Reducing your waist size, the healthy way

  • Published
  • By By Greg Chadwick
  • Air Force Materiel Command Health and Wellness Team

The Department of the Air Force has implemented a new Body Composition Program for Airmen and Guardians effective April 1, 2023.

The new Waist-to-Height Ratio Body Composition Assessment measures excess fat distribution in the abdominal region and is calculated by dividing waist circumference by height.

The goal of the new program is to improve physical readiness. Having a large waist circumference compared to height has been shown to increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal injuries.

So, what are healthy and effective ways to trim excess belly fat?

“Keep an eye on empty calories in your diet like soda, crackers, and other convenient snacks that can pack on the pounds,” said Maj. Ann Wilkins, AFMC Consultant Dietitian.

“Foods and drinks that contain no beneficial nutrients but are high in calories are said to have empty calories,” said Wilkins. “These are mainly items that have high sugar, fat, or alcohol content, but little or no other nutritional value.”

Consuming too much added sugar is also associated with excess weight that’s likely to accumulate around your waist.

Sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the American diet. These sweetened liquids include regular soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened waters. One 12-ounce can of regular soda contains more than 10 teaspoons of added sugars, adding up to about 150 total calories, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flavored coffees can also be loaded with sneaky sugar calories. A 9.5-ounce bottled coffee drink contains around 190 calories and almost eight teaspoons of sugar.

On average, Americans drink over 300 calories a day of liquid sugar. Cutting out two regular sodas per day would reduce total calories by 2,100 in a week.

“Dropping liquid calories from your diet is one of the easiest and most powerful means to weight loss,” said Wilkins.

Wilkins recommends selecting water (tap or unsweetened, bottled, or sparkling) as your beverage of choice. If water won’t do, she advises you select drinks that contain beneficial nutrients such as low fat or fat free milk, or 100% fruit or vegetable juice.

Another way to lose excess belly fat is to avoid foods made with highly refined carbohydrates.

White grain-containing foods, such as white bread, pasta, and white rice are all examples of refined carbohydrate sources, meaning they have many of their nutrients and fiber removed during processing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

White flour is considered a refined grain and is often the base of many baked goods including bagels, biscuits, rolls, crackers, pancakes, waffles, pretzels, and pizza dough.

Refined grains, due to their lack of fiber, processed nature, and inherent chemical structure are easily and quickly broken down in the digestive tract, giving rise to sudden and large elevations of blood glucose – referred to as high glycemic load carbohydrates.

The spikes of blood sugar that result when we eat these kinds of carbohydrates are followed shortly thereafter by a swift drop in blood sugar. This sudden drop in blood sugar causes a stimulation of appetite.

The result is a vicious cycle of eating and hunger with blood sugar peaks and valleys that can incite unhealthy cravings, or even binging.

Wilkins recommends opting for whole grains, such as whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice which are rich in fiber.

“Your body digests high-fiber foods more slowly keeping you feeling more satisfied longer, which also means a more moderate and controlled rise and fall in blood sugar,” said Wilkins.

She also recommends choosing non-starchy vegetable sides in lieu of starchy white carbs like white potatoes, pasta, and white rice. Non-starchy veggies include asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, dark leafy lettuces, onions, spinach, and tomatoes to name just a few.

The proven strategies to reduce waist size are eating healthy and regular physical activity.

Aerobic exercise burns overall calories and helps you reduce total body fat, especially if you make changes in your diet at the same time. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, such as running, for at least 75 minutes a week.

Strength training workouts are also recommended at least twice a week with free weights, machines, bands, or bodyweight exercises.

If you are looking to improve your body composition, the Air Force has Registered Dietitians and Diet Technicians who can provide guidance on healthy eating. Nutrition classes and appointments are open to active-duty members, retirees, and dependents.

To get personalized assistance in improving your eating lifestyle, call your Wright-Patterson Nutritional Medicine Clinic for an appointment with a dietitian today at 937-257-8815.

Comprehensive information on healthy eating can be found at and