How to burn body fat

Wondering how to burn excess body fat? Fire up your fat burners with these tried-and-tested strategies to safely and effectively shift excess fat and reach a healthy weight for your body type…

The phrase ‘burn fat’ gets uttered a lot, but the strategies that are most effective can be difficult to pin down. Of course, the usual mantra of eat right, move more and end up in a calorie deficit (the key driver for fat loss) is the number-one solution when you’re looking for inspo on how to burn body fat, but there are ways of reaching that point in an accelerated timeframe. Indeed, the moves you choose, the food you put on your plate, and even how you manage your emotions, all play a role.

Related: The Fast 800 programme for weight loss: does it work?

Here are 20 simple expert tips that will help you learn how to burn excess body fat in the long run…

1. Deliver a deficit

It‘s not new, or particularly fun, but the simple fact is that if you want to learn how to reduce your body fat you need to ensure you‘re in a calorie deficit. Put simply, that means you burn more calories than you consume. However, there are some smart ways to achieve it. Ari Thiruchelvam is a UK Athletics coach. He says that calorie consumption should be viewed from a wider lens than daily targets.

‘The process of fat loss doesn‘t follow a day-to-day nature,’ he says, ‘but instead works on higher and lower calorie days. This allows you to maximise moments of less hunger, the desire to eat more and socialise, while concurrently allowing you to achieve your body composition goals.’

Discover the difference between fat loss vs weight loss

2. Slow down

As well as what you eat, focus on how you‘re eating it. ‘When you eat too quickly, you don‘t notice how full you are and your receptors can‘t keep up,’ says integrative health coach and nutritionist Arina Kuzmina. ‘Try slowing down, take a break from running around for 10 minutes, sit down and actually enjoy your well-deserved meal.’ That also means eating away from the TV, emails or social media.

3. Lift smart to burn body fat

Instead of focusing on isolation exercises – for example, cable work, crunches and biceps curls – make heavy compound lifts the basis of your strength training. Squats, deadlifts, pull-ups – all these lifts recruit more than one joint and muscle group at a time. ‘When these functional exercises are performed correctly with challenging loads,’ says personal trainer Sana Shirvani, ‘you will burn more calories, as you‘re performing a larger volume of work in the same amount of time.’

4. Fill up on protein

The ‘p’ word was going to make an appearance at some point. Protein is the most filling macronutrient and could stop you reaching for junk food that will only add to your belly fat. ‘Protein encourages the body to tap into your fat stores, rather than muscle tissue,’ says Nick Mitchell, CEO and founder of Ultimate Performance.

‘When you’re in a calorie deficit, your body will start to convert those fat stores to give you energy. But, particularly if body composition is your goal, then a combination of high-protein foods and resistance training will signal the body to tap into your fat stores, rather than your muscles.’ Get your fill of lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, tofu and legumes. Mitchell recommends anywhere between 2.2g to 2.8g of protein per kilogram of lean body mass – though estimating the magic protein requirement for you will be very subjective.

5. Drink more

Water plays a vital role in processing calories, whereas mild dehydration can slow your metabolism. In one study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, adults who drank eight or more glasses of water a day burned more calories than those who drank four. To stay hydrated, drink a glass of water before every meal, and snack on melons and citrus fruits, which naturally contain lots of water.

In a 2015 UK study, those who drank 500ml of tap water half an hour before each meal lost 1.3kg more over a 12-week period than the control group, who didn’t drink the water before eating. The authors commented that those attempting to lose weight might like to try drinking a pint of water before every meal.

6. Try intermittent fasting to burn body fat

Some people swear by intermittent fasting; others think it’s a load of nonsense. As with every major health debate, the answer sits somewhere on the fence of, ‘it might work for you’. It’s important to note that fasting is mainly another means to the end of getting into that state of calorie deficit (if you’re not eating for half the day, chances are you’re not going to be overconsuming calories). Although Dr Michael Mosley, creator of The Fast 800 diet, sees other advantages.

‘Short-term fasting can lead to several changes in the body that make fat burning easier,’ he says. ‘This includes reduced insulin, increased growth hormone and a small boost in metabolism. According to a 2014 review, intermittent fasting can cause weight loss of three-to-eight per cent over three to 24 weeks.

‘Time-restricted eating is very straightforward. Simply ensure that for at least 12 hours within each 24-hour period, you do not consume any calories. Some people shorten their eating window further, to even just eight hours, although recent research shows that a 12-hour period away from food is enough time to give your body significant benefits.’

woman meditating on yoga mat

7. Stress less

There’s research to suggest that high levels of stress and a lack of sleep can increase inflammation in your body, which in turn can lead to increased fat storage around the stomach area. Of course, finding ways to reduce stress is often easier said than done, but yoga, meditation or even regular fresh-air walks are some tried-and-tested methods.

Related: Can you lose weight doing yoga?

8. Go for garlic

Black garlic has been proven to help reduce visceral fat: the dangerous fat that sits internally around organs. Essentially, black garlic is aged, ordinary white garlic, but it packs in twice the antioxidants of the white variety. Research has also found that black garlic could regulate blood sugar (to stop the snacking) and protect your brain health. Pick up black garlic in major supermarkets and independent stores.

9. Add muscle mass

Building and maintaining lean muscle tissue is important, because a pound of muscle can burn up to 20 calories a day, whereas a pound of fat can burn only five calories. ‘Since lifting weights helps build muscles and also burns fat,’ adds hormone specialise Dr Murray Kinsella, ‘it has a dual benefit in fat-loss programmes.’ Ultimately, the more muscle someone has, the more calories they will burn – as highlighted by a wealth of research in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

Related: Exercise to lose belly fat: 24 best exercises & workouts

10. Sleep soundly

Studies published in the American Journal of Epidemiology are a wake-up call to those suffering with sleep deprivation. It too can alter the glucose metabolism and hormones involved in regulating metabolism. Not getting enough shut-eye reduces leptin levels (leptin is the hormone that makes us feel full) and increases ghrelin, which makes us eat more than we need.

‘Circadian eating’ simply means switching from heavy evening meals to lighter meals pre-bed. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but eating the majority of your food earlier in the day, when your digestive system is active, can help improve your sleep.

11. Be NEAT

Some people believe that an hour a day on a treadmill is the best way to trim down. And while there’s no doubt that you would burn calories – on average, 500 to 750 – if you did that, not everyone enjoys working out on a treadmill. Equally, most people tend to overestimate the number of calories they burn performing intentional exercise. For most of us, 70 per cent or more of the calories burned each day are the calories we burn at rest, and up to 10 per cent of the calories we burn is the thermic effect of food (or TEF).

Typically, people who exercise actively burn no more than 10 per cent of their daily calories during intentional exercise. So, where is the missing 10-20 per cent? It’s what we call NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis): the calories burned from activity other than intentional exercise – and they really add up. Increase your NEAT by walking more, taking the stairs, standing at your desk – anything to keep your metabolism whirring away at little cost to your energy levels.

woman placing phone in basket, digital detox concept

12. Switch off

The greater the time spent on screens, the greater the chance of weight gain. That’s according to research from the World Cancer Research Fund International, and is largely because the majority of our time on screens is spent sitting down. ‘Being inactive can also trigger your appetite at the worst time: when you’re burning the least amount of calories,’ says Dr Deborah Lee, of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.

13. Tune into your emotions

We eat when we’re hungry, sure, but sometimes other factors cause us to dip our mitts into the cookie jar. ‘One of the main reasons for eating more is emotion,’ says Kuzmina. ‘We try to fix a broken heart with chocolate, overcome sadness with pasta, deal with disappointment or frustration with ice cream, or compensate for a lack of direction with biscuits.’

Or you may simply be tired and bored. Kuzmina says it’s important to find the root cause and deal with that, instead of automatically reaching for the comfort of food. Before every snack, ask yourself a couple of simple questions: Why am I eating? Am I truly physically hungry? ‘The key to losing weight,’ Kuzmina concludes, ‘is not only figuring out what you are eating, but what is eating you.’

14. Pick the right plate

Bright colours stimulate your appetite, so Dr Lee recommends eating from dark plates. ‘Darker colours suppress appetite,’ she says, ‘because portion sizes appear bigger against darker backgrounds.’

5. Do more burpees

It’s true that nutrition holds the key when it comes to learning how to burn body fat, but you can improve your chances by doing the right type of exercise, too. The burpee is an undeniably brutal bodyweight movement, but Reiss Mogilner, F45 trainer, says it’s an invaluable fat-burning tool. ‘This move majorly works your core, as well as your shoulders, chest, lats, triceps and quads,’ he says. ‘It gets your heart rate going and your blood pumping, and acts as the perfect warm-up or finisher exercise.’ Try the below…

Burpee ladder

  • Set your stopwatch.
  • In the first minute, do 1 full burpee (chest to the floor), then rest for the remainder of the minute. Easy!
  • Do 2 burpees in the second. See where this is going?
  • That’s right: 3 in the third.
  • Keep aligning the number of burpees with the number of minutes, and resting for the remainder of each minute.
  • Simply stop when you can’t complete the set number of burpees within the minute.
  • If you can make it to 20, consider yourself a certified burpee machine.

burpee demonstration how to bur body fat

16. Don’t binge drink

You’ll be pleased to know that we aren’t here to warn you off alcohol altogether. Although beer bellies are real things, if you can’t imagine dinner without a glass of pinot, then you’re in luck. How about drinking more regularly, but less intensely? A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that those who drank infrequently but heavily had more abdominal fat than those who consumed the same amount but drank regularly.

17. How to burn body fat through your gut

A happier gut is a leaner gut. And what makes a happy gut? Variety. Previous research discovered how those with a more varied gut microbiome (the bacteria that live in our intestines) had a lower risk of belly fat, and 2022 research conducted by the University of California found that eating too much food, too often, resulted in poorer microbial and metabolic health, potentially proving that a three-meal-a-day eating style is ideal.

18. Balance your blood sugar

Avoid the rollercoaster of cravings throughout the day by getting your meals in check. ‘Keep your blood sugar balanced by eating sufficient good-quality protein, unprocessed wholefoods rich in vegetables, and some fruits – eat a rainbow every day,’ says nutritional therapist, Fleur Borrelli.

19. Mind the gap

Studies have found that grazing throughout the day can significantly increase daily caloric intake, as many of us graze on high-fat and high-sugar foods. These can subsequently lead to excess fat sitting in your belly. If you find yourself grazing, set a timer on your phone to signal your next eating ‘point’. Borrelli recommends having two to three protein- and fibre-rich meals per day, with at least a five-hour fast between meals, to avoid snacking.

20. Unearth allergies

‘Find out if you have any hidden food allergies that may trigger cravings,’ says Borrelli. ‘Dairy, wheat, gluten, eggs and nuts are some of the main allergen foods.’ If you feel that any of these (or other foods) may be a trigger for you, try eliminating them for four weeks and then reintroduce, to see if you have any specific reaction.

Words: Lucy Gornall | Photography: Shutterstock

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