Fitness & Fat Loss

Why Is It So Hard To Lose Belly Fat?

belly fat
Losing belly fat is not just about looking good. Of course, your overall esthetical appearance can only improve when you have a flat midsection. A flat abdomen is almost synonymous with fitness. However, and more importantly, losing belly fat is about your health.

Anyone who has had to battle with belly fat knows just how frustrating this can be. You could work out regularly, follow a strict diet, and practically do all you can, but that bulge in your midsection just won’t go away. What is the cause of this? Why is it so difficult to lose abdominal fat?

All Fat Is Not Equal!

Abdominal fat is not just what you can pinch around your tummy. It is important to understand the different types of fat in order to possibly identify the reason for your difficulties in losing belly fat. There are three types of fat:

1. Visceral fat: This type is stored within the abdominal cavity and around important internal organs such as intestines, pancreas, and liver.[1] If you have a large waist or belly, you have visceral fat.[2] It is what causes “beer belly”.

2. Subcutaneous fat: This is the type you can pinch and is found under your skin and is the type most dieters are concerned about. Excess subcutaneous fat usually comes with excess visceral fat (see above).

3. Intramuscular fat: Also referred to as intramuscular triglycerides (IMTG) or intramuscular adipose tissue (IMAT), this type of fat is located throughout skeletal muscle.[3]

Of course, these are not the only fats that exist in your body. There are other types, some of which are considered essential, which you can’t and do not need to lose. The above types are what should concern us as far as midsection goes.

The Dangers Of Excess Belly Fat

Losing abdominal fat not only improves your figure and overall appearance and therefore your self-confidence, but also your health. When it comes to fat and your health, location of the fat deposits counts. And in your abdomen is where it’s worst to have.[4] This is because it poses several risks including:

  • Toxicity: Fat, particularly visceral fat, makes toxins that can affect the way your body works.[5] Some experts say that visceral is “dangerously toxic”. It is said to pump poison into your system.[6]
  • Organ damage: Visceral fat cells can cause damage to the liver and other organs as it causes release toxic substances into the system. Not only is this dangerous by itself, it also impairs the body’s regulation of sugar and cholesterol.[7]
  • Diabetes: Abdominal fat is linked to insulin resistance which can not only lead to type 2 diabetes.[8] Type 2 diabetes can also cause insulin resistance, thus starting a vicious cycle.[9]
  • Heart disease and stroke: Belly fat increases the risk for conditions that contribute to heart disease and stroke. These include high blood pressure, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and diabetes.[10]
  • Brain health: Excess adipose tissue, particularly around the waist, may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia.[11]

Why It Is Hard To Reduce Belly Fat

weight-loss-frustrations-2.jpgIf there is one major complaint about belly fat, besides its existence, it is the stubbornness of this fat. It can be exasperating. Nay, it keeps creeping back even while we are doing everything to keep it away. Why is abdominal fat so difficult to lose and keep off? Below we shall look at some factors:

Hormonal Imbalance

Your hormones play an important role in metabolism and weight loss. Hormonal imbalance is one of the main reasons most people struggle with weight loss. This imbalance is caused by certain factors. Some of the main ones are as follows:

Insulin: This hormone is secreted by the pancreas. It regulates how the body uses and stores sugar (glucose) and fat. You may have heard of insulin resistance, which affects the way you body processes insulin. This causes your blood glucose to rise, which leads to obesity, particularly abdominal obesity.[12] This can then lead diabetes which cause insulin resistance and the cycle continues.

Leptin: Also referred to as the “obesity hormone”, this is made by adipose cells that helps to regulate energy balance by inhibiting hunger.[13] This hormone has been linked to weight loss struggles, particularly when dieting. Both leptin levels and leptin resistance have been linked to weight gain and obesity.

Cortisol: Most likely, you have seen commercials for supplements that propose to reduce cortisol and therefore fight belly fat (and body fat in general). Cortisol – or hydrocortisone – is hormone produced by the adrenal gland.[14] While it has important functions in the body, it also has downsides. One downside is that it can move fat from storage depots and relocate it to fat cell deposits deep in the abdomen.[15]

Sex hormones: Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone.[16] Testosterone is considered the male sex hormone. Studies suggest that low testosterone can cause excess belly fat. Conversely, high estrogen levels can cause abdominal fat accumulation. Excess abdominal fat can also increase estrogen levels, which can cause abdominal fat accumulation.

While hormone changes are a natural part of the aging process, the effects can be reduced or delayed.

A healthy diet, exercise, and adequate rest may help maintain or restore hormonal balance. There are also hormonal weight loss supplements that may help with boost hormones that positively impact fat storage or reduce hormones those which impact fat loss negatively.

Stress

Stress has become a way of life in our modern society. Studies have shown an association between stress and abdominal fat distribution.[17] For one, most people admit to adapting unhealthy eating habits when under stress, including making bad food choices and overeating.

Secondly, stress can also contribute to the release hormones linked to weight gain such as cortisol (which we mentioned earlier).

Stress is a double whammy when it comes to belly fat accumulation. It contributes to it and contributes to certain causes for it.

The stress we’re talking about is the type brought on by life’s day to day challenges such as job or work-related stress, debts, bills, and family issues.

Living a stress-free life is not healthy either, if at all possible. Without stress we would lose ability to meet life’s challenges. How we deal with stress and how we deal with it that matters. But that is another topic.

Age

As we age, our metabolic rate begins to slow down. Women have to deal with menopause and the accompanying hormonal changes. Though the term “male menopause” is often used to refer to declining testosterone levels in men, the decline actually begins around age 30 and continues slowly thereafter.

In female menopause, ovulation ends and hormone production plummets and changes happen relatively fast.[18] These changes include weight gain. Estrogen levels actually begin to decline in your 40s. In addition, estrogen tends to pull fat from the lower body areas such as hips and buttocks, resettling it in the abdomen.

So, What’s The Solution?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to belly fat challenges. Neither is there a pill you can take to make that belly bulge disappear. However, there is one common thread though it all. What is this?

Well, nothing fancy here. This is lifestyle change, including good old exercise and clean, healthy eating. No, we are not talking about dieting as most people understand it. Calorie counting is a big turn-off for most people, as well as being difficult to follow in the long-term. Some things you can do include:

Eat right: This is not about low fat diets, which have been shown to be ineffective for long-term fat loss. Ensure your meals consist of wholesome foods, including all three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats). Avoid junk foods that can wreck havoc to your hormone balance.

Portion control: While portion size recommendations are all over the web, you should treat these simply as suggestions. Portion sizes can differ even for two individuals with of similar body type, age, and gender. Finding your “sweet spot” may take some trial and error. Working with a nutritionist is recommended.

Exercise: Not only does exercise help burn off excess fat and improve metabolic rate, it can also have a positive effect on your hormone balance. And no, this is not about spending hours on the treadmill. Weight training has been shown to help reduce abdominal fat while increasing lean mass.

Stress management: Rest, adequate sleep and finding healthy ways to cope with stress might help counteract the effects of the hormone cortisol.

While weight loss supplements may help speed up belly fat reduction and overall fat loss, they only work in conjunction with a sensible diet and exercise. Different supplements target different aspects of fat loss such as appetite, metabolism, hormonal imbalance, or any combination of these.


References:

[1] Diabetes.co.uk

[2] WebMD: Visceral Fat

[3] Wikipedia: Intramuscular fat

[4] Harvard Health: Taking aim at belly fat

[5] WebMD: The Risks of Belly Fat

[6] Daily Mail

[7] Harvard Health: Abdominal fat and how it affects your health

[8] MedicineNet: Insulin Resistance

[9] American Diabetes Association: Type 2

[10] Harvard Health: Belly fat can signal an unhealthy heart

[11] National Institute of Aging

[12] Medscape: Insulin Sensitivity, Insulin Secretion, and Abdominal Fat

[13] Wikipedia: Leptin

[14] Healthline: Cortisol Level Test

[15] UNM: Cortisol Connection

[16] Wikipedia: Estrogen

[17] PubMed: Stress-induced cortisol response

[18] Mayo Clinic: Male menopause

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