By Dr. Carl Juneau
Why is belly fat so hard to lose?
When you diet down, you lose fat all over. But at some point, you may notice your belly fat seems harder to lose. This also applies to your hips fat, if you're a woman. You're not crazy, and actually, that fat is often called "stubborn". That' because it responds differently to catecholamines, insulin, and has poor blood flow. Taken together, these biological limitations explain why stubborn belly fat is so hard to lose. But you can do a few things to burn off more of it.
1. Do interval training
Interval training increases catecholamines more than conventional cardio, and Boutcher (2011) noted that "it may be more effective at reducing subcutaneous and abdominal body fat than other types of exercise." To perform a classic interval training session, bike fast for 20 seconds, rest for 10, and repeat for a total of 4 minutes (don't forget to warm up and cool down). Those can be done once or twice per week to speed up belly fat loss.
2. Eat more protein
In a study of 42,696 men and women, Halkjaer et al. (2006) found that people who ate more protein gained less belly fat over a 5-year period. An easy, general guideline is to eat about 1 gram of protein per lbs of body weight per day. So if you weigh 160 lbs, try aiming for 160 grams of protein a day.
3. Eat low carb
There is some evidence that low-carb diets help with catecholamines and decrease insulin, which could help burn off belly fat (Bradley et al. 2009). To try a low-carb diet, eat plenty of vegetables, protein, and good fats. But limit fruits to 2-3 pieces per day and eat only minimal amounts of starchy foods (like pasta, bread, and potatoes).
Conclusion and recommendations
To burn off stubborn belly fat, do things that help with catecholamines, insulin, and blood flow:
- Interval training (bike fast for 20 seconds, rest for 10, and repeat for a total of 4 minutes).
- Eat more protein (at least 1 gram per pound of body weight per day).
- Eat low carb (50-150 grams of carbs per day).
As with all things health and fitness, your mileage may vary, and I invite you to experiment safely within your limits to discover what works best for you. If you are being treated for an illness or an injury, the above may not be appropriate to you, and I'd urge you to consult with your physician or therapist before applying any of it. It will take time, and chances are, it will be hard. But you really can burn off belly fat. Keep at it. It's worth it.
- Boutcher SH. High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss. J Obes. 2011;2011:868305.
- Bradley U, Spence M, Courtney CH, et al. Low-fat versus low-carbohydrate weight reduction diets: effects on weight loss, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular risk: a randomized control trial. Diabetes. 2009;58(12):2741–2748. doi:10.2337/db09-0098.
- Halkjaer J, Tjønneland A, Thomsen BL, Overvad K, Sørensen TI. Intake of macronutrients as predictors of 5-y changes in waist circumference. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Oct;84(4):789-97.
Dr. Carl Juneau is a former trainer for the Canadian Forces with a PhD in Health Statistics. He's the founder of Dr. Muscle, a workout app that gets you in shape 59% faster with smart workouts, and the host of Diet MBA, where you can learn 300+ strategies to nail your diet and be your best from 62 experts.
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