What Causes Belly Fat? A Trainer Explains, and Shares Tips to Get Rid of It

Rachel MacPherson - The Upside Blog

by | Updated: August 20th, 2020 | Read time: 4 minutes

Lingering belly fat can often be the most frustrating aspect of many people’s weight loss journeys. The extra pounds seem to accumulate there faster, and they’re more reluctant to leave.

At the most basic level, gaining weight is due to a higher intake of calories than you burn through daily activity, resulting in your body storing those excess calories as fat, or using them to increase muscle mass.

Jeans with Yellow Tape Measure on Wood Surface to Represent Concept of What Causes Belly Fat | Vitacost.com/blog

What causes belly fat?

Belly fat is unique in that other factors can influence the storage of fat on your midsection at a higher rate than is typical for overall body fat gain. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals a trend of increased waist circumference and visceral fat gain.

Visceral fat is the type of fat that surrounds your organs and can increase the likelihood of health complications such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

According to the study, the causes of this increase in belly fat gain can be:

  • Stress
  • Endocrine disruptors— hormone-mimicking chemicals
  • Less physical activity than past generations
  • Genetics

Stress causes the release of a hormone called cortisol, which has been shown in studies to increase fat storage in your midsection, especially for women.

Endocrine disruptors, some of which are also called obesogens, have been connected to metabolic dysfunction, disrupting the thyroid and causing fat gain.

Keep in mind that spot training is not possible. Training your abs won’t help you lose belly fat. Although core training is beneficial for general strength and functioning, it’s not the answer.

While some of these factors, like genetics, are out of our control, we can take action to combat belly fat gain. Follow these steps for your best chance of giving your belly fat the boot for good.

How to get rid of stubborn belly fat

Start with strength training

Focus on boosting your natural ability to use calories by increasing your metabolism instead of focusing on burning calories as quickly as possible through high-intensity cardio.

Burning a high number of calories solely through cardiovascular exercise tells your body that you need to become more efficient at using those calories.

This might sound good, but in the case of losing body fat, it is not beneficial. More efficient means fewer calories are used to perform the same amount of work, so you will burn fewer calories with exercise as your body adjusts.

Strength training, on the other hand, sends hormonal signals to your body to use calories to increase muscle and strength, thereby improving your metabolism and burning more calories.

Of course, cardiovascular activity helps to strengthen your heart and contributes to your health in many ways, but studies show that combining strength training with cardio is much more effective.

Clean up your diet

Take a look at your diet and try to clean up any glaring hindrances to losing body fat. For example, if you are eating unbalanced meals that are high in processed carbs and fats, or if you are drinking soda or a sugary coffee drink every day, start with that. Tidying up your diet does not have to be an all-out war against your favorite foods. Often, those small tweaks are the most significant barriers to success.

Sugary and fatty processed foods and drinks will not fill you up or provide necessary nutrition, leaving you hungry for foods that do. When this happens, you will tend to overeat, creating an even larger problem. Added to this is the risk of potential obesogens in processed food ingredients and packaging.

All this isn’t to say you cannot have those treats and fancy coffee drinks anymore, far from it. All you need to do to see progress in losing belly fat is to make small changes towards your goals. Stick to a having takeout or a frappuccino once a week instead of daily or replacing it with a healthy homemade version. These small changes will increase the likelihood that you’ll stick to your habits.

Reduce stressors and practice stress management

Stress hormones, primarily cortisol, can play a role in storing belly fat. The health risks of stress extend beyond weight gain, and reducing stress is essential for improving your health in all areas.

Your lifestyle changes when trying to lose belly fat should not add to your stress and should always include strategies to rest and recover. Planning stress-reducing activities such as massage, meditation, walking in nature, spending time with friends, and getting enough sleep are just as crucial as portion control and consistent workouts.

Increase calorie burn through more daily activity

Too much cardio and high-intensity activity can add to your stress levels, increase cortisol, and work against you when trying to lose belly fat. Instead, try increasing your daily activity by taking more steps; park your car farther away, take the stairs, walk to the store. Try adopting active hobbies like gardening or playing outside with your kids rather than watching TV.

Increasing your daily activity will increase your calorie burn without overtaxing your body or causing you to feel more hungry.

Don’t throw the kitchen sink at it

You need to challenge and push yourself, however, if you try to completely overhaul your life you will soon find that consistency becomes an issue. Be realistic with your changes and your goals. Weight regain is more common than sustained weight loss because many people try to do too much too soon and fall off the wagon.

Consistent habits, built gradually are the most likely to stick around. Practice stress reduction techniques, enjoy the occasional treat and build an enjoyable workout routine. Challenge yourself enough, consistently, and when you can maintain those changes, make some more.

Soon enough, you’ll see the results you want and better yet, you’ll keep them.