Getting rid of your stubborn fat and belly bulge is important for more than just vanity’s sake. And losing that last bit of excess weight on your stomach can be frustrating. Excess abdominal fat—particularly visceral fat, the kind that surrounds your organs and puffs your stomach into a “beer gut”—is a predictor of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and some cancers. If diet and exercise haven’t done much to reduce your pooch, then your hormones, your age, and other genetic factors may be the reason why.
There are some common reasons why your belly fat won’t budge.
You’re getting older
As you get older, your body changes how it gains and loses weight. Both men and women experience a declining metabolic rate, or the number of calories the body needs to function normally. On top of that, women have to deal with menopause. In menopause, production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone slows down. Meanwhile, testosterone levels also start to drop, but at a slower rate. This shift in hormones causes women to hold onto weight in their bellies.
You’re doing the wrong workout
A daily run or Spin class is great for your heart, but cardio workouts alone won’t do much for your waist. You need to do a combination of weights and cardiovascular training. Strength training increases muscle mass, which sets your body up to burn more fat. Muscle burns more calories than fat, and therefore you naturally burn more calories throughout the day by having more muscle.
You’re eating too many processed foods
Refined grains like white bread, crackers, and chips, as well as refined sugars in sweetened drinks and desserts increase inflammation in our bodies. Belly fat is associated with inflammation, so eating too many processed foods will hinder your ability to lose belly fat. Natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are full of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may therefore actually prevent belly fat
You’re doing the wrong exercises
When you’re down to your final inches of belly fat, the dreaded crunch won’t be the exercise that finally reveals your six-pack.. Try doing functional exercises that use the muscles in your core—abdominals, back, pelvic, obliques—as well as other body parts. These exercises use more muscles, so there is a higher rate of calorie burn while you are doing them. Planks are a recommended functional exercise—they activate not just your core muscles but also your arm, leg, and butt muscles.
Whatever your source of stress, having too much of it may make it harder for you to drop unwanted pounds, especially from your middle. And it’s not just because you tend to reach for high-fat, high-calorie fare when you’re stressed, though that’s part of it. It’s also due to the stress hormone cortisol, which may increase the amount of fat your body clings to and enlarge your fat cells. Higher levels of cortisol have been linked to more visceral fat.
You’re skimping on sleep
If you’re among the 30% of Americans who sleep less than six hours a night, here’s one simple way to whittle your waistline: sleep more. A 16-year study of almost 70,000 women found that those who slept five hours or less a night were 30% more likely to gain 30 or more pounds than those who slept 7 hours. The National Institutes of Health suggest adults sleep seven to eight hours a night.
So instead of asking you to wake up every morning and immediately do crunches, here are some unique and easy techniques that can help blast your belly fat and increase weight loss efforts.
Enjoy a cup of tea
Green tea contains unique compounds called catechins. These antioxidants have been shown in clinical studies to increase belly fat loss. In one study, 240 subjects, including women and men with visceral (belly) fat-type obesity, ingested catechins, while maintaining their usual dietary intake and normal physical activity. Results showed that subjects who consumed the catechins experienced a reduction in body weight, body mass index, body fat ratio, body fat mass, waist circumference, hip circumference, visceral (belly) fat area, and subcutaneous fat.
Do full-body exercises
You can’t lose belly fat by focusing solely on your stomach. While some people may believe that spot reduction is effective, it’s more important to exercise each part of the body equally. For example: if you did 100 crunches every day, then you may experience hard abdominal muscles, but odds are they would be under a layer of fat. Eating healthy foods, doing full-body workouts, and incorporating 2-3 days of weightlifting into your regimen is the best way to get a lean, muscular physique.
Use sugar in moderation
Sugar goes by many names, such as fructose (fruit sugar), sucralose, and glucose. Found in breads, spreads, dips, dressings, and just about everything else these days, sugar is a major contributor to unwanted weight gain. Studies have shown that fructose—sugar that is found in many foods under the name high-fructose corn syrup—contributes to weight gain especially in the mid-section more than other types of sugar-like substances. Try a sugar alternative such as all-natural honey. This can satisfy your sweet cravings, as well as boost your overall health and well-being.
Take time to relax
Stress-related symptoms increase the production of a hormone called cortisol. While stress is a normal body function, prolonged periods of stress can cause your body to manufacture too much cortisol, which can increase appetite and belly fat, decrease muscle mass, lower libido, and reduce bone density. Choose to relax by soaking in a bath, go for a stroll, or practice meditation.
Take your vitamins
Your body does need vitamin B-12 to support the function of your nerves and blood cells, and to produce DNA. To get your daily dose, as recommended by the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), include foods that contain vitamin B-12 in your diet. For example, eat fortified whole-grain cereal for breakfast, a tuna salad sandwich for lunch, and egg frittata for dinner. Beef liver and clams are also rich sources of this vitamin. You may need more B-12 if you’re a heavy drinker, have a history of anemia, are a strict vegetarian, or have had bariatric surgery.
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and keep your bones strong. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that overweight postmenopausal women who took vitamin D supplements and achieved healthy or replete levels of this nutrient lost more weight than women who didn’t reach these levels. But more research is needed to test these results and learn how vitamin D supplements might affect other people who are overweight.