Why Is Belly Fat So Stubborn?Posted on June 14, 2018
You exercise regularly and count your caloric intake, but you still can’t seem to banish your bulging belly. You’re not alone. Tummy fat, especially the type called visceral fat, becomes increasingly troublesome as we age.
Visceral fat is a type of fat found deep within your abdominal cavity, surrounding internal organs such as your intestines. Doctors have linked higher levels of visceral fat with health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer. Even if you work out most days of the week, you might still be fighting an uphill battle with your belly fat. What makes belly fat so difficult to conquer?
You might assume all fat cells are created equal, but in fact, you have two different kinds of fat cells: alpha and beta cells. Different areas of your body have a higher proportion of one type or the other. When it comes to body composition and fat loss, alpha cells are the enemy. It’s harder to lose body fat from areas that have more alpha cells. In contrast, you can burn stored fat more easily in areas of your body with a higher concentration of beta cells.
Alpha cells are associated with areas of stubborn body fat, which are often the waist and belly. As we age, both women and men tend to develop a higher ratio of alpha to beta fat cells in the abdominal region. That’s the reason for the “spare tire,” “love handles,” and “muffin top” that can be so hard to shed.
Aging is one factor associated with the concentration of alpha and beta cells in different areas of the body, but heredity is another influence. If you’ve noticed a tendency toward a specific body composition runs in your family, you can chalk it up to an inherited predisposition to have a higher ratio of alpha to beta cells in certain areas.
Why Exercise Helps You Get Rid of Belly Fat
If you exercise regularly and still find yourself with a roll of belly fat, the first thing to try is to increase the difficulty level of your workouts. Intense exercise leads your body to release more adrenaline, which helps stimulate fat burning. That’s why vigorous exercise, including high-intensity resistance training, is a powerful weapon in your ongoing battle with belly fat.
Exercise also helps you have more energy throughout the day, and both cardio and weight training offer considerable benefits across the board. If you’re trying to shed stubborn belly fat, your fitness regimen should include a balance of aerobic activity and weightlifting exercises. However, keep in mind that overtraining can cause you to reach a weight-loss plateau or even gain weight, so make sure to build rest days into your workout schedule.
You Are What You Eat
Unsurprisingly, diet is another factor influencing stubborn belly fat, especially the amounts and types of protein, fiber, and carbs you consume.
Lean protein helps you feel fuller longer, which reduces your urge to consume empty calories during the day. It also helps your body build muscle, which burns more calories even when you’re sitting still. Most people are getting the right amount of protein in their diet, but not necessarily from lean sources like fish, chicken, turkey, beans, and legumes. Instead, we’re putting red meat and cheese on our plates.
Currently, Americans eat an average of 16 grams of fiber – the parts of plants our bodies can’t digest – daily. That’s about half the recommended amount of fiber. Like protein, fiber gives you a feeling of satiety, and it also leads to less insulin secretion and more short-chain fatty acids. All these factors add up to help you lose weight. Good sources of fiber include raw, unprocessed fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains.
Contrary to what you may have heard, not all carbohydrates are bad. In fact, carbs fuel your body and brain throughout the day. However, refined carbs, such as those found in processed foods like white bread, make it harder for you to lose weight. Instead, eat healthy carbs like fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Role of Stress in Belly Fat
Anything that elevates your levels of cortisol – also known as the “stress hormone” – will make it harder to conquer stubborn belly fat. If you let stress get out of hand, including failing to get the right amount of sleep, you may have chronically elevated cortisol levels that are contributing to your inability to lose belly fat.
A healthy amount of exercise can be an effective form of stress release, helping lower cortisol levels naturally. However, be careful not to overdo it. Exercising too much, especially if you are also limiting your calorie intake, raises your baseline cortisol level and makes it harder to lose body fat. In fact, when your cortisol levels are high, fat tends to redistribute from other areas of the body, like your hips and thighs, to your belly. So, both mental and physical stress can increase stubborn belly fat.
Post-menopausal women also experience higher cortisol levels. That’s one reason so many older women have problems losing weight and experience an expanding waistline.
Manage stress using a method that works for you. Yoga and meditation are two of the most effective stress-relief tools. Also, be sure to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
The Bottom Line
Now that you understand why stubborn belly fat is so difficult to lose, you can develop a more strategic way to address it – including exercise, diet, and lifestyle changes. And, if you find even your concentrated efforts aren’t helping whittle down your middle, you can explore our surgical and non-surgical techniques for addressing belly fat, including a tummy tuck, liposuction, or CoolSculpting.