Spare tire, love handles, muffin top, pot belly- these are just a few of the funny names given to abdominal fat. Abdominal fat isn’t a laughing matter, however. Being overweight and having too much fat is of course not good for your health but abdominal fat can severely affect your health. (more on that topic)
The reason abdominal fat, also known as visceral fat, can be so bad is because it surrounds some of your vital organs. Also, those with too much belly fat can face an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Even those that don’t have a super flabby belly or aren’t clinically obese can still have too much belly fat inside their bodies (some may be “skinny fat”). Most doctors recommend that on average women should have a waist measurement of 35” or less. Waist circumference measuring is considered a health assessment tool.
“Abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it’s a key player in a variety of health problems — much more so than subcutaneous fat, the kind you can grasp with your hand. Visceral fat, on the other hand, lies out of reach, deep within the abdominal cavity, where it pads the spaces between our abdominal organs.
Visceral fat has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.” – health.harvard.edu
If you find yourself struggling to lose fat around your stomach, don’t worry. Your progress could be influenced by one of these 6 factors;
You’re Getting Older
Getting older isn’t an excuse to be overweight or a sole cause of weight gain, but your age is something to consider if you find yourself struggling to lose fat. Women in their late 30s and early 40s may notice that losing weight isn’t as easy as it use to be and the belly can be one of the most stubborn areas. Studies support that once a woman reaches 40, losing weight becomes more difficult.
There are a number of reasons why age can make losing belly fat difficult. There are hormones that increase appetite, your metabolism slows, and your muscle mass will start to shrink if you don’t maintain yourself. If you are nearing 40 years old or already crossed into that chapter of your life, keep in mind that losing belly fat will be more of a struggle than if you were 15 or 20 years younger. However, I want you to know that many thousands of women over 40 have lost the weight despite this challenge. You can do it too.
You’re Only Doing Cardio
Oh, the Cardio Myth! There is an incorrect belief that the best way to lose fat is cardio, cardio, cardio and cardio only. This simply isn’t true, yet so many people (especially women) end up focusing most of their time on these types of workouts. Most of the time women stick with cardio-dominant exercise regimens because they fear “bulking up” if they do strength training. Many times people focus on steady state cardio on machines in the gym vs. intense cardio, like HIIT and Tabata.
It isn’t uncommon for someone who focuses only on cardio to struggle with losing fat at some point in their journey, especially when it comes to stubborn belly fat. Studies show that strength training and HIIT (high intensity interval training) are very helpful for losing fat. If you’ve reached a plateau or feel that you are in a rut, consider trying weight training and more intense cardio. Don’t get me wrong, jogging on the treadmill or brisk walking 30 min a day is great, but eventually you may have to kick up the intensity to transform your body.
You’re Eating Too Much Sugar and Processed Food
Processed foods are often laden with surprising amounts of sugars, excessive salt, bad fats and other unhealthy or bloat-inducing ingredients. If you are serious about losing your belly fat but find that you can’t seem to break that plateau in progress, check your diet. Sugar-free and diet foods, as well as calorie-free style foods and drinks are simply not good for you when it comes to transforming the body due to the types of chemicals and artificial sweeteners they contain. Avoid processed foods as much as possible, especially in the beginning of your weight loss journey. Allow your body to detox from chemicals, dyes, trans fats, and other things that the body can’t process as food. You want your body to be prime and ready to break down stored fat.
If you eat a lot of whole foods and overall have a clean diet yet still struggle, consider your overall carb intake. Remember that all carbs are basically sugar, fiber and nutrients (vitamins, enzymes, etc) when the body breaks them down. Too much simple sugar is going to cause issues when it comes to fat retention. Know your carbs and the glycemic index of what you are eating. Avoid blood sugar spikes and overindulging in carbs, which leads to insulin spikes and potential weight gain.
You’re Genetically Predisposed to Belly Fat
Now, there is some debate about how much your genetics play into whether you are overweight or not and where you tend to carry extra fat. While doctors tend to agree that environmental hereditary factors do play a role, it doesn’t mean you are destined to always have a muffin top.
If you have a family history of obesity or abdominal fat, it is likely that you may have more of a tough time trying to lose fat from your belly. This isn’t an excuse, but it is something to consider if you’re wondering why you are struggling and not sure why. Some people are “hippy”, some are “busty” and some are “apple snapped” with large midsections. We all carry our weight in different ways, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t whittle your middle with diet and exercise.
You’re Too Stressed
Stress is still so underrated as a contributing factor to bad health. Consistently high levels of stress without any reprieve is just as bad for your mental and physical health as eating junk or leading a sedentary lifestyle. Stubborn belly fat is another symptom of excessive stress.
When it comes to fat and stress, it’s typically impacted by the hormone cortisol. Cortisol causes your body to react to stress as a survival situation, somewhat similar to a “starvation mode”. When cortisol is released it causes your body to hold onto fat for dear life, even causing fat from your hips, thigh or butt to move to the abdomen.
If you aren’t losing belly fat despite eating well and exercising, check your stress levels. Take up gentle yoga, meditation, go in for a regular massage, etc to ensure you keep your stress down to a minimum. Read more about cortisol and why it’s important to keep in check.
You Have a Lot of Belly Fat and Haven’t Given Yourself Enough Time
This last reason may be the real reason why the average healthy woman struggles to slim down her stomach. All in all, belly fat is just plain hard to get rid of! Period. If you have a lot of abdominal fat you aren’t going to be able to just get rid of it overnight. Give yourself time to make progress. Depending on your body and how serious you are about diet and exercise, it may take months or up to a year. Frankly, there is no specific time frame, because everyone’s journey is different. If a lot of time has already gone by with you belly fat not budging and the rest of your body has really changed, consult your doctor or a nutritionist for help. You may also want to speak with a personal trainer about changing up your workout routines.
If belly fat is a major concern, just know that you are not alone. Belly fat can make even the most confident woman feel a little self-conscious. It also is an area of the body that often is really difficult for many people to slim down. There is no quick fix or special exercise that will melt belly fat automatically… unfortunately.
Stick to a healthy diet with low to moderate level of carbs, high in fiber and balanced with fats and protein. Always stay hydrated, exercise often and try to be as active in your life as possible. With time and trail and error you will learn what works for you and what you have to do to lose weight on your midsection.