11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Belly fat won’t budge? Genetics, hormones, or easy-to-fix mistakes could be to blame.

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Belly fat blues

by Carey Rossi

Getting rid of your belly bulge is important for more than just vanity’s sake. Excess abdominal fat—particularly visceral fat, the kind that surrounds your organs and puffs your stomach into a “beer gut”—is a predictor of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and some cancers. If diet and exercise haven’t done much to reduce your pooch, then your hormones, your age, and other genetic factors may be the reason why. Read on for 11 possible reasons why your belly fat won’t budge.

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You’re getting older

As you get older, your body changes how it gains and loses weight. Both men and women experience a declining metabolic rate, or the number of calories the body needs to function normally. On top of that, women have to deal with menopause. “If women gain weight after menopause, it’s more likely to be in their bellies,” says Michael Jensen, MD, professor of medicine in the Mayo Clinic’s endocrinology division. In menopause, production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone slows down. Meanwhile, testosterone levels also start to drop, but at a slower rate. This shift in hormones causes women to hold onto weight in their bellies. The good news: you can fight this process. Read on.

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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,” says Sangeeta Kashyap, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. 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,” says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. Patton recommends 250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 125 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week.

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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,” says Patton. “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, Patton says.

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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, says Patton. 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 Patton warns that eating too much fat of any kind increases your calorie intake and could lead to weight gain, so enjoy healthy fats in moderation. More: Good Fats, Bad Fats: How to Choose

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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,” says Natalie Jill, a San Diego, Calif.-based certified personal trainer. 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.

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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,” Jill says. Instead, she suggests doing 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,” she says. Planks are her favorite functional exercise—they activate not just your core muscles but also your arm, leg, and butt muscles.

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You’re 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.

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You’re skimping on sleep

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.

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You’re apple shaped

If you tend to pack the pounds around your middle rather than your hips and thighs, then you’re apple shaped. This genetic predisposition means ridding yourself of belly fat will be harder, Dr. Kashyap says, but not impossible.

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You’re sick

If your testosterone levels are high—something that can occur with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)—you might have difficulty losing weight. “If you’re an apple shape and overweight, it’s a good idea to see your doctor,” Dr. Kashyap says, since there may also be a chance that you are prediabetic or diabetic.

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You’re unmotivated

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,” Dr. Kashyap says. “If you are willing to do the work, you can move past genetics and lose it.”

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MYTH: Carbs Are the Enemy

Think you can’t eat carbs AND lose weight? Think again. I’m breaking down this weight-loss myth once and for all!

The Truth: You CAN eat carbs — the “good” ones!

Yes, you read that right. You CAN eat carbs and still lose weight! I know that a lot of trendy diets (like Atkins and Paleo) have popped up over the years based on the principle that a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet is the key to weight loss. I’m here to tell you that is completely false: You don’t have to banish carbs to lose weight. In fact, some may even aid in your weight-loss efforts. Think about it — fruits and vegetables have carbohydrates and they are a couple of the best food groups out there, right? The key is choosing the right carbs to consume. Here are a few other reasons why carbs are NOT the enemy.

Healthy carbs help you feel full. But muffins, cupcakes, french fries, white bread, white rice…? These are the evil carbs. These refined and processed carbohydrates have very little nutritional value and can definitely make you gain weight — which is why it’s about time you replaced them with a healthier version or just eliminated them altogether. Carbohydrates that are 100 percent whole grain and fiber rich help you feel full because they get absorbed slowly into your system and keep your blood sugar balanced. Other healthy carbs that fit the bill? Look to nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains like quinoa (which is technically a seed), oats, wild rice, or triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid).

Our bodies need carbs. Limiting carbs will never work long-term because our bodies crave and need them. Depriving yourself of a major food group is not a manageable weight-loss plan because it wreaks havoc on your metabolism. One study found that women who severely restricted their carbohydrates for three days ended up bingeing on carbs the fourth day — eating 44 percent more calories from carbohydrate foods than they had before they restricted their carb intake. You should have carbs, protein, and fat in every meal, striving for the healthy balance of 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat.

Carbs help to fight disease. People who eat three servings of whole grains a day are 30 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The right mix of healthy carbs is the best way to control your blood sugar and avoid diabetes. Carbs are also the vehicle for many of nature’s disease fighters, like phytochemicals. Without carbs, we’d be sitting ducks for cancer, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, chronic inflammation, and digestive problems.

The Bottom Line: Remember, while you should ditch white flour and white rice from your diet and cut back on refined and processed carbohydrates, it is a mistake to eliminate all carbs. Healthy carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. Enjoy!

MYTH: Fat-Free Is Always the Best Choice

Fat free sounds like it would be your best option, right? Well, that’s not always the case. Jillian Michaels gets to the bottom of this diet myth.

The Truth: Fat-free foods can be full of chemicals and may contain almost as many calories as their full-fat counterparts.

We hear so much bad news about fat that it makes sense you’d want to try to avoid it at all costs. In fact, I’m sure that at some point in your life, you’ve fallen for the fat-free food-label phenomenon. That’s why I want to take some time to really clear up this weight-loss myth. Just because the label says it’s “fat-free” doesn’t mean it’s low in calories OR that it’s good for you! I know food labels can be tricky and confusing, so let me break down why you should avoid fat-free foods — and tell you other tricks to look out for in the grocery aisles.

Some fat-free foods, with the exception of organic dairy products, are full of chemicals and can be bad for you. According to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), “fat-free” foods must have less than .5 grams of fat per serving to use that label. Sounds good, except many of those foods can be higher in carbs than the full-fat versions and contain almost as many calories. Why? Because food manufacturers tend to add other fillers and chemical crap (like sugar, flour, thickeners, and salt) to make up for the lack of taste, nutrients, texture, and palatability. Fat-free cookies are a perfect example. Some fat-free cookies have more sugar and other sweeteners than cookies with 1 or 2 grams of fat that use more wholesome ingredients. Non-fat or fat-free dairy is okay as long as it’s organic, like organic skim milk or organic nonfat yogurt, be sure to always check the labels on these items.

Beware of sugar-free foods too. Many people assume that “sugar-free” means “carb-free,” but it does not. Compare the total carbohydrate content of a sugar-free food with that of the standard product. If there is a big difference, the sugar-free version might be worth buying IF it is made with a nontoxic sweetener like Stevia or Xylitol. Do not buy anything that contains artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) and sucralose (Splenda), though. If there is little or no difference in the carb content, choose the option with the most natural ingredients. Also, don’t confuse “sugar-free” with “no sugar added,” which means that sugar wasn’t added during processing or packaging — but that doesn’t mean the food is sugar-free.

Ideally, always choose the low-fat version of foods. According to the FDA and USDA, “low-fat” foods must have 3 grams of fat or less per serving. This is the best option because these foods aren’t filled with the same artificial sweeteners or fillers like sugar-free and fat-free foods can be, and they have less fat than the full-fat versions. Try to buy low-fat dairy products like low-fat organic yogurts, cottage cheese, or milk. Look for low-fat and low-sodium cold cuts, granola, breads, and more. If the low-fat food is unavailable, I’d rather you choose the full-fat version instead of the fat-free kind and just have a small amount. Though you may be consuming more calories with the full-fat version, you’re avoiding all of the chemicals in the fat-free option.

The Bottom Line: Fat-free foods are probably your worst choice in regard to your health. I want you to always choose the low-fat option, and if it’s not available, go for the full-fat food in a smaller quantity.

Do You Know Your Active Metabolic Rate?

The number of calories you burn in a day is known as your active metabolic rate (AMR). Rates vary from person to person, so it is crucial that you take the time to figure yours out — if you don’t, you run the risk of consuming too many calories or even consuming too few.

STEP 1: Daily Activity Score
Aside from determining how many calories you burn in a day, you also need to figure out what your physical activity level is. Determine which one of these descriptions best fits your day-to-day routine, then give yourself the appropriate score.

a. Sedentary Physical Activity Level
Do you have a desk job or do some other kind of work that keeps you in your chair for most of the day? If the answer is yes, your score is 1.1.

b. Light Physical Activity Level
Are you on your feet and walking around for at least half the day? Stay-at-home parents, salespeople, and doctors fall into this category. If this is you, your score is 1.2.

c. Moderate Physical Activity Level
If you’re on the move pretty much all day, with a few limited periods of being sedentary, this is the level for you. People in this category include gardeners, carpenters, and mail carriers. If you’re in this category, your score is 1.3.

d. High Physical Activity Level
Does your job require being constantly on the move, and does it entail significant amounts of manual labor? Construction workers, farm workers, and movers are among those who land in this category. If you’re in this group, your score is 1.4.
STEP 2: Exercise Expenditure
The number of calories you burn during any exercise session depends on a few things, primarily your body weight.

Use this chart to help you determine the number of calories you burn from exercise on an average day according to your weight, the type of exercise you do, and its duration. You can also use a heart rate monitor to get an accurate number. Write the number down.

STEP 3: Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Now comes the math. If you don’t know your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, it’s calculated by a number of factors, including age, weight, height, gender, environmental temperature, and diet and exercise habits. Because of these varying factors, it’s hard to pin down your BMR to the precise calorie, but we can get pretty close. Here are some formulas for figuring out your BMR. Plug your numbers into whichever formula applies to you.

MALE: 66 + (6.23 x body weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) − (6.8 x age in years)

FEMALE: 655 + (4.3 × weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) − (4.7 x age in years)

STEP 4: Active Metabolic Rate (AMR)
Now you have all three numbers: your daily activity score, exercise expenditure, and BMR. Simply multiply your BMR by your daily activity score, and then add your exercise expenditure. Whatever you get from this final calculation is your magic number.

TIP OF THE DAY

It’s Not Just About Weight Loss

You’re probably starting to wonder, “What’s with all the math?” Bear with me on this one. Finding out the number of calories you burn each day isn’t just a scientific approach to weight loss, it’s also about optimal health. Think about it. If you don’t know your magic number, you run the risk of consuming too many or possibly too few calories. Both alternatives can be harmful: Too many calories and you’ll store the excess as fat; too few and your body will go into starvation mode, locking in your existing fat.

MYTH: It’s Hard to Lose Weight as You Age

Is muffin top a given once you’ve hit the big 4-0? Think there’s nothing you can do to combat the inevitable? Think again!

The Truth: Sure, you can blame your excess weight and sluggish metabolism on your age, but the truth is that if you take a few precautions your body and metabolism can snap back into shape.

Blaming your belly fat or those extra five pounds on the fact that you’re getting older? Well, now’s the time to stop believing that weight gain is an inevitable part of aging. Yes, as we get older our hormone balance shifts in ways that encourage weight gain. For example, testosterone and DHEA levels decline in men, and women’s insulin-regulating hormones become less effective. These changes can decrease muscle mass, slow down your metabolism (some reports say by about 2 percent per decade after age 30), and sap your energy while increasing belly fat and insulin resistance. But it’s not hopeless! The more we eat clean, live clean, and work out, the better our hormone balance will be — and the healthier our metabolisms will remain. Here are some tips for mastering weight loss and your metabolism beyond age 40.

Eat more protein. Sarcopenia, or loss of muscle due to age, has been seen as inevitable, but a great deal of its severity is dictated by diet and exercise. Protein can help! One study found that men and women between ages 70 and 79 who ate the most protein lost 40 percent less lean mass than those who ate the least protein. Muscle burns more calories, increases your insulin sensitivity, and keeps your testosterone production higher so that you can help stave off age-related health conditions, such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and loss of libido.

Exercise regularly and amp up your intensity. I can’t tell you how many people just let exercise slide as they get older; then they turn around and blame their sluggish metabolism on their hormones. I’ll be honest — I don’t always like to exercise. But the reality is, we have to do it. Your body needs exercise the way it needs oxygen and water. It’s crucial to maintain muscle mass as you age: A pound of muscle burns three times more calories than a pound of fat does, and muscles scoop up blood sugar and enhance your body’s insulin sensitivity. Try to challenge yourself and intensify your workouts by adding 20 minutes of resistance training or by increasing the incline on the treadmill. The main point? Continue to strengthen your muscles so they will help you burn more calories.

Eat clean. Our metabolism gets damaged by the chemicals and preservatives in our foods. Things like pesticides, growth hormones, trans fats, HFCS etc. have all been linked to obesity and have even been labled “obesegens” within the health and wellness community. Consume your foods in their most natural form as often as possible and this will have a huge impact on your metabolism overall.

The Bottom Line: Your body definitely changes as you age — there’s no getting around that fact. Yet if you continue to exercise on a regular basis and eat whole, real food, the effects of aging will be much less severe. Remember, age is only a number!

5 Tough Love Mottos to Live By

I Absolutely love Jillian Micheals, so here is her;

No-nonsense approach to health and happiness has helped thousands of people transform their lives for the better. Check out these five tough-love techniques, take a look in the mirror, and then commit to changing your life – for good.

Commit To Change, Then Do It!

Trust me, I know it’s not easy to get this healthy lifestyle thing down! The truth is that it takes serious, conscious effort, and the sooner you embrace that fact, the better. Wishing it was easy will only leave you feeling frustrated and stuck in old habits time and time again. As the saying goes, the best things in life aren’t easy and don’t happen without a bit of struggle, trial and error and hard work. A willingness to face challenges head-on and work through them will allow you to be proactive in reaching your goals. Change — even positive change — can be scary, but it’s time to get on board with it. Accepting – not fighting – the process to unleash your best, happiest self is key to starting off on a good foot!

Create Your New Identity

It is time to quit the negative self talk once and for all. Whether you’re telling yourself you look fat or you’re not smart enough or fit enough – just STOP. Seriously, ENOUGH already! Instead, think about the person that you want to be, whether it’s someone who’s fit and works out regularly, or someone who has a healthy relationship with food. Visualize being this person, looking like this person and acting like this person. You can be anyone you want to be, but if you don’t believe it and really see it first, then how will you get there?

Quit The Excuses!

“I like food too much.” “I’m too busy to cook.” “I can’t afford to eat healthy.” Sound familiar? Look, I’m not buying it. For whatever excuse you come up with, I can give you a solution. Try me! What excuses are holding you back from reaching your health goals? You keep getting stuck at work late? Buddy, set that alarm and wake up earlier to fit in a workout. Can’t make time for breakfast each morning? Prep your meals ahead of time! Boil a batch of eggs in advance to grab on the go, chop up your smoothie or whey protein shake ingredients before bed. Let’s be real, if you have 30 minutes to spare on Facebook, then you also have time to prepare a healthy breakfast or lunch for the next day. Got it?

Plan Ahead

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail?” Well, it’s true. Don’t start each week hoping to find the time to make it to yoga or cook healthy dinners because, guess what? You never will! Decide in advance WHEN you will make it happen, then do it. Figure out which days you will exercise, go food shopping and plan your meals. You will soon see that the extra bit of effort will be more than worth it later. If you’ve already signed up for boot camp on Wednesday night, then you won’t struggle with trying to decide whether or not you will make it to the gym — and you’ll already know to bring that packed gym bag with you too! If you go grocery shopping on Sunday, you’ll be prepared with things to eat when you come home from work on Monday exhausted. If you bring your lunch to work, you won’t have to waste time (and money) figuring out what to eat. Once you get consistent with living a healthy lifestyle, so many areas of your life will become easier, like shopping for clothes and having more energy to get you through the day. So take the time to get organized and follow through on a plan (even a loose one), it will always be worth it!

Be Honest With Yourself

When you have good intentions and healthy habits already in place, it’s easy to get frustrated when you aren’t seeing the results you want. If this is the case, you need to take a brutally honest look at yourself. It’s great that you are dedicated to going to the gym, but are you actually pushing yourself while you’re there? And what about your food choices: Is it possible that you’re eating more than you think? Do you actually factor in the handfuls of Wheat Thins or pieces of chocolate you swipe from your co-worker’s desk as part of your daily calorie allowance? Every bite counts…are you paying attention? And don’t get stuck in the trap of comparing yourself to others. Just because your friend ate five slices of pizza and you ate four, doesn’t mean that you made a good choice. So, tune-in, focus on what’s best for you and figure out where you need to make adjustments.