Q: How do I lose stubborn belly fat? What I find so frustrating is my weight is where I want it to be. I do strength training, cardio, and concentrated core and ab work, but I can’t lose this gut. I bet you are going to say it has a lot to do with diet, and you got me. I love fast food, popcorn, and Reese’s Pieces. I do eat them in moderation, though. So my question is; can I get rid of this pooch without giving up my guilty pleasures, or do I have to go hardcore and sacrifice all this deliciousness?
The short answer
While exercise can help, the short answer is that nutrition is really what makes our ‘abs’ (ugh, I know!) as it’s what helps us reduce our body fat percentage, allowing our ‘abs’ to show or ‘flatten’ out. Unfortunately, we can’t spot-reduce the fat around our abdomen by doing extra crunches (sigh). While core strength work (like this) is important for building strong, supportive core muscles, waistline work alone isn’t enough to get rid of excess belly fat, which requires reducing your overall body fat percentage. The best way to do this is to build more fat-free muscle mass while also creating a slight caloric deficit with your dietary intake to reduce your overall level of body fat. Keep doing strength training, and be sure to focus on total body strength work (not hundreds of crunches), which offers the best ‘belly fat burning’ benefits. One study found that full body resistance training significantly increased women’s belly fat burning ability thanks in large part to the hormonal response elicited from this type of training. Another study found that both men and women lost body fat with twice weekly strength training sessions, and the post-menopausal women in the study lost even more intra-abdominal fat than the men did.
I think it’s important to note that it is perfectly normal for women to have more rounded bellies (especially after having children!), and that you can absolutely be fit, strong and at a healthy weight without having visible ‘abs.’ Speaking of health, it’s worth noting that several health issues can cause belly protrusion, so it’s also essential to rule out anything else that may be causing distension in your abdominal area. Be sure to check with your doctor if you frequently deal with abdominal bloating, discomfort, or pain to rule out any possible medical conditions. And, if you experience any other additional symptoms such as consistent low back pain, issues with urination or leaking, or have trouble activating your abdominal muscles, you may also want to consult with a specialist/physical therapist who can evaluate you to see if there are any other factors (such as an umbilical hernia, abdominal separation or pelvic floor issues) that could possibly be contributing to a ‘pooch’ like appearance.
The great news is that you are already at a healthy weight, and you are training regularly, which is fantastic! As long as your blood work/numbers, etc. are all healthy, and you aren’t carrying excess or an unhealthy amount of visceral belly fat (more on that below), I’d say it’s really up to you in how much you are willing to change to adjust your body composition further. Sometimes the last place we lose body fat can be in the tummy, thighs, and a lot of that will not only depend on your diet and exercise plan, but will also vary with your body type and genetics, too. We could follow one person’s exact nutrition and workout program to a ‘T’, but never look the same as they do because we are all uniquely and wonderfully made. I think it’s also important to remember that women are genetically designed to have a little bit of fat around their stomachs (not sure when washboard abs became such a thing to strive for!). So again, as long as it’s not an unhealthy amount, I am with you on the moderation aspect of your nutrition. My best advice is to decide what you are willing to do (or not do) and then enjoy your life. 🙂
“Your body. Your diet. Your life. It isn’t perfect. It never will be. But it’s real. It’s honest. It’s beautifully flawed. And totally magical.” ―Nicola Jane Hobbs
Reducing belly fat, especially if you have an unhealthy amount (see below for more details), is an excellent way to improve your health. Still, it isn’t always the easiest thing to do (and it’s not necessarily necessary, either).
If you are struggling to get rid of stubborn belly fat, there are a few things to consider:
#1: Do I have an unhealthy amount of belly fat?
Determining if you have an unhealthy amount of belly fat is probably the most crucial factor, as this more dangerous fat is likely to increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and more.
While it’s impossible to know precisely how much unhealthy (visceral) fat you may have around your middle without doing costly imaging tests, measuring your waist size can provide a general estimate. If you measure your waist at your belly button, the general range recommendations say that anything above 35 for women and 40 for men may indicate an unhealthy level of visceral fat (again, this is just going to be an estimate).
#2: Am I healthy overall?
How are the rest of your numbers/health markers? Is your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc., all in a healthy range? If there are numbers you would like to improve to be in better health, that’s a much better goal than focusing solely on belly fat alone. It can be helpful for both your waistline and your well-being to focus on improving your health. Look for small, daily steps you can make towards better health, such as eating healthier, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, etc.
#3: Do I really want flat or six-pack abs (and what am I willing to do to get them)?
For most of us, getting really flat abs or a six-pack takes a lot of dedication, primarily in the nutritional area. Women, in particular, will need to reach a much lower overall body fat percentage to have abs that ‘show’ (except for those who may be more genetically blessed). Reducing your overall body fat percentage can be done by combining the right diet and building muscle.
This question falls back to you and your personal goals. If you feel the desire to have flat or six-pack abs, that’s great! Just know that you may need to focus more on your nutrition and training in order to achieve (and maintain them).
And, if you are happy with your current habits, are healthy and don’t have an unhealthy amount of belly fat, there’s no pressure or need to have flat or six-pack abs either! Somehow they have become a symbol of fitness and health, which is not always the case. Your health and wellness are much better measured by your energy, strength, stamina, etc., than simply by how your abs look.
Here’s to your health!