Medically reviewed by Daniel Bubnis, M.S., NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS — Written by Kathryn Watson
Belly fat in the upper abdominal area is a common source of frustration. All of the crunches and planks in the world can strengthen the muscles in that area, but a layer of fat might still remain.
A combination of genetics, lifestyle factors, and diet determine where your body stores excess fat. For some people, the upper belly region is the last place fat loss occurs.
Even though you can’t “spot-treat” areas of fat, you can focus your attention on losing fat overall and exercise to target your upper belly. Cardio exercise, weight training, weight loss, and lifestyle choices can work together to reduce upper belly fat.
Here are some steps to help you get started.
Upper belly fat is different than lower belly fat in some important ways. Lower belly fat is slightly more resistant to absorption, meaning it’s harder to get rid of. But upper belly fat can be stubborn, too.
The idea that you can work out to target specific fat deposits on your body is a myth. You can’t lose fat from any one area of your body without losing fat overall.
No matter how much weight or fat you’re trying to lose, your plan will consist of roughly the same components: calorie restriction, weight training, and lifestyle adjustments.
Before you start trying to reduce body fat, recognize that having some amount of fat on your body is normal, healthy, and part of being human. If your body mass index (BMI) is already low, losing upper belly fat may be especially challenging and take some time.
To create a caloric deficit, you need to first understand the basic concept. If the number of calories you consume each day is equal to the number of calories you burn through activity, your weight will remain fairly stable, unless you have an underlying health condition affecting your weight.
If you want to lose weight or reduce body fat, you must consume fewer calories than you burn. You can do this by restricting your daily calorie intake, increasing your daily activity level, or both.
To lose one pound of fat, you need to burn about 3,500 extra calories through a caloric deficit. That means that if you’re consistently burning 500 calories more than you consume each day, you’ll lose weight at the rate of about one pound per week.
Losing more than 1.5 to 2 pounds per week requires excessive calorie restriction, and is not recommended for most people. Weight management options have evolved.
What you eat when you’re trying to lose weight matters. If you’re dieting to get rid of upper belly fat, there are a few important factors to keep in mind.
Upper belly fat can be the result of your body storing water weight. Sodium consumption, dehydration, and a lack of electrolytes can cause your body to retain water.
This can make your stomach and other areas of your body appear swollen. Stick to a diet low in salt while you’re working to lose belly fat.
Belly fat can also be affected by how much fiber you eat. When you’re not consuming enough fiber, your stomach can be pushed outward by gases and waste in your digestive system.
This is the result of a sluggish gut that doesn’t have enough fiber to push food through and out of your digestive tract in a timely manner.
That’s why eating a diet high in fiber-rich foods can help with weight loss and belly fat. It also makes cutting calories easier, as fiber helps you feel full for longer.
When you’re working to lose belly fat, avoid white starches, processed grains, soft drinks, and foods high in sugar. These foods can disrupt your endocrine system and make it harder for your body to let go of fat.
These exercises won’t work to “spot treat” areas of fat on your body, but they will strengthen your core, tone your waistline, and improve your posture while you’re losing weight.
To try yoga for weight loss, start simple with Boat Pose.
- Sit on a yoga mat with your legs extended in front of you.
- Bending your knees, lift your feet off the floor until your shins are parallel with the floor.
- Extend your arms in front of you while extending your legs as far as you’re able to.
- Hold the pose, being mindful of your breathing, for 30 seconds or more.
- Return to a neutral pose and repeat 8 to 10 times to engage your core and upper belly.
This exercise is simple, but you’ll feel the burn in your upper abs after just a few reps. You can also add weights or a medicine ball to make this more challenging.
- Sit on a yoga mat with your butt on the ground, your knees bent, and your feet flat on the floor.
- Tightening your abs and keeping your butt pressed to the floor, lean back until you’re at a 45-degree angle with the floor.
- Bring your hands together just above your abdomen. Slowly twist your body to one side, bringing your weight across one side of your body.
- Twist back over to the other side. Cross your ankles if you feel like you’re losing your balance.
- Twist back and forth quickly if you can, but maintain your legs at a 45-degree angle.
- Aim to keep going for a full minute before you stop.
This exercise tones your upper belly by hitting the deep transverse abdominis muscles that are easy to miss during workouts.
- Sit with your legs straight out in front of you and your arms straight, palms to the ground.
- Brace your ab muscles and imagine a cord attached to your bellybutton, pulling you up toward the sky. Use your palms to push your belly up. Use your heels to get higher if you can.
- Hold this pose for several seconds before releasing and returning, with control, to a neutral position. Repeat 10 to 12 times for one set.
These planks work your upper belly area as well as your obliques.
- Lay flat on one side, with one arm out. Bend your knees and stack your legs over each other at a 45-degree angle.
- Rest your body’s weight on the forearm of your extended arm. Use your oblique muscles to squeeze yourself up into a sideways plank position.
- Lift the arm that’s not on the floor up toward the sky and hold this position for as long as you can.
- Slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat 8 to 10 times for one set.
Beyond working out and cutting calories, there are other choices you can make to help reduce belly fat.
Drinking water helps to speed weight loss for some people. It also cuts down on inflammation, improves digestion, hydrates muscles for better performance during workouts, and flushes toxins from your system.
Cut down on stress
Stress can be a reason why fat deposits stick around, even when you’re doing everything you’re supposed to be doing to lose it.
You might not be able to eliminate stress from your life, but you can try coping mechanisms like yoga, deep breathing, and mindfulness. All of these have the added bonus of making weight loss easier, according to research.
Create a smoking cessation plan
If you smoke, quitting may initially feel like it causes you to gain weight as you fight to curb nicotine cravings. But once you’ve quit, it will be easier to be more active and you may find it easier to lose weight. You’ll also be significantly more healthy.
Quitting smoking can be challenging, but you can work with your doctor to create a cessation plan that’s right for you.
The main cause of abdominal weight gain usually boils down to eating more calories than you consume. But it’s not quite that simple. Other factors can cause fat to accumulate in the upper belly area, including:
- advancing age
- lack of sleep
Working out your upper body and core will strengthen and tone your muscles, but you can’t “spot-treat” the layer of fat on your upper belly.
Making a plan to lose weight overall is the only way to get rid of fat deposits on your stomach. For some people who don’t have a lot of weight to lose, this may prove challenging.
Try to be realistic about how quickly you would like to lose weight. Remember that all bodies have some amount of fat, and fat is not always an indicator of how healthy you are.
If you’re concerned with fat on your upper belly, speak with a doctor to create healthy weight loss goals for your height and body type.