No.... This isn't a spot fat loss story.
Belly fat. Stubborn, annoying and seemingly impossible to get rid of. Everyone wants to lose it but only few seem to succeed. What’s the secret? Fat burning pills? Drinking 10 cups of tea everyday? Detox smoothies? Nope, none of that. I’m about to tell you the reality behind losing stubborn belly fat and if you make these 10 changes you will lose your belly fat and the love handles that come along with it.
During my years of experience as a personal trainer I’ve noticed that all of my clients who had trouble losing belly fat had various things in common that were preventing them from losing the fat.
I’ve also noticed in my personal experience of leaning out to a lower body fat (cutting) for summer that there are certain things that helped me lose belly fat really quickly while other things actually seemed to prevent it.
I’m about to share with you my findings. I’ll be providing you with 10 problems that are most likely the reasons preventing you from losing belly fat and 10 solutions to these problems.
Problem: Your workout routine isn’t effective for fat loss
Chances are if you’re not succeeding in burning fat then you’re most likely doing the wrong workout to lose stubborn belly fat. When it comes to fat loss (belly fat in particular) most people seem to think that 30 minutes on the elliptical and a few ab exercises is the way to go. Well guess what? Not only is this one of the least effective workouts you can do for fat loss, it’s also boring as hell and not very challenging!
The secret to getting abs is simple; everyone has them they’re just covered in fat.
All you have to do is get rid of the fat covering them, and sorry to burst your bubble but hours of just ab exercises and low intensity cardio will definitely not help with that. However, certain abdominal exercises can help you bring your abs out a little more (more relevant to guys) by using weighted ab exercises but if you aren’t losing the fat covering them then you will still never see them.
Another big misconception especially for women is that weightlifting will get you bulky and too muscular. This is full of crap! I’m glad that women are finally starting to realize that weight training will help you lose stubborn belly fat and boost your metabolism. Compound movements are the best exercises to help you burn off fat because they allow you to burn a lot of calories as well as boost your testosterone. The best compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses all with heavy weight (ensure that you’re performing them correctly to avoid injury).
Simply put, you need to change your workout routine. The best type of training routine for fat loss is a mix of weight training and HIIT circuits. If you don’t know what HIIT circuits are, then head over to my article explaining HIIT circuits where you can find more information and some sample circuits you can use. If these are a little too advanced for you then you can use my beginner workout routine as a replacement for your HIIT circuit.
Solution: You need to do more weight training and HIIT circuits.
Now you’re probably wondering what exactly you need to do for your workouts to lose your stubborn belly fat.
I would recommend following a weight training routine that requires you to weight lift for 3-5 days a week (upper/lower body splits are good to start), and incorporate an HIIT circuit 2 times a week and slowly progress to doing it 3-4 times a week.
You can use the HIIT circuits from my article in the link above. For the weight lifting part of it there are several good routines you can do but you can use this one to start.
Here’s an example overall workout plan you can follow. The other two days of the week will be rest days:
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5|
|Weight Training||HIIT circuit||Weight Training||HIIT circuit||Weight Training|
Problem: You’re either eating too much or too little.
Chances are, you aren’t eating the right amount of food to burn off that unwanted belly fat.
You can either be eating too much or too little. Either way you’re preventing your body from getting into its fat burning mode and causing it to hold on to your stubborn fat no matter what you do.
This has to do with the energy balance equation. Everyone has a certain amount of calories that their body burns a day and this depends on a variety of factors such as weight, activity level and overall metabolism.
Regardless of what workouts you’re doing, if you’re eating more calories than you’re burning everyday then there’s no way you’re going to lose weight and burn fat!
You will either put on more fat (or muscle) depending on how much more you’re eating and the types of calories you’re eating.
On the other hand, if you’re eating too little this puts your body into starvation mode which will lower your metabolism, cause a decrease in muscle mass and ultimately prevent you from losing fat. A common recommendation is to not eat less than 1200 calories daily, as this is the minimum amount of calories that your body needs to get all of its vital nutrients.
Solution: Eat the proper amount of food according to your goals and lifestyle.
How many calories should you eat? Well that’s another tough question. This varies for everyone, but there are a few tools that you can use to get a rough estimate as to how much you should be eating.
You can use the calorie calculator that’s in the sidebar of my blog, or you can use this calorie calculator which will do a much more accurate job since it takes into account your activity level. These will both give you an estimate as to how many calories you should be eating in order to lose fat. The more activity you do everyday, the more calories you’ll need to be eating. A great mobile app that you can use to track how many calories you’re eating is myfitnesspal. It has a food database showing the calories of pretty much any food and packaged food you can think of, and you can vary the portions.
Now I’m not saying that you should count your calories everyday to the tee.
What I recommend is find out how many calories you need to lose fat according to the calculator above, and then try to track how many calories you’re actually eating for a day. If it’s above this or below this, then make proper adjustments and try to stick around this range. It’s as simple as that and if you stay consistent then you will see results!
NOTE: The maximum amount of weight I recommend you lose is 2 lbs per week (1 lb per week is ideal) as you want to maintain your muscle and keep your hormones in balance. Stick with trying to lose 1 lb per week. If you’re not losing enough you can slightly lower your calorie intake, and if you’re losing too much then you can increase your calorie intake.
Problem: You’re eating too many processed foods.
Eating a lot of processed foods is one of the worst things you can do for your body.
It messes up your hormones, brings your metabolism to a halt, and causes weight gain. Processed foods don’t come from nature, they come from factories. Common processed foods include candy, beverages such as soft drinks, potato chips, most fast food, sugary cereals (you get the point).
You’ll notice that as soon as you cut back on processed foods and start eating more natural foods you will feel more energetic, happier, and crave junk food less.
Some tips to help you avoid processed food include:
- reading the ingredients label before buying anything
- buy your bread from a local bakery
- when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice and crackers always go for the whole-grain option
- avoid store-bought products containing high-fructose corn syrup
- visit your local farmer’s market
Solution: Eat more whole, natural foods.
Now you’re probably wondering what foods you should be eating.
Here’s a list of whole, natural foods you should be eating courtesy of 100daysofrealfood.com:
- Whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry.
- Lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Dairy products like milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs and cheese.
- Whole-wheat and whole-grains.
- Locally raised meats
- Limit beverages to water, milk, naturally sweetened coffee and tea.
- Snacks like seeds, nuts, and fruit.
In case you need some more ideas, here’s a great infographic of quick dinner recipes by Women’sHealth:
Here’s a link to some more delicious low calorie recipes you can use as well.
Problem: Your sugar intake is too high.
This problem I’ve seen in the majority of my clients and is honestly probably going to be the hardest thing for you to change.
But if you take it slow and make small changes daily, I guarantee that you can easily make this change. Let’s take a look at why exactly sugar causes weight gain and what we can do about it.
Sugar is composed of two molecules: glucose and fructose. Fructose is not a natural part of metabolism and in fact very few cells in the body can utilize it except for liver cells. When we eat a lot of sugar, most of the fructose gets metabolized by the liver. There it gets turned into fat, which is then secreted into the blood (causing your stubborn belly fat).
Fructose can also cause insulin resistance. Our blood glucose levels are monitored by insulin. When our glucose levels are too high (which can be toxic), insulin is sent out to allow glucose to be used by our cells in order to lower our blood glucose levels.
If we didn’t have insulin or it wasn’t working properly, our blood glucose would reach toxic levels. In healthy people this mechanism works well and allows us to eat high carbohydrate meals without our blood glucose skyrocketing.
Insulin also has other functions, and one of them is sending signals to our fat cells to pick up fat from the blood stream, store it and to avoid burning the fat that they already carry (our stubborn belly fat for example).
Excess fructose consumption is a known cause of insulin resistance and elevated insulin levels, thus preventing us to melt off our belly fat despite all of our hard work.
For more information, here’s a link to a great article explaining all the reasons why sugar causes you to store fat.
Solution: Limit your sugar intake.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that you decrease consumption of added sugar to no more than 10 percent of your total daily calories.
This doesn’t include sugar that occurs naturally in fruit, vegetables, milk, grains and other foods.
To put this in perspective, for an average 2,000 calorie a day diet this would mean that you shouldn’t have more than 48 grams, or 12 teaspoons of sugar.
One can of pop already contains about 85% of the daily added sugar limit!
A tip if you’re struggling is to use natural sugar replacements (my favourite is Stevia) which may taste a little different at first but are definitely worth the change.
Some other tips are to cook at home more often, choose cereals low in sugar, stay away form sugary lattes/coffees, and naturally flavour your water with fruits instead of drinking sugary soft drinks.
Problem: Your protein intake is too low.
Usually when women (and sometimes men) think of weight loss, they immediately think of reducing their calories mainly from their carbohydrate intake.
Although you should slightly lower you carbohydrate intake for fat loss, you also need to make sure that you’re protein intake is adequate.
Many think that adding more protein to their diet will just lead to more weight gain. However, according to new research, increasing your protein intake can help you lose weight while maintaining your fat-burning muscle along with keeping you full for longer.
The Wall Street Journal did a great summary of this:
Although the main factor regarding weight gain and weight loss is your calorie intake, the type of calories you take in will affect what type of weight you are gaining or losing.
As you can see in the chart above where all subjects were overfed, groups with a higher protein intake gained more muscle and less fat than groups with a lower protein intake.
The same concept applies to weight loss. Higher protein diets seem to be more effective at burning fat while maintaining or even gaining muscle (which is exactly what you want!) than low protein diets.
Solution: Eat more protein!!
So how much protein should you be eating? Well, the answer depends on many factors.
Here’s a great table courtesy of acaloriecounter.com showing you how much protein you should be eating daily depending on your goal.
|Person, Situation & Goals||Ideal Daily Protein Intake|
|Average healthy sedentary adult (male or female) that does NOTwork out or have any related goals. This is just what I consider to be a good minimum daily protein intake for general health/function.||0.5-0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight.|
|Average healthy adult (male or female) that IS doing some form of exercise regularly or IS trying to improve their body (lose fat, build muscle, etc.). This is the minimum I’d recommend in this case.||0.8-1 grams of protein per pound of body weight.|
|Average healthy adult FEMALE whose primary goal is building muscle, getting “toned,” maintaining muscle while losing fat, increasing strength or improving performance.||1-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.|
|Average healthy adult MALE whose primary goal is building muscle, getting “toned,” maintaining muscle while losing fat, increasing strength or improving performance.||1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.|
If you’re not sure where you fit in, then you can use the general fitness recommendation of 1 gram per pound of body weight.
And if you’re a little confused, here’s a sample calculation:
Let’s say I’m a 140lb woman looking to lose fat while maintaining or building muscle. She would very simply multiply 140 by 1-1.2 and get a daily protein intake of between 140-168 grams per day.
Some foods high in protein and low in saturated fat include chicken breast, turkey, extra lean beef, fish, tofu, whey protein, and many more.
NOTE: In the case of people who are obese or very overweight, your ideal protein intake should be calculated using your target body weight since it will be otherwise be overestimated due to the excessive amount of fat on your body. For example, a 300lb man looking to get down to 200lbs would use 200lbs as their weight when calculating how much protein they should eat per day.
Problem: Your carb intake is too high for fat loss
For the past couple decades health authorities have recommended that we eat a calorie restricted, low-fat diet. The problem with this diet is that it simply doesn’t work.
Studies show that low-carb diets reduce your appetite and make you eat less calories which makes you lose weight pretty much effortlessly, as long as you manage to keep the carbs down.
Diets low in carbohydrates have been proven to be superior for fat loss. It’s common for people to lose 5-10 pounds in the first week of a low-carb diet due to losing a lot of water weight. After this, weight loss will slow down but this time the fat will be coming from your fat stores.
However, you’re body still needs carbohydrates everyday for energy and to keep it in it’s fat-burning state. Eat too little carbohydrates and you’ll notice that you won’t have any energy to workout!
Solution: Keep your carb intake at around 10-30% total intake
A good guideline is to keep your carb intake at around 10-30% of your total caloric intake.
Use the number of calories you calculated in point 2 for your total caloric intake. For example, let’s say I need to eat 2000 calories a day to lose weight. This means that 10-30% of this should come from carbohydrates, which would be 200-600 calories. If you’re more active then stay at the higher range of this and if you’re less active then towards the lower end of this range.
I recommend that you eat almost all of your carbohydrates during your post-workout meal as this is when your body needs it the most. You can save a little bit of your carbohydrates for a pre-workout meal for energy but keep the majority of it for after your workout. On your rest days you can lower your carbohydrate intake even more since your body won’t need them for recovery.
Unfortunately, after several weeks or months of a low carb diet your body will start to understand what you’re trying to do and lower its metabolism to counteract this.
What you can do if it seems as if you’ve plateau’d and can’t lose anymore fat is start doing refeed days. These are days where you bump up your carbohydrate intake substantially and eat back at your caloric maintenance level or even a little over this. On these days, lower your fat intake and increase your carbohydrate intake. You can start by having one reseed day every two weeks once you’ve plateau’d and eventually do them once a week. Refeed days will help you reset your metabolism and is one of the secrets to losing that last bit of stubborn belly fat that won’t come off.
Carb cycling is another option you can use which consists of low carb days and high carb days to keep your metabolism revved up and your body in fat burning mode.
Problem: You’re getting hammered too often
Unlike carbohydrates, proteins and fats, alcohol is what nutritionists refer to as empty calories: calories without any nutritional value.
To make matters worse, it is the first fuel to be used when combined with carbohydrates, fats or proteins which means that food you eat while drinking alcohol will have a greater tendency to be stored as fat. Alcohol also contains 7 calories/gram, which makes it more calorie dense than carbohydrates and proteins (both at 4 calories/gram) and only 2 calories/gram less than fat (at 9 calories/gram).
Alcohol also damages the stomach, kidneys, and the liver and has been proven to lower testosterone which is one of the main hormones for fat loss and lean muscle mass.
To put it in perspective:
- a one ounce shot of vodka (40% alcohol) contains around 64 calories
- one glass of red wine contains around 123 calories
- one can of regular 4-5% alcohol beer contains 153 calories.
Plain and simple, binge drinking is a recipe for weight gain!
Solution: Drink wisely
I’m not going to tell you to stop drinking – it’s fun and I believe in moderation. Here are some tips you can use during your night outs:
– Drink alcohol with a lower caloric value, and a higher alcohol percentage (vodka for example). Less will be consumed, meaning lower overall calorie consumption.
– Avoid high-calorie liqueurs. These are extremely deceptive (they taste so good) and will add enormously to overall caloric content.
– Try not to binge eat junk food while drinking. As mentioned, drinking will relax the inhibitions and cause one to compromise their nutritional habits.
– If drinking beer, try a lower calorie alternative. Also, drink diet sodas with various spirits to significantly lower the calorie content of these drinks.
– Drink water between alcoholic drinks. This will increase feelings of fullness and may help to prevent over consumption of alcohol.
– If using chase, try and use less sugary options or carbonated water instead of soda drinks
Problem: Your sodium intake is too high.
Although sodium doesn’t case weight gain directly, too much sodium intake can cause bloating and water retention which will make your stomach look bigger than it really is (and full of gas).
Not only can it cause bloating, it also contributes to hypertension (high blood pressure). Common foods that are high in sodium include processed meats, many canned foods, cheeses, breads, cereals, sauces, pickled foods and most pre-packaged foods.
Solution: Keep your sodium intake below the recommended limit.
According to Health Canada, people should eat at least 1,500 mg of sodium a day and not exceed 2,300 mg. You’ll probably notice that as soon as you keep your sodium intake within the recommended limit that your stomach will look a little flatter and less bloated.
There are some low-sodium alternatives that you can use to lower your overall sodium intake.
Instead of your traditional table salt, you can use potassium chloride (a popular salt substitute) which tastes remarkably similar to salt. However, potassium chloride-based salt substitutes aren’t recommended for people with kidney problems. Low-sodium soy sauce, unsalted butter and low sodium seasonings (Flavour God, Mrs.Dash, etc.) are some other alternatives that you can use to lower your sodium intake.
Some other ways to reduce water retention and bloating besides reducing your sodium intake include drinking more water, eating more fibre and drinking certain teas such as peppermint tea or green tea.
Problem: You’re not getting enough sleep
Many of us (especially students) take sleep for granted. But watch out, all of your all-nighters and late night cramming for school can actually cause weight gain and contribute to your stubborn belly fat.
When you haven’t had enough sleep, it’s easy to count on a large sugary latte to get you moving and you may even be tempted to skip exercise and get some takeout for dinner. However the relationship between sleep and weight gain goes beyond this. Experts agree that getting enough sleep is just as important to health, well-being and weight loss as diet and exercise.
In simple terms, skimping on sleep encourages your brain to make bad decisions. It actually dulls the frontal lobe activity in your brain which is responsible for decision-making and impulse control. This is what causes you to make bad decisions.
Also, when you’re overtired your brain’s reward enters rev up to look for something that feels good. You may have been able to say no to your food cravings when you were well-rested, but you may have some trouble squashing these cravings with a sleep-deprived brain.
According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people tended to eat more late-night snacks and were more likely to choose high-carb snacks when they were deprived of sleep.
A second study showed that sleeping too little prompts people to eat bigger portions of food which ultimately leads to weight gain. And in a review of 18 studies, researchers actually found that a lack of sleep led to increased cravings for energy-dense, high-carbohydrate foods.
Basically, a sleepy brain appears to crave junk food with the lack of control to say no. A perfect recipe for weight gain!
Think of sleep as nutrition for the brain. Majority of people need between 7-9 hours every night. Any less than that, and your body can react in ways that lead even the most strict dieter straight to a tub of ice cream.
Sleep has also been proven to make you less hungry, decrease daytime stress levels, increase the body’s ability to burn calories and actually increase muscle mass.
Solution: Get some damn sleep!
Now that you know all the benefits of sleep and how it can help you lose fat, I hope that you hit the sack tonight and get your 7-9 hours of beauty sleep.
Some tips that can help you fall asleep faster include turning off all your electronics, keep your room dark, read/write before bed and reduce unwanted noise. Oh, and no late night energy drinks and coffee would help too!
Problem: You’re not being patient enough.
There’s a reason why belly fat is the hardest place for you to lose fat. Your body tends to lose fat in the last place you gained it.
Why exactly is stubborn belly fat so stubborn? Well typically people will gain fat first in their stomach and then throughout the rest of your body. This means that in order for you to lose that belly fat, you’ll first have to lose the fat on your face/arms/shoulders/chest and everywhere else before the fat you lose starts to come from your belly.
When you start burning fat off your belly, it will come off from the top of your abs first and then slowly towards the bottom. This is why the lower part of your abs is the most difficult place to lose fat.
Solution: Be patient and stay consistent.
It may be hard to stay motivated when you’re not losing too much off of your belly at first. But consistency and being persistent is key! It takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work but it’s definitely wroth it. Once you start seeing fat coming off of your neck and arms it’ll only motivate you more to stay consistent so that it starts coming off your stubborn belly!
There’s no set timeline as to how long it takes for you to lose your belly fat, but if you stay consistent with these 10 changes then eventually you will succeed!
Take Action and Lose that Stubborn Belly Fat!
Now that I’ve shown you exactly how to lose stubborn belly fat with these 10 changes, put them into action and you’ll see amazing results! The key points I want you to remember is push yourself in your workouts, eat good whole foods, eat the right amount of food, and allow yourself to rest and recover. It will take a lot of hard work but you’ll feel so much better and look so much better that you’ll totally forget about all the blood, sweat and tears.
Jeremy Ethier is a NASM certified trainer and Kinesiology student. He's played sports all his life and always had a passion for fitness and living a healthy lifestyle. When he began University he was shocked by the lifestyle most students were living. They relied on junk food at school, barely ever exercised and developed a hunched posture from all the lectures and studying. He started studentsfitness.com to show students, and all busy individuals, how they can stay fit and live a healthy lifestyle despite their busy schedules!