I can’t tell you how many times I run into people who work out consistently and say, “I love how I feel, but why is it so hard to get rid of this belly fat?” And let me tell you, even some very fit people have been left scratching their heads wondering why they can’t lose fat around their midsection.
Here are some things you may be doing that’s preventing you from losing stomach fat.
You’re Doing Too Much Cardio
I will say this over and over again: cardio is not the answer.
If you want to increase your metabolism and burn more calories while at rest, you need muscle. Your body works harder to maintain muscle than it does to maintain fat, so you are burning more calories throughout the day.
Cardio does help you lose weight, but it doesn’t do a lot for your overall metabolism.
Now, the answer is not to do 1000 crunches a day; we can not spot reduce fat by doing exercises that target the stomach. The best solution is to do 2 to 4 total-body strength workouts a week, depending on your current fitness level.
Your Diet Sucks
I hate to be so blunt, but nutrition needs to be dialed in if you want a flatter midsection. I don’t necessarily mean you need to eat less. Yes, you don’t want to be in a calorie surplus, but the quality of the food matters. Fatty, high sugar foods that offer minimal nutrition value do not offer the same waist-slimming benefits as whole foods that are high in fiber and other nutrients.
Set yourself up for success by selecting foods that have the least amount of ingredients as possible. Highly processed foods are not very satiating, which means they don’t keep us full as well as whole foods. Anyone who eats pastries, chips, and other similar treats can tell you how delicious they are, but they feel hungry again pretty soon after. And the more we eat these foods, the more we crave them.
Eat lean proteins, a ton of fruits and vegetables, and whole grains for a healthy gut and slimmer waist. And don’t forget to stay hydrated!
You’re Not Challenging Yourself
If you’re not pushing yourself, you’re not going to see changes. Period. Sticking with the same routine, at the same intensity, day-after-day, isn’t initiating the muscle-building and fat-burning response your body needs.
There needs to be enough of a stimulus for your muscles to feel like they are doing WORK. Some people will say you need to confuse your muscles fairly regularly, but it doesn’t need to be as often as you think. Focus on different goals or challenges every few months or so that will force you to change up your routine. This could look like higher rep ranges, introducing exercises that challenge multiple planes, or incorporating more complex movements.
Your body can adapt to workouts quicker than we expect, which means a greater chance of a plateau and a halt in losing fat (especially around the midsection).
Your Stress Levels Are Too High
Or you’re not sleeping well. Both high stress levels and poor sleep can leave an impact on how much fat you retain, and the ease at which you lose it.
When we are chronically stressed, our hormones tend to get out of whack, our mood changes, and our appetite is greatly affected as well. High stress levels take a lot out of us, which is why we tend to feel abnormally fatigued during times when we are more stressed than usual. When this happens, our body is signaling that we need to eat more to replenish our energy stores. More often than not, sugary, calorie-dense foods are what we crave the most when we are stressed, anxious, or simply not in the best of moods.
Chronically high stress levels can also impact how our sleep performance. Poor sleep can absolutely be related to how stressed we are, due to elevated heart rate and cortisol levels. When we are not feeling well, recovering well, and don’t feel 100%, it is unlikely your body will shed fat around your midsection.
Keep in mind that losing stomach fat is, in fact, really hard to do, and even more difficult to sustain. I wouldn’t try to make this your main priority year-round; the last thing I am thinking of during the holidays is losing stomach fat. If you maintain your body weight and lean muscle mass from October through January, that’s an accomplishment in itself!
Don’t get discouraged if it takes weeks (or months) to start seeing progress; our bodies fluctuate constantly, but staying relatively consistent with our routines and healthy habits will make losing stomach fat easier to manage.