reasons you can't lose belly fat: woman standing on a scale that says help

Can’t shift that extra tummy bulge? You may be surprised by the cause. Here we look at some of the potential culprits – and offer solutions.

If you’re carrying extra weight around your middle, you may be harbouring toxic fat. The rolls of fat you see around your waistline are a sign that you also have fat deep inside the belly and around your organs. This is called visceral fat and it releases toxic chemicals that increase the risk of health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. The more belly fat you can see, the greater the odds that some of it is visceral fat and the greater the health risks.

If you’re struggling to shift stubborn belly fat, you might be surprised to learn about some of the factors that contribute to it. Tackle some of these issues and you’ll be on the way to a slimmer and healthier middle.

1. You’re stressed

The stress hormone cortisol can add centimetres to your waistline. “In the hunter-gatherer world, when we were under stress, we needed more belly fat to keep us going,” explains obesity researcher Professor John Dixon. That surge in cortisol and increase in belly fat provided a ready energy source if our fight or flight response needed to kick in.

And stress has the same effect on our body today. Even if you are normally slim, when you get stressed you’ll release more cortisol – and gain more belly fat – than those who don’t stress so easily.

Solution: Find ways to relax and manage your stress. Meditate, go for a walk, listen to music or talk with a friend.

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2. You skip meals

Skipping meals and eating only once a day triggers changes in our metabolism that can lead to a spare tyre and associated problems like insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

“You definitely don’t want to skip meals to save kilojoules because it sets your body up for larger fluctuations in insulin and glucose, and could be setting you up for more fat gain instead of fat loss,” says nutrition researcher Professor Martha Belury.

Solution: Eat three healthy meals a day to keep your metabolism ticking over.

3. You feel blue

Depression creates chemical changes in the body, such as a rise in cortisol and other inflammatory chemicals that contribute to belly fat, says expert Nicole Vogelzangs. So if you are depressed it’s more likely that you will struggle to manage your weight and any excess weight will gather around the middle.

Solution: If you suspect you are depressed speak to your GP about the most effective treatment, which may include exercise, better sleep, connecting with family and friends, and sometimes antidepressant medication.

4. You don’t do yoga

If you’re overweight and want to lose belly fat head to a yoga class, particularly if you are female with a body mass index (BMI) of 30+. In one study, women with a 30+ BMI lost more fat with regular yoga sessions than with a stretching program. This could be because yoga helps us relax and reduces those stress hormones, like cortisol, that increase belly fat.

Solution: Any physical activity and exercise is good for general health, but try to fit in a weekly yoga session as well.

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5. You like diet fizzy drinks

If you drink diet fizzy drinks every day you’re almost four times more likely to see your waistline expand, compared to people who don’t have fizzy drinks. Professor Dixon says this is because some artificial sweeteners change gut bacteria and this change increases fat around the stomach.

“We can’t absorb the sweet components in these drinks and they change gut bacteria. This leads to more fat absorption from food,” he explains.

Solution: Limit diet fizzy drinks and instead drink still water with a slice of lime or lemon.

why you aren't losing belly fat: woman holding tape measure around her waist

6. You enjoy a tipple

“If you drink a glass of wine or two every so often but maintain a healthy weight, it won’t be an issue,” says dietitian Lauren McGuckin. “But if you have a higher energy diet with low physical activity, and put alcohol on top – that all contributes to fat accumulation”

Solution: Healthy drinking guidelines recommend women have no more than 1 drink per day and men no more than 2. A standard drink is 340 ml beer, 120 ml wine or 25 ml spirits.

7. You eat saturated fat

The type of fat in your food has an impact on where excess body fat is stored. Saturated fats – mostly animal fats – ‘turn on’ genes in fatty tissue that increase storage around the stomach and liver. Healthier polyunsaturated fats – fats from plant foods and oily fish – do the opposite and actually switch on genes in fatty tissues that reduce fat storage.

Solution: Replace saturated fats from meat, butter and products containing palm oil with unsaturated fats from plant oils and oily fish. So eat less butter and fewer pastries and biscuits and switch to eating more nuts, olive oil, avocado, salmon and tuna.

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8. You only do sit ups

Doing sit-ups alone won’t get rid of belly fat. Research involving people who did either regular exercise or abdominal exercise – such as sit ups – found that those who only exercised their stomach lost no more belly fat than the general exercise group.

“You can tone up your abdominal muscles, but no specific exercise will burn abdominal fat. People dream of it but nothing does that specifically,” says Professor Dixon.

Solution: Don’t give up the sit ups as they build core strength – this improves balance and stability and reduces the risk of falls and painful back injuries. But do aerobic exercise to shed belly fat as it burns more kilojoules – try cycling, jogging, power walking and swimming.

9. You lack magnesium

Magnesium is often referred to as the ‘miracle mineral’ because it plays an important role in so many bodily functions, including helping to keep blood sugar levels under control and preventing insulin resistance, both of which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Blood-sugar problems and insulin resistance can lead to an accumulation of fat around the abdomen, so it’s important to include magnesium-rich foods in your diet.

Solution: Women need around 320mg of magnesium a day from the age of 30 for general health and to help control blood sugar levels and prevent insulin resistance. Foods such as leafy green vegetables, wholegrains like brown rice or wholewheat bread, and nuts and seeds are good sources. A small handful (30g) of roasted almonds contains 80mg, two slices of wholewheat bread contain 46mg, and a quarter cup of sunflower seeds provides 114mg.

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10. You love white bread

If you eat in what researchers call ‘a white bread pattern’ meaning you eat a lot of foods like non-whole grain bread and pasta, and white rice – you’re likely to have a larger waist. This is because foods like white bread quickly raise blood sugar levels, which can cause insulin resistance and lead to storage of excess fat in the abdominal area.

“Simple carbohydrates, like honey, table sugar or white bread are rapidly digested and if you don’t burn them off, you store them as fat,” says McGuckin.

Solution: Reduce white foods in your diet and choose fruit and vegetables, high-fibre cereals, dairy foods, brown rice and wholewheat bread.

11. You don’t do interval training

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) involves repeated bouts of sprinting or other activities at maximum intensity, followed by a period of low-intensity exercise. Most often this is done using a stationary bike. “It takes just six weeks of interval sprinting exercise to see a significant reduction in waist circumference,” says Dr Stephen Boutcher, author of Belly Fat Breakthrough (Gallery Books).

Solution: If you haven’t exercised for a while, speak to your GP first but a typical HIIT program could be a 20-minute session of hard cycling for 8 seconds, cycling slowly for 12 seconds, cycling hard again for 8 seconds and so on. Aim for 20 minutes three times a week. You could reduce your waist circumference by between 6-14% over six weeks.

SOURCEAremediasyndication.com.au/Magazinefeatures.co.za
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