Wondering how to flatten your stomach? Experts share six ways you can tone up your tummy in a safe and healthy way.
Here’s the honest truth: I’ve never had a flat stomach. Not when I was competing in Division I college swimming, not when I went on an extreme diet in high school—not even when I was a 90-pound, pre-pubescent string bean. No matter what I did, I always seemed to have a little bump on my stomach (which I so lovingly referred to as my “pooch”). And while I can’t seem to get a flat tummy no matter what I do, my social media feed is filled with taut Pilates-toned abs in early-2000s low-slung jeans.
But I’m not alone. The more I speak to friends and family, I’ve realized many people share this struggle. The good news? Despite the vertical lines you see on social, it’s not in your head—it is quite difficult to achieve a flat stomach. It’s especially tricky for women, as our biological makeup works against the idea of having a flat stomach (more on that later). Other things like bloating, distension, genetics, food sensitivities or allergies, poor posture, and a lack of core strength can all make it difficult to flatten your stomach as well.
If you search “how to get a flat stomach,” most of the information encourages food restriction and overexercising. But these tactics are not only unsafe, they’re also ineffective. I spoke to experts to find out how to flatten your stomach in a healthy and safe way. (The answers surprised even me.) Here’s what they had to say.
Is It Possible to Get a Flat Stomach?
For some people, it is possible to achieve a flat stomach, but for others, it may not be attainable in a healthy and safe way. Here are a few reasons a flat stomach might not be an achievable goal for all.
1. Women’s Biological Makeup
“There’s a small pad of fat that sits below the belly button and above the pelvic bowl,” explains Dr. Monica Grover, MD, double board-certified OB-GYN, and chief medical officer at VSPOT. “The fat is a protective layer for a woman’s reproductive organs such as her ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.”
So if you’ve ever heard that women naturally carry a little more fat on their stomachs (or if you’ve ever personally struggled with the little pouch on your own body—you’re not alone), know that it’s there for a reason: to protect your vital organs. “This is why women may never have a flat stomach,” Dr. Grover says. “When losing weight, women also tend to lose their subcutaneous fat, which is just below the skin (versus men, who tend to lose their visceral fat, which is the layer of fat below their abdominal muscles).” Translation: Men typically lose fat around their tummies first, while women tend to lose it all over initially.
2. Hormones and Hormone Regulation
Hormonal factors play a big role in whether women will be able to achieve a flat stomach. Specifically, hormonal changes throughout life affect how women store fat. Dr. Grover lists menopause as an example. “After menopause, fat tissue produces estrogen, and estrogen causes fat storage—creating a vicious cycle,” she explains. (These strategies can help you manage menopause weight gain.)
3. Stress Levels
Research has confirmed that stress belly is real thing. It’s excess stomach fat that results from chronic stress. But how does it form exactly? When your body is under stress (or in fight-or-flight mode), cortisol is released. This hormone puts our bodies into survival mode, shutting down any functions that aren’t absolutely essential. As a result, your metabolism slows and your body is instructed to store fat.
Stress also blocks ovulation in women. “When women stop ovulating, they don’t make progesterone—and progesterone helps burn fat for energy,” Dr. Grover explains.
If you’re noticing that it’s challenging to lose weight (or if you’ve noticed rapid weight gain for seemingly no reason), you might be dealing with thyroid disease. This can also make your quest for a flat stomach more difficult. “Thyroid diseases can slow down metabolism, predisposing people to accumulate more fat,” Dr. Grover explains. If you’re worried you have a thyroid disorder, consult a doctor and ask for bloodwork to check your levels. With some medication, you can stabilize your thyroid and get back to your fitness journey.
5. Diastasis Recti
If you’ve recently been pregnant or given birth, a flat stomach might be more difficult to achieve due to diastasis recti. This occurs when the rectus abdominis muscles separate during pregnancy due to being stretched. “The separation can make a person’s belly stick out or bulge months or years postpartum,” Dr. Grover explains. However, you can address this problem by performing pelvic floor exercises or by using an Emsculpt machine (which is available at VSPOT).
How to Flatten Your Stomach, According to Experts
If you fall into the group of people that may have an easier time getting a flat stomach in a safe way (read: not overexercising and undereating) there are a few things that come together to make the taut tummy you’re searching for. Wondering what the best flat stomach diet and flat stomach exercises are? Experts share their six best tips, below.
1. Go For a Walk
Thanks to TikTok, workouts like Hot Girl Walks and the viral 12-3-30 treadmill challenge have soared in popularity. And it turns out, walking is one of the best flat stomach exercises you can do, according to scientific research. The study assessed the impacts of walking 50 to 70 minutes three times a week for 12 weeks for obese women. The participants who were assigned to the walking group showed a significant decrease in both subcutaneous and visceral body fat when compared to the control group (who maintained their sedentary lifestyle).
But why is walking so effective? Because it’s a low-intensity steady state (LISS) exercise. “Low-intensity means it will elevate your heart rate and keep it elevated and steady as opposed to spiking it close to your maximum heart rate like high-intensity does,” explains Danielle Gray, NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of Train Like A Gymnast. “Steady-state [exercise] helps to burn fat because it is also more aerobic and uses fat as the primary source of energy as opposed to using carbohydrates for energy.”
Another reason walking is such a great option for a flat tummy? It’s so accessible: Beginners and fitness gurus alike can do it, you can do it anywhere, and it requires minimal equipment. It’s also gentle on your joints, decreasing the risk of any injuries. Plus, it’s a fun way to get movement in, which can help you stick with it in the long term. “Though you cannot spot reduce fat, your body with gradually lose fat all over until your stomach eventually flattens.”
2. Eat Enough Food
We know—this sounds confusing, but stay with us. If you’re trying to flatten your stomach, your first instinct might be to restrict your food intake. And while it’s true that you need to be in a slight calorie deficit (meaning you’re eating less calories than you’re burning) to lose body fat, eating too little can actually push you further away from your fitness goals. “Eating too little can slow down your metabolism because your body will think that it needs to conserve energy from food as much as possible,” says Gaby Vaca-Flores, RDN, CLE, HUM’s educational specialist
Another mind-blowing reason restricting food can make your tummy appear less flat? “Eating too little can cause your stomach to create gasses, which leads to bloat,” says Vaca-Flores. When your stomach is empty, it’s searching for something to digest. But since there’s nothing in your stomach, it creates gas instead.
And finally, eating too little during the day can result in overeating later on, says Vaca-Flores. Why does this matter? Overeating can cause bloating because your body is trying to digest the large volume of food all at once.
“To make sure you are eating enough, avoid skipping meals and ensure you are building balanced plates whenever possible.” Not sure where to start? We have a great portion guide here. But the best course of action is to consult a dietitian to figure out what the optimal amount of food is for your goals and needs.
3. Stay Hydrated
Research has shown that drinking enough water can help improve cognitive function and health, improve physical performance and health, increase energy levels, and improve overall mood. But did you know that drinking enough water can also help promote a flatter stomach? It may seem counterintuitive (since you likely feel a little bloated after drinking a bunch of water). But it really works: “Drinking water can help with water retention—a common cause for bloating—by eliminating excess fluids,” says Vaca-Flores. “Additionally, staying hydrated can help with gut transit, which helps keep your digestive system running smoothly.”
Before you start chugging gallons of water, keep in mind that you don’t need to overdo it. The amount of water someone needs varies, but Vaca-Flores says most people should aim to drink between two to three liters of water daily (which equals eight to 12 cups of water). Try to space your water intake throughout the day so your body has time to absorb it properly. Need some motivation to stay hydrated? Treat yourself to a fun water bottle or get creative with drinks (agua fresca is a delicious, hydrating option). If you’re concerned about bloating, we’d recommend staying away from sparkling water (while it’s hydrating, the bubbles can cause bloating).
4. Fill Up on Fiber
According to a 2021 study, nearly 93 percent of Americans aren’t eating enough fiber. Why is this important? Fiber helps detox your body by aiding in the removal of waste. It does this by increasing the weight and size of your stool to help keep things regular. Not only is this beneficial for overall health (research has shown that a diet high in fiber can help decrease the risk of colon cancer), but it’s also helpful for those seeking a flat stomach.
“When we don’t eat enough fiber, it can cause constipation—and constipation can make our stomachs look distended,” says Vaca-Flores. “As such, eating fiber can help promote regularity and the appearance of a flatter-looking stomach.”
So, how much fiber should you be eating then? “There’s no hard and fast number,” Vaca-Flores says. The recommended fiber intake is 25 grams daily for women and 38 grams daily for men. However, as with most foods, you can have too much of a good thing. Eating too much fiber can cause you to feel bloated, as your body might struggle to digest it all. “We can infer that eating more than the recommended daily intake of fiber can possibly be too much.” Aim for the daily recommended amount and pay attention to how your body responds.
5. Keep Your Diet Diverse
If your plan is to stick to a strict meal plan and eat the same thing every day, you may struggle to achieve a flat tummy. That’s because eating a diverse range of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, is essential for good gut health (which lends itself to less bloating and a flatter stomach).
Different foods provide different benefits for your gut flora (the bacteria that live in your gastrointestinal system). “For instance, some foods provide good bacteria (probiotics), while others provide fibers that can help those probiotics thrive in the gut,” Vaca-Flores says. “Keeping your gut health in check is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy digestive system—which of course, can help ease bloating.”
Wondering which foods you should focus on to get the best benefits? “There are no specific nutrients to look out for,” Vaca-Flores says. “They’re all important, which is why eating a wide variety of foods is key.”
6. Give Your Gut a Boost
As Vaca-Flores mentioned, you can do everything right and still deal with bloating. Give your system a boost by adding supplements into your routine. A probiotic (like HUM’s Gut Instinct) can help encourage good bacteria growth within the gut to help with better digestion, less bloating, and a balanced gut microbiome. Or, if you’re dealing with bloating issues specifically after eating, a digestive enzyme (like HUM’s Flatter Me) can break down food for better digestion and decreased bloating.
Is It Healthy to Have a Flat Stomach?
The shape of our stomachs also doesn’t always paint the full picture of our health. “Since women’s bodies are designed to store fat around their stomachs to prepare for pregnancy and childbirth, a flat stomach is not indicative of their overall health,” Dr. Grover says. “Every person’s level of health is different, and fat on their stomach is not a tall-tale sign if they are healthy or not.”
Also, how you get there makes a difference. For example, if someone is undereating in order to achieve a flat stomach, they might be dealing with health risks including disordered eating, anemia, infertility, bone density loss, increased cardiovascular disease risk, and decreased cognitive function, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
Everyone’s body is different. “You can eat all the ‘right’ foods and still experience some degree of bloating after eating,” Vaca-Flores says. If this is you, remember that you’re not alone—everyone can experience bloating at some point.
Keep in mind that how and where you store fat does have a genetic component. Of course, you can use nutrition and exercise to change your body composition to a certain degree. But there are certain things to be aware of. Some people’s bodies store fat along their stomachs while others may find it accumulating on their hips and thighs. As mentioned earlier, women also have the added challenge of naturally having an extra layer of fat on their tummies to protect their vital organs.
Remember to be kind to yourself. A flat stomach isn’t the ultimate mark of health and wellness, so remember to eat a balanced diet, move your body regularly, drink water, and get enough sleep. Your body (especially your tummy) will thank you.