3 Reasons You Can’t Lose Your Belly Fat

Sure, sit-ups will help, but for the most effective ways to blast belly fat, keep reading. (Photo: Getty Images)

Recently, a friend asked me how she could reduce her belly fat. She is a fitness instructor who works out regularly and follows the “80/20 rule” – eating healthy about 80 percent of the time. Still, she couldn’t lose her belly fat and was frustrated about it.

My initial response? Eat better, work out more and stop stressing. This was not the answer she was looking for. In fact, I had frustrated her even more by telling her something she already knew. What she really wanted to know was whether there is anything she can do to target her belly fat.

The short answer is no. There is no way to spot reduce. This doesn’t just apply to belly fat, but also to hips, thighs, butt, arms and any other body part that jiggles. Sure, there are exercises you can do to tone and strengthen these areas, but as far as losing fat in any one of them, it isn’t possible. To lose fat in one area, you must lose it all over.

There are three stages to burning fat. Here’s the short and sweet of it:

  1. Fat must first be released from a fat cell. It needs a reason to be released, so get moving.

  2. The fat that is released must travel through the blood searching for activated cells that will burn it for fuel.

  3. The fat finds and enters the active cell and is burned for fuel.

There are many hormones – including estrogen and progesterone (in women), testosterone (in men), cortisol, insulin and two components of adrenaline – that either help or hinder this process, which is why it’s always important to see a doctor before beginning any kind of rigorous exercise. He or she can see if any of these hormones are out of whack.

It’s all well and good to understand how fat is burned, but it doesn’t explain why can’t you lose that stubborn layer. What does explain it? In working with my private clients at Whole Green You, usually one of three situations. Here’s what they are – and how to address them:

1. You’re exercising wrong.

Clients tell me all the time that they do endless amounts of crunches, planks and sit-ups to no avail. Their belly fat refuses to move. I’m not surprised. After all, crunches, planks and sit-ups are not fat-burning exercises in and of themselves. Yes, they will improve your core strength, posture and balance, but all you are really doing is strengthening the muscle beneath the fat and not reducing the fat on top.

To correct this mistake, make sure your workouts are an all-over combination of weight training and cardio. Cardio in and of itself may not be enough to burn fat, but putting on muscle all over your body, even if it’s just a small amount, will speed up metabolism and get your body burning more calories while at rest. That’s right: If you’re burning more calories per day while you’re not actively working out, it can help you get results faster.

Related: Lose Belly Fat with Just 2 Exercises

2. You’re stressed out.

This is the second most common cause of belly fat retention that I see among my clients. Even if you work well under pressure or are a master of outwardly controlling your reaction to stress, your body cannot be fooled. Stress is a tricky thing, and even if you manage to stay calm and cool on the outside,stress will find a way to manifest itself. For many people, it’s in excess belly fat.

When we’re stressed out, our body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol forces immature fat cells to become mature, and those are often centered around your belly. Cortisol can also cause you to reach for not-so-good foods that are high in sugar or refined grains, triggering a euphoric sensation that tricks you into thinking you have temporary relief.

The solution here is to really take time out to relax and do something for yourself. I don’t mean work out, spend hectic time with the kids and family or hit the bar with friends. I mean you need to really get some “you time.” Even if it’s just a few minutes a day to do some deep breathing in a secluded space where no one will bother you, giving your body a chance to seriously relax will definitely help lower stress.

3. You aren’t getting enough sleep.

A lack of sleep is the most common culprit of belly fat I see among my clients. All of us have been guilty of this at one point or another in our lives. Sleep is important, not only because it gives your body a chance to reset, but it gives it a chance to burn fat while you’re not stressing out or eating. Anything less than 7 or 7 ½ hours of sleep a night deprives your body of the chance to reset, as well as opens you up to added stress during the day due to fatigue. Sleep and stress go hand in hand.

These are just three of the most common situations I find my clients struggle with when it comes to stubborn belly fat. However, every person is unique and different and may require additional support to achieve his or her weight and lifestyle goals. Talk to a health coach or other health or fitness professional to find what works for you.

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