuts and seeds.
  • Peas and chickpeas.
  • Quinoa.
  • No-sugar-added Greek yogurt.
  • Protein supplements, such as whey and collagen.
  • Bone broth.
  • Wild-caught fish.
  • Beans.
  • Lentils.
  • Cheese.

Add More Fruits And Vegetables To Your Diet

how to lose belly fat without losing weight
Add a variety of fruits and vegetables to your diet. Photo: Shutterstock

Fruits and vegetables are great for blasting belly fat. They are low in calories, helping you enter a calorie deficit. 

Research[9] shows that eating two servings of fruit instead of one serving reduces the risk of developing abdominal obesity by 12%, and eating three servings of vegetables per day instead of two reduces belly fat by 6%. 

The best vegetables and fruits for weight loss include:

  • Cruciferous vegetables.
  • Green leafy vegetables. 
  • Berries.
  • Asparagus.
  • Onions.
  • Garlic.
  • Squash.
  • Cucumbers.
  • Celery.
  • Citrus fruits.
  • Avocado.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Beets.

Drink More Water

Water encourages your body to detox by flushing free radical toxins that may otherwise accumulate, leading to inflammation and weight gain. It also helps keep your tummy flat by encouraging regular bowel movements.

One study[10] found that drinking more water was linked to lower fat mass. This might be because water helps the body with internal tasks such as metabolism and digestion. It also suppresses hunger so that you eat fewer calories throughout the day. 

Studies show that being properly hydrated can improve workout performance[11] and recovery.[12] 

Get More Sleep

Lack of sleep may contribute to belly fat. One study[13] found that those with insufficient sleep had significantly more abdominal fat than those with adequate sleep. Another study confirms that postmenopausal women are likelier to have more belly fat if they sleep less than five hours[14] daily.

Building muscle also requires good-quality sleep. One study[15] found that sleep quality was positively linked with muscle growth. Meanwhile, short sleep durations of fewer than 6 hours per day resulted in reduced muscle gains.

Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. You can do this by establishing a bedtime routine, limiting light exposure at night, and eating a light dinner before bed. Stress management[16] is critical for quality sleep and appetite regulation, so ensure you’re getting enough me-time too.

Is It Possible To Lose Belly Fat Without Losing Weight?

It might not be possible to lose belly fat without losing weight. Fat loss occurs when you enter a calorie deficit — and you can’t pick where it comes from. 

However, you can maintain your current weight and tighten your tummy by focusing on strength training exercises and a healthy diet. Building muscle often gives the appearance of a tighter, stronger core, even if you weigh the same or more. 

Useful Tips

Reduce Your Calorie Intake Slowly

Cutting too many calories too soon can hurt your health. First, it’s hard to sustain major calorie cuts, making it easy to give up and fall back into habits that create excess belly fat in the first place.

Also, your body may go into starvation mode,[17] burning fewer calories to maintain weight — resulting from the lowered leptin hormone levels. Not only may you feel hungry, but you won’t see the reduced belly fat you want. 

Instead of drastic cuts to your calories, gradually decrease them over time. Increase your exercise sessions simultaneously — this will help you burn more calories without cutting too much from your diet. 

Focus On Whole Foods

Instead of cutting calories, focus on eating more whole foods and fewer processed ones. Whole foods[18] have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Chronic inflammation is linked to obesity,[19] so anti-inflammatory foods might make it easier for you to lose stubborn fat. 

Conversely, processed food consumption is linked to a higher risk of abdominal obesity.[20] Processed foods also tend to contribute to digestive ailments, such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and intestinal pain and gas — increasing the risk of a bloated stomach. 

Don’t Skip Breakfast

A common mistake in those wanting to lose belly fat is skipping breakfast. However, studies suggest that skipping breakfast increases the risk of belly fat.[14]

Instead, regular breakfast eaters have better blood sugar balance and are less likely to have abdominal obesity.[21] One reason might be that breakfast skippers have worse blood sugar balance and snack more on unhealthy foods later in the day.

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Chew Slowly

Studies show that chewing your food slowly increases diet-induced thermogenesis,[22] which increases your metabolism and burns more calories.

The Takeaways

Losing belly fat without losing weight is possible. It can be achieved by drinking more water and eating a clean diet with more whole foods and fewer processed carbohydrates.

Also, perform HIIT training and weight-bearing exercises to build muscle and burn calories. Lastly, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I flatten my stomach without losing weight?

Focus on building lean muscle by performing resistance weight training regularly, eating more protein and fewer processed carbs, and drinking more water.

How can I lose my belly fat only?

There is no definite way to lose belly fat without losing fat anywhere else. When you enter a calorie deficit, you may lose weight from all over your body. Focus on strengthening your core and improving your blood sugar balance.

How to turn belly fat into muscle without losing weight?

Strength training, eating more protein, and performing HIIT training can help turn belly fat into muscle without losing weight. However, you can’t spot reduce and you may see an increase in your weight if you build muscle mass.

What foods burn belly fat?

Thermogenic foods[23] help burn belly fat by increasing your metabolism and burning more calories. Examples include green tea, avocado, cherries, salmon, eggs, avocado, turkey, bell peppers, nuts, leafy greens, and hot spices.

Resources

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  6. Zhang, H., Tong, T., Qiu, W., Xu, Z., Zhou, S., Liu, Y. and He, Y. (2017). Comparable Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training and Prolonged Continuous Exercise Training on Abdominal Visceral Fat Reduction in Obese Young Women. Journal of diabetes research, [online] 2017, pp.1–9. doi:https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/5071740.
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  8. Rasmus Fuglsang-Nielsen, Rakvaag, E., Bente Langdahl, Bach, E., Hartmann, B., Holst, J.J., Hermansen, K. and Gregersen, S. (2020). Effects of whey protein and dietary fiber intake on insulin sensitivity, body composition, energy expenditure, blood pressure, and appetite in subjects with abdominal obesity. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [online] 75(4), pp.611–619. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41430-020-00759-4.
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  12. Harris, P.R., Keen, D.A., Constantopoulos, E., Weninger, S.N., Hines, E.R., Koppinger, M.P., Zain Khalpey and Konhilas, J.P. (2019). Fluid type influences acute hydration and muscle performance recovery in human subjects. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, [online] 16(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-019-0282-y.
  13. Naima Covassin, Singh, P., McCrady-Spitzer, S.K., St, E.K., Calvin, A.D., Levine, J.A. and Somers, V.K. (2022). Effects of Experimental Sleep Restriction on Energy Intake, Energy Expenditure, and Visceral Obesity. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, [online] 79(13), pp.1254–1265. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2022.01.038.
  14. Yoon Jung Kim and Chae, H. (2022). The Association Between Lifestyle and Abdominal Obesity Among Postmenopausal Women: A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of Womens Health, [online] 31(11), pp.1567–1574. doi:https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2021.0640.
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  16. Rica, N., Astrup, A., Mads Fiil Hjorth, Anders Sjödin, L. Pijls and C. Rob Markus (2017). Does stress influence sleep patterns, food intake, weight gain, abdominal obesity and weight loss interventions and vice versa? Obesity Reviews, [online] 19(1), pp.81–97. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12603.
  17. Steinhauser, M.L., Olenchock, B.A., O’Keefe, J., Lun, M., Pierce, K.A., Lee, H., Pantano, L., Klibanski, A., Shulman, G.I., Clish, C.B. and Fazeli, P.K. (2018). The circulating metabolome of human starvation. JCI insight, [online] 3(16). doi:https://doi.org/10.1172/jci.insight.121434.
  18. Jaffey, J.A., Su, D., Monasky, R., Hanratty, B., Flannery, E. and Horman, M. (2022). Effects of a whole food diet on immune function and inflammatory phenotype in healthy dogs: A randomized, open-labeled, cross-over clinical trial. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, [online] 9. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2022.898056.
  19. Wu, H. and Ballantyne, C.M. (2017). Skeletal muscle inflammation and insulin resistance in obesity. Journal of Clinical Investigation, [online] 127(1), pp.43–54. doi:https://doi.org/10.1172/jci88880.
  20. Moradi, S., Mohammad Hassan Entezari, Mohammadi, H., Jayedi, A., Anastasia-Viktoria Lazaridi, Ali, M. and Miraghajani, M. (2021). Ultra-processed food consumption and adult obesity risk: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, [online] 63(2), pp.249–260. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2021.1946005.
  21. Priya Deshmukh-Taskar, Nicklas, T.A., Radcliffe, J.D., O’Neil, C.E. and Yan, L. (2012). The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumed with overweight/obesity, abdominal obesity, other cardiometabolic risk factors and the metabolic syndrome in young adults. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES): 1999–2006. Public Health Nutrition, [online] 16(11), pp.2073–2082. doi:https://doi.org/10.1017/s1368980012004296.
  22. Hamada, Y. and Hayashi, N. (2021). Chewing increases postprandial diet-induced thermogenesis. Scientific Reports, [online] 11(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-03109-x.
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