How to reduce your waist size
Reviewed by Dr Sameer Sanghvi
Why is waist size important?
Waist size is a good measure of fat around your middle. Carrying too much fat around your waist can increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. This risk increases further for people of African Caribbean, South Asian, Chinese and Japanese origin.
You might have a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), but it’s a good idea to check your waist size to see if you’re carrying excess fat around your stomach. BMI is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if you’re a healthy weight.
The fat around your middle is made up of subcutaneous fat, the fat you can pinch, and visceral fat. Visceral fat is more dangerous than subcutaneous fat; it lies deep in the abdomen, collects around organs, and influences your body’s functions, such as insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes).
Waist measurements can be a better indicator of health if you have a muscular build – this is because BMI doesn’t take muscle mass into account.
The advice from NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is that your waist size should be less than half of your height. For example, if your height is 170cm, your waist size should be less than 85cm.
Measuring your waist size
To start measuring your waist, visit our article on keeping track of your measurements. People on a weight loss journey will often keep track of their hips and thigh measurements too. Seeing these measurements reduce (if they need to) are sometimes called ‘non-scale victories.’ Non-scale victories encourage you to think about your health’s bigger picture away from the scales.
Reducing your waist size
When working on reducing your waist size, you will need to consider:
- Exercise – include both aerobic exercise and resistance training
- Diet – eating across all the food groups in the right proportions is important
- Stress – keep levels to a minimum
- Sleep – make sure you’re getting enough
We cover each of these areas in more detail below.
Exercises to reduce waist size
Moderate-intensity exercise can help to reduce your waist circumference. Even if you don’t lose weight overall, you may lose visceral fat and gain muscle mass. If you can, you should also incorporate high-intensity intermittent exercise – some research shows that high-intensity exercise may be more effective at reducing abdominal and subcutaneous fat than other forms of exercise. A good example of this is circuit training.
In terms of general exercise, the NHS recommends:
- Adults do some physical activity every day (even if light activity)
- Adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week
- Spreading exercise out across the week
- Breaking up periods of inactivity with some activity
It’s important to consider both aerobic exercise (anything that raises your heart rate) and resistance training (anything using your body weight or working against a resistance) when working on reducing your waistline.
Aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging or swimming, can help to put you in a calorie deficit. When your body is in a calorie deficit over an extended period, it will start to tap into its energy reserves (stored fat). Burning more calories and using fat reserves might mean you start to lose weight, including on your waistline.
As well as aerobic activity, strength training can help you to reduce your waistline. Examples include Pilates, weightlifting or working with resistance bands. Resistance training is effective weight loss activity because it will help you to build muscle – more muscle means more energy expenditure, supporting a calorie deficit. ‘Spot exercises’, such as sit-ups won’t target visceral fat, but will help prevent it from coming back as you’re increasing your muscle mass.
Eating to reduce your waist size
Our guide to healthy eating is a good place to start. The guideline in this article will be suitable for most adults, however, if you have a medical condition or dietary needs, you should talk to your GP before making a change to your diet.
Overall, to lose belly fat, you will need to eat food across the different food groups in the right proportions. Other tips include:
- Swap sugary drinks for water
- Get your five a day
- Avoid stocking ‘junk’ foods in your home
- Avoid all fad diets
- Don’t skip meals
- Cut down on food high in sugar and fat
- Eat mindfully
Manage your stress levels
Stress can affect your weight because it:
- Has a direct physical impact on your body
- Can lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits
Stress raises the level of ‘stress hormone’, cortisol. There is an association between high levels of cortisol and greater levels of abdominal fat. Also, when stressed, some people notice an increased appetite, which can lead to weight gain around your middle.
If you’re feeling very stressed, or regularly feel stressed, you should talk to your GP and find support in managing your stress levels. You may also be able to manage stress by tackling some of the things that are causing it. A great first step is to ask for help – for instance, from your manager at work, or from a debt charity that can advise on financial concerns.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is an important factor when working on reducing your waist size. Some evidence suggests that regularly getting less than six hours sleep a night is linked to having a higher BMI. Other studies show a link between too much or too little sleep, and more visceral fat.
Also, being overweight or obese can lead to certain conditions that can impact your sleep, such as sleep apnoea (when your breathing stops for a few seconds during your sleep, resulting in disturbed sleep).
Tips for getting a better sleep include:
- Sticking to a routine
- Avoid using your phone in bed
- Avoid eating too close to bedtime
- Avoid caffeine close to bedtime
- Exercise earlier in the day if you can – exercising later can make it hard to wind down
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