Body fat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It cushions and protects your organs, helps you maintain your body temperature, and provides a long-lasting source of energy.
But while you do need some amount of body fat to stay healthy, if your body fat percentage gets too high, that’s when problems begin to develop.
Excess body fat is connected to heart disease, insulin resistance, diabetes, and perhaps poor mental health[*]. Even if you’re at a healthy weight, you may have too much body fat.
If you’re looking for tips on how to lose body fat, here are six proven strategies that you can start today.
Follow a Low-Carb, Keto Diet
There’s lots of conflicting nutrition advice on how to lose body fat. Following a low-fat diet and reducing your calorie intake can lead to overall weight loss.
But a low-carb, keto diet consistently outperforms these options — especially when it comes to body fat.
One study comparing a low-fat diet to a low-carb, keto diet found that the keto diet led to more fat loss, notably in the belly. This was true even when the keto dieters ate a little more[*].
Another study compared a calorie-restricted, low-fat diet to a keto diet in overweight but otherwise healthy women. The researchers found that the women following the keto diet lost a lot more weight and more fat mass than the low-fat group[*].
While keto can lead to short-term fat loss, the goal is to become fat-adapted by following the diet for an extended period. That’s when the real magic happens.
Fat Loss for Athletes
While a keto diet can help anyone lose body fat, it may be especially helpful for athletes. One study compared the effects of a keto diet to a non-ketogenic diet when combined with strength training.
Researchers found that the keto diet reduced overall fat mass and fat tissue in the stomach better than the non-keto diet. The keto diet also helped prevent the loss of lean muscle mass[*].
Another study found that, when combined with endurance exercise, a 12-week keto diet improved overall body composition and increased the amount of fat that participants burned during exercise[*].
But even if you haven’t made the transition to a full ketogenic diet yet, cutting out refined carbs in your daily diet can help you lose excess body fat.
Refined carbohydrates are considered junk food because they’re low in nutrients and high in sugar. What’s more, one animal study found that they can mess with serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that are involved in appetite regulation and feelings of satiety[*].
Consider Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) is another strategy that goes hand-in-hand with a keto diet. Some people think intermittent fasting works simply by forcing you into a bigger calorie deficit, but the science goes beyond that.
IF works by reducing your overall insulin, glucose, and glycogen levels. This signals your body to release fatty acids (similar to how a keto diet works). Because insulin and glucose levels are low, your body then uses those fatty acids for energy instead of storing them as fat[*].
With regular intermittent fasting (especially when combined with a keto diet), your body also starts to burn the body fat that it has already stored.
In one study, participants reduced their total body fat percentage by about 3% after eight weeks of alternate-day intermittent fasting[*].
But while intermittent fasting can be beneficial on its own, it’s especially effective to help you lose body fat and reduce fat mass when combined with regular exercise[*].
Supplement With Medium-Chain Triglycerides
When it comes to foods for weight loss, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) might be the holy grail. One study compared olive oil to MCT oil and found that MCT oil came out on top for both body fat loss and overall weight loss.
According to the researchers from the study, when combined with an overall weight loss plan, MCT oil reduces total body fat mass, belly fat, and visceral fat[*].
In addition to helping you burn fat, MCTs also help:
- Provide a quick source of energy[*]
- Decrease hunger[*]
- Improve mental clarity and brain function[*]
- Improve digestion[*]
- Balance hormones[*]
- Improve insulin resistance and blood sugar levels (which is connected to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes[*]
- Improve cholesterol[*]
While coconut is a rich source of MCTs (about 55-65% of the fat in coconut comes from MCTs), there’s a difference between eating coconut products and supplementing with MCT oil or MCT oil powder, which are 100% medium-chain triglycerides.
Prioritize Strength Training
Cardio exercises are often the go-to choice when it comes to weight loss. But while running on the treadmill or hitting the elliptical can certainly help you burn extra calories, the best way to turn overall weight loss into fat loss is through regular strength training.
Strength training, also called weight training, helps you build muscle mass while you simultaneously lose body fat[*].
Your body weight, or the number you see on the scale, may not change that much when you swap muscle for excess body fat.
However, this combination leads to better body composition. And having more lean muscle can increase your resting metabolic rate — the number of calories your body burns at rest[*].
If you’re new to strength training and the thought of hitting the weight machines feels intimidating, you may want to consider hiring a personal trainer to help show you the ropes.
Incorporate High-Intensity Interval Training
High-intensity interval training (or HIIT for short) involves alternating between short periods of intense cardio exercise with short periods of rest.
The goal of HIIT exercises is to strategically increase your heart rate through short bursts of intense exercise so that your body creates lactic acid. This lactic acid is accompanied by adrenaline, which helps increase the amount of body fats[*].
HIIT exercises may also help improve insulin resistance and glucose tolerance[*].
As a bonus, high-intensity interval training can directly target visceral fat (or belly fat), depending on your heart rate.
One meta-analysis showed that while HIIT significantly reduced total body fat and visceral fat in both men and women, keeping your exercise intensity under 90% of your peak heart rate can specifically reduce belly fat[*].
Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep (and making sure the sleep you get is high-quality) is an often overlooked part of the fat-burning puzzle.
As one study points out, a lack of sleep can undermine any dietary changes you’re making[*]. That’s because not getting enough sleep can reduce the number of calories your body burns and make you want to eat more by disrupting hormones that control your hunger[*].
Researchers from that same study also looked at the kind of weight loss experienced by participants.
They found that while all of the participants — both those who got enough sleep and those with a lack of sleep — lost weight, half of the weight loss was in the form of fat when sleep was adequate. When participants were sleep-deprived, only one-fourth of the weight loss was in the form of actual body fat[*].
Putting It Together to Lose Body Fat
While there are many things you can do to lose weight, the best advice on how to lose body fat is to combine a low-carb, keto diet with intermittent fasting, regular strength training, and HIIT exercises. Prioritizing quality sleep and strategically supplementing with MCT oil can also help.