5 Reasons You Can’t Lose Your Belly Fat, No Matter How Much You Work Out
The award for the most stubborn part of the body goes to: the belly.
Sometimes, no matter how many hours you spend in the gym, the fat around your middle just sits there, staring at you like, “Is that all you’ve got?”
Unfortunately, that refuse-to-budge fat is the absolute worst for your health, with many experts saying that waist circumference is a better measure of body composition and overall health than BMI. After all, according to a 2016 International Journal of Obesity study, more than 30 percent of people with “healthy” BMIs suffer from insulin resistance, too-high blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation levels.
So, yeah, it’s in your best interest to practice some stubbornness of your own.
To help you troubleshoot your tummy, here are five of the biggest reasons your belly bulge won’t budge, no matter how hard you sweat it out.
1. YOU ARE STRESSED TO THE MAX
“Stress related adrenal hormones increase your body’s susceptibility to storing any extra calories around your belly,” says Georgie Fear, R.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. And if you’re trying to lose weight by eating less calories than you’re burning, you’ll lose fat from other regions before you ever start to lose from your stomach, says Fear. In fact, research from the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that stressed-out women are more likely to have high levels of abdominal fat—even if they have a healthy BMI. (Get the secret to banishing belly bulge from WH readers who’ve done it with Take It All Off! Keep It All Off!)
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to master that whole stress-management thing, Fear says. Try to identify the things that are contributing the most stress to your day-to-day routine, and then have an honest talk with yourself about what you want to take on and what responsibilities or stressors you can let go of. Remember, it’s okay to say, “No.”
2. YOU DO A TON OF ABS WORKOUTS
Please repeat after us, “Spot training does not work.” While performing abs exercises will strengthen your core, which is important, it won’t really decrease the amount of fat that’s covering your abs, says Albert Matheny, R.D., C.S.C.S., a trainer with SoHo Strength Lab in New York City. Crunches and planks don’t burn that many calories, so you need to focus on moves that work your whole body.
“When exercising, your biggest return on investment is performing movements that work multiple muscle groups at once,” he says. “The more muscle mass you engage, the more calories you will burn and the closer you will come to burning off your abdominal fat.” Belly-fat blasting exercises include squats, deadlifts, pushups, pullups, thrusters, and rows.
3. YOU EAT A LOT OF PROCESSED FOODS
If your diet is high in fructose, which is found in lots of processed foods, you’re more at risk for abdominal obesity. That’s because your body metabolizes fructose differently than it does other forms of sugar, Matheny says. Yes, fruit also contains fructose, but unless you’re downing a dozen bananas a day, reducing your fruit intake in the name of weight loss won’t help you lose belly fat.
Instead, focus on removing processed foods from your plate. 2016 research published in BMJ Journal found that ultra-processed foods, such as frozen meals, snack foods, and soda, are responsible for 90 percent of the average Americans’ intake of added sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup.
4. IT’S NOT ACTUALLY FAT
Sometimes when women complain about their belly, their issue isn’t fat, Fear says. Chronic bloating, which can make your pants feel tighter regardless of your body fat, can be an issue for many women, including those with irritable bowel syndrome, Celiac disease, lactose intolerance, and other common GI issues and food intolerances.
To minimize bloat, make sure you eat high-fiber foods to keep you regular, including fruits, veggies, and beans to keep your gut bacteria healthy, she says. “Steer clear of foods sweetened with sugar alcohols since they can contribute to gas.” If you notice that your clothes feel more snug over the course of the day or after meals, talk to your doctor about what might be messing with your gut.
5. YOU DON’T EAT ENOUGH PROTEIN
Protein is critical to fat loss. But when it comes to crushing belly fat, it may be even more important. In one study of 90 women, researchers from McMaster University in Canada found that those who followed a high-protein diet lost more weight and double the belly fat, compared to those who followed a low-protein eating plan. This may be because a high-protein diet encourages the body to lose weight from fat, rather than muscle, translating into improved insulin sensitivity, Matheny says.
In the study, the women on the high-protein diet got 30 percent of their calories from protein, which many experts believe is a good target when trying to lose weight. That translates to about 540 calories if you’re sticking to a 1,800 calories a day budget. Once you’ve got your protein calorie goal in place, plan to divvy up your protein equally throughout the day, he says.