Belly fat is more of a problem than just for vanity’s sake. It’s also a predictor of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and some cancers. If diet and exercise just don’t seem to melt the belly fat away like they do for other parts of your body, it’s time to make a change. Here are 8 reasons why your muffin top will not go away and some tips on how to fix it.
1. You’re doing the wrong workout.
A daily run or Spin class is great for your heart, but cardio workouts alone won’t do much for your waist. You need to do a combination of weights and cardiovascular training. Strength training increases muscle mass, which sets your body up to burn more fat. Muscle burns more calories than fat, and therefore you naturally burn more calories throughout the day by having more muscle. You should aim for 250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 125 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week.
2. You’re eating too many processed foods.
Refined grains like white bread, crackers, and chips, as well as refined sugars in sweetened drinks and desserts increase inflammation in our bodies. Belly fat is associated with inflammation, so eating too many processed foods will hinder your ability to lose belly fat. Natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are full of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may therefore actually prevent belly fat.
3. You’re eating the wrong fats.
The body doesn’t react to all fats in the same way. Research correlates high intake of saturated fat (the kind in meat and dairy) to increased visceral fat. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats (the kind in olive oil and avocados) and specific types of polyunsaturated fats (mainly omega-3s, found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, and fatty fish like salmon) have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, and if eaten in proper portions may do your body good. But keep in that eating too much fat of any kind increases your calorie intake and could lead to weight gain, so enjoy healthy fats in moderation.
4. Your workout isn’t challenging enough.
To banish stubborn belly fat, you have to ramp up your workouts. In a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, people who completed a high-intensity workout regimen lost more belly fat than those who followed a low-intensity plan. (In fact, the low-intensity exercises experienced no significant changes at all.) You need to exercise at full intensity because the end goal is to burn more calories, and high intensity exercise does just that. High intensity workouts mean you’re going all out for as long as you can. If this sounds intimidating, think of it this way: You’ll burn more calories in less time.
5. You’re doing the wrong exercises.
Doing crunches until the cows come home? Stop it! When you’re down to your final inches of belly fat, the dreaded crunch won’t be the exercise that finally reveals your six-pack. You can’t spot reduce! Instead, do functional exercises that use the muscles in your core—abdominals, back, pelvic, obliques—as well as other body parts. These exercises use more muscles, so there is a higher rate of calorie burn while you are doing them. Planks are fitness trainers’ favorite functional exercise—they activate not just your core muscles but also your arm, leg, and butt muscles.
6. You’re always stressed.
Tight deadlines, bills, your kids—whatever your source of stress, having too much of it may make it harder for you to drop unwanted pounds, especially from your middle. And it’s not just because you tend to reach for high-fat, high-calorie fare when you’re stressed, though that’s part of it. It’s also due to the stress hormone cortisol, which may increase the amount of fat your body clings to and enlarge your fat cells. Higher levels of cortisol have been linked to more visceral fat.
7. You’re not sleeping enough.
If you’re among the 30% of Americans who sleep less than six hours a night, here’s one simple way to whittle your waistline: catch more Zs. A 16-year study of almost 70,000 women found that those who slept five hours or less a night were 30% more likely to gain 30 or more pounds than those who slept 7 hours. The National Institutes of Health suggest adults sleep seven to eight hours a night.
8. You’re not motivated enough.
Are you committed to the work needed to lose belly fat? Reducing belly fat takes a combination approach of a low-calorie diet that is high in fiber and low in carbohydrates and sugar along with cardiovascular and weight training. If you are willing to do the work, you can move past genetics and lose it.