If your goal is to lose stubborn belly fat then it can seem nearly impossible even with a superhuman effort on your part. The worst part is you can lose a lot of weight and make great progress but the stubborn belly fat never goes away. The stubborn belly fat seems to cling on for dear life despite your best dieting efforts.
It might seem easy to see other parts of your body slim down and tone up. Yet the abdominal fat always seems to be the most stubborn. This can make anyone feel very self-conscious and frustrated. It’s no fun to have a nice figure except for your stubborn abdominal fat. If you were overweight before and had successful weight loss then these last pounds of belly fat can feel like a reminder from your overweight days.
Getting liposuction or CoolSculpting is an expensive way to try to lose belly fat. But the good news is there are some proven methods you can use to naturally lose belly fat. But you’re going to have to go about it a different way than what you have before to get the results you want.
It’s not uncommon to have a thin upper stomach but still have hanging lower belly fat. Getting rid of the muffin top and your lower abdominal fat can be the most stubborn. There are so many physiological things happening in your body that prevent you from losing belly fat. But you can finally start getting the results and start losing belly fat by following the plan laid out here.
Why Belly Fat Is So Hard To Lose
Ask anybody who has stubborn fat and they’ll tell you the belly fat is the worst. Belly fat is incredibly stubborn to lose and most people never end up losing it. The last of the abdominal fat will hang on for dear life despite your best efforts at dieting and exercising. And there are a few physiological reasons why it’s so hard to lose.
Your genetics play a big role in your ability to lose stubborn fat (1). Some people are genetically wired to store fat more easily and have a harder time burning it off (2). Ask any man with an apple-shaped body or a woman with a pear-shaped body just how hard it is to slim down these areas (3). And we all know those naturally skinny people who seem to be able to eat whatever they want and not gain any weight. But when you eat a slice of cake it goes right to your belly and love handles.
But just because your genetics have an impact on your stubborn fat it doesn’t mean you’re doomed forever. As long as you’re willing to make some changes and push yourself harder you can lose this stubborn fat despite your genetics. You’re going to have to approach it with a different strategy. Doing the same diet and exercise plan isn’t going to end up losing the last of the stubborn fat on your belly. Instead, you’re going to have to approach it from multiple angles.
When it comes to fat loss your body tends to pull fat from the most non-stubborn and easiest places first (4). I’ve never had somebody come up to me asking how they can lose the fat on their shoulders. But I’ve had countless people asking me how to lose the stubborn fat on their belly, arms, hips, and thighs. These stubborn places are always the last to go when it comes to fat loss as your body doesn’t want to let this fat go.
Losing Stubborn Belly Fat Naturally
Now there are two main kinds of fat you need to know about. Visceral fat is the deep fat that’s inside your body (5). People who carry a lot of visceral fat tend to look like they have a basketball in their stomach. Their tummy pooches outwards from their body because they have so much visceral fat.
Those who have excess subcutaneous fat are way better off than those with visceral fat. This is the fat that’s right underneath your skin that you can pinch with your fingers (6). When you’re getting your body fat measured with skinfold calipers they’re measuring the fat underneath your skin. This is usually the most stubborn to lose and can cause a hanging belly. You most likely have subcutaneous fat that you’re trying to lose.
Visceral fat isn’t only unappealing visually but it also surrounds and places stress on your internal organs (7). Those with visceral fat are more likely to suffer from serious diseases like heart disease and diabetes (8). You’re more likely to become insulin resistant with excess visceral fat (9). But those with visceral fat lose this fat first compared to subcutaneous fat.
If you have visceral fat then adding in more aerobic exercise is a smart way to go about losing it (10). Your body releases catecholamines that signal for your body to start burning fat for fuel (11). These hormones signal for your body to mobilize your visceral fat since it’s the most willing to get rid of. Dieting does work for getting rid of visceral fat but aerobic exercise is just as if not more important.
Spot Reduction Doesn’t Work?
Spot reduction is the theory that exercising a certain spot on your body will lead to fat loss in that area. Most studies have debunked this idea and if you ask the internet they’ll tell you the same. Doing more sit-ups isn’t going to make your stubborn abdominal fat go away (12). You might build more muscle there but the fat itself isn’t necessarily going to burn off.
Instead, the trick to losing this stubborn fat is to lower your body fat. If you’re carrying too much excess body fat then it’s going to be hard to lose the stubborn fat. Many people who’ve had great weight loss through dieting end up having trouble losing those last stubborn pounds because of this. As you have more weight loss your body fat doesn’t decrease and can crazy enough even increase. But as long as your body fat remains high you’re not going to lose stubborn fat.
With weight loss you’re not just losing fat. Muscle loss also occurs in the weight loss process especially if you’re not strength training too (13). This can cause a lot of people to become “skinny fat.” This is when you appear to be thin but have a high body fat percentage. This leaves your body looking and feeling mushy, saggy, and dimply. Instead, the goal should be to lower your body fat to tone and shape your body. This is what’s going to get rid of the last of your stubborn fat.
Putting your body into a calorie deficit is going to be key with weight loss. But as you cut calories your body still needs fuel to run. So this can set off some physiological signals in your body that prevent you from losing that stubborn fat. Instead, your body can start burning off muscle for fuel and stop mobilizing your fat stores. This keeps you from getting leaner and instead causes you to become skinny fat making it even harder to lose your stubborn fat.
The trick is to force your body to use your fat stores for fuel!
How to Finally Lose Stubborn Belly Fat
The first step is to have your body fat percentage measured so you can measure your progress. Have a certified personal trainer measure it or you can also pick up a smart scale. Also, take girth measurements around your body. Fat takes up more space than muscle. As you lower your body fat you’ll naturally lose inches. So this too will help you track your progress.
Ideally, men will get their body fat lower than 10% and women will get it less than 17% (14). Above that, your body will be more likely to store fat stubbornly. As you progress try not to weigh yourself all the time. As you burn fat and add lean muscle your weight might not change a whole lot. Muscle weighs something too so it could ‘throw off’ the scale and give you deceiving results.
When it comes to losing stubborn fat you have to remember your body is fighting evolution. Your ancestors needed to store this fat in case of a famine. They didn’t have access to DoorDash thousands of years ago and could have easily gone days without eating. So having this fat stubbornly hang on was essential for their survival. But nowadays it’s a lot more troublesome!
Next, you have to optimize your hormones that are responsible for fat loss. It’ll be near impossible to lose your stubborn fat if your hormones are out of whack. Your hormones play a vital role in your metabolism. Naturally thin women can still have a stress belly caused by the stress hormone cortisol to be released (15). High cortisol levels can increase belly fat (16).
Lowering your inflammation is also going to be of the utmost importance. Inflammation can wreak havoc on your metabolism and keep you from losing those last pounds of stubborn fat (17). Having chronic inflammation in your body can cause your body to release hormones that prevent you from losing fat. This further causes a hormonal imbalance preventing you from losing that stubborn fat.
Diet & Exercise Plan
You already should be counting your calories and putting your body into a caloric deficit. Most people stop here or just try to keep cutting down on their daily calories. But this can end up preventing you from getting results. Going too low on calories will cause your metabolism to stop burning your fat stores for fuel. It will instead cause more muscle loss. This ends up making your stubborn fat even worse as your body fat drops.
The key to getting rid of the last of this troublesome belly fat is to keep your insulin low (18). The only real way to keep your insulin low is to go on a low carbohydrate diet. Carbs and sugar intake is going to spike your blood sugar levels causing your body to release insulin. Then as your insulin brings your blood sugar back down you’ll end up craving more of these sugar and carbs to bring it back up again. So going on a low carb diet is going to be the best way to keep your insulin low so your body will be forced to burn through your fat stores.
As you lower your carb intake you’ll be depleting your muscle glycogen. Once our muscle glycogen is gone your body will tap into your next fuel source which is your fat stores. But if you keep eating a higher amount of carbs and sugars it’ll be near impossible to get rid of the last of your stubborn fat.
This doesn’t mean you have to go on a full keto diet to get results. You can simply lower your carb intake throughout the week and then strategically increase your intake on days you’re feeling very depleted. You could also use a cyclical carb diet that strategically rotates your carb intake to manipulate your body into burning fat stores. I prefer the cyclical carb diet as I found it works best and is the easiest to do long term.
Try taking a ketone supplement like Keto Elevate to further accelerate your results. Ketones are released by your body when you’re on the keto diet. They signal for your body to start using your fat stores for energy (19). I use Intermittent Fasting in the morning and put Keto Elevate in my coffee. Works great!
For your workouts, it’s best to do 3 days a week of whole-body compound movements. Use challenging weights in a circuit style fashion. Combine non-competing exercises so you can let one area rest while you train the other. Try to keep increasing your resistance and time under tension. Lowering your rest times is another great way to break through a workout plateau.
Then also add in glycogen depleting exercise like cardio after your strength training. I like to do 20-30 minutes of cardio after the strength training portion of the workout. On your days off from strength training, you can do cardio as well to further enhance your results. Doing so helps to mobilize fat from your stubborn areas so it can be burned for fuel.
For a complete workout routine and dieting plan using all these strategies check out The Flat Belly Formula program.
Lastly to get rid of your stubborn stomach fat try combining ab exercises with high intensity exercise. For example, you could do a set of Bicycle and Rotates then combine it with a set of burpees. Or you could do some Russian Twists then combine it with 30 seconds of high intensity treadmill sprints. You’ll build some lean muscle to better tone-up your abs while encouraging local fat oxidation in your stomach. Fat burning hormones epinephrine should hopefully be increasingly delivered to your stomach by doing this.
Hormones & Stubborn Fat
If your hormones aren’t optimized for fat burning then you’re going to be facing an uphill battle. Your hormones play a vital role in your fat-burning metabolism. This is especially true when it comes to losing the last of your stubborn fat. You could be thin everywhere else on your body but if your hormones are going haywire then you’ll still have a pooch.
We’ve already talked about how important it is to keep your insulin levels low. Your body naturally desires to have stable blood sugar levels. But if you’re consuming too many carbs and sugars then your insulin is going to be chronically elevated. Insulin at this level of fat loss essentially prevents your body from burning fat for fuel (20).
At the end of the day losing those last 10 pounds of stubborn fat is going to be impossible if your insulin is all over the place. Your body just won’t be burning your fat for energy as effectively as you want it to. Eating in a caloric deficit is step one and the next step is to keep your carbs under control so your insulin stays low.
Now one of the problems with having too much fat on your body is excess estrogen levels. Your fat cells are converting testosterone into estrogen (21). So much so that most of the estrogen you’ll find in males comes from this conversion of testosterone in fat cells. So the more fat you have the more estrogen you’re also going to have.
This is a problem for men because they naturally should have higher testosterone levels. The lower their testosterone and the higher the estrogen then the harder it’s going to be for them to burn fat. Testosterone naturally encourages the building of muscle mass and lower muscle to fat ratio (22).
Women who have hit menopause have lower levels of estrogen. This could cause them to gain weight and fat in their stomach (23). Women can naturally increase their estrogen by eating healthier and sleeping better. But if it doesn’t improve then you can talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy.
Your thyroid has a big impact on your metabolism. Your thyroid encourages your body to burn off your fat stores by increasing your metabolism (24). Those who have low thyroid generally have worse blood flow to fat tissue (25). Having good blood flow to your areas of fat will deliver catecholamines that encourage fat loss. If your thyroid levels drop then it could hurt your gene expression in your metabolism.
Women are more likely than men to have low thyroid problems. If you’ve been dieting hard then it’s easy for your thyroid levels to come crashing down towards the end. This is why it’s not always a great idea to diet hard for an extended period. It may be a good idea to take a break for a week or two to allow your body to reset. This is especially true when it comes to getting rid of the last pounds of stubborn fat.
Leptin is known as the “starvation hormone” and it’s created by your body fat cells. Leptin sends a signal to your brain to reduce your appetite since you have enough fat you can burn off for energy. It essentially tells your body you can freely burn fat for fuel if your fat stores are high enough. Those who have excess fat generally have higher levels of leptin than those who are leaner (26).
But low leptin can keep you from burning that stubborn fat off. If you’re only down to the last 10-20 pounds of belly fat then your leptin will naturally decrease. This could be telling your brain you don’t have enough fat on your body so stop burning your fat for fuel. Plus low leptin will cause your appetite to increase which could lead to unconscious overeating (27).
What exercise burns the most belly fat?
This is going to be one that uses full-body compound movement. The more muscles you’re able to activate with an exercise the more fat you’re going to burn. If you’re purely looking to burn belly fat then I’d recommend incline sprints followed by slow and steady jogging. Alternate between the two for the best results. You can check out my best exercises for belly fat too.
Why is my belly fat not going away?
Your body will stubbornly hold on to your belly fat for genetic and evolutionary purposes. Your caveman ancestors needed these fat stores to survive. It’s like your body’s piggy bank saving up in case there isn’t food available in the future. As long as you’re keeping a steady source of energy coming in from the foods you’re eating then your body won’t want to spend your piggy bank. The trick is to force your body to burn through your piggy bank fat stores to get rid of the last of your stubborn stomach fat.
The Last Word
So to get rid of your stubborn fat then you’re going to have to approach it differently than you have before. Losing stubborn fat isn’t rocket science but you can’t expect to get results by doing the same thing you’ve been doing. There are many physiological reasons why your body is stubbornly holding onto your belly fat. So you’re going to have to approach losing it from multiple angles.
Even though this article specifically addresses stubborn fat on your belly the same principles can be used to burn fat throughout your entire body. If you have stubborn fat on your hips, thighs, arms, etc. then you can use this same plan to lose it. But to get results you’re going to have to take things to the next level.
Your results will naturally be determined by how consistent and committed you are. The better you’re able to do these two then the more impressive results you’re going to get. A calorie deficit and exercising is only step one. It worked before to lose the weight but to get rid of the last stubborn fat you’re going to take it up a notch.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.