Diet and Weight Loss: Reasons You're Not Losing Belly Fat

Eating excess fat and carbohydrates may help you gain weight around your midsection.

You're Into the Wrong Foods

Unhealthy eating is the biggest driver of big bellies. Too many starchy carbohydrates and bad fats are a recipe for that midsection to expand. Instead, get plenty of veggies, choose lean proteins, and stay away from fats from red meats. Choose healthier fats in things like fish, nuts, and avocados.

Even a moderate cutback on carbs (grains, pasta, sugars) can help, too.

Visceral fat around organs increases the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

You're Just Too Into Food

That under-skin belly fat (called subcutaneous) and the fat under your abdominal muscles and around vital organs (called visceral) need to go. Visceral fat makes cardiovascular disease and diabetes more likely. It can also lead to high blood pressure and more. Eating too much is at least partly to blame for that flab. Limiting your portions can keep visceral fat down.

Smoking increases the risk of accumulating fat around your middle.

You're Smoking

We all know the dangers of smoking. Add this to the list: One study showed that it leads to more abdominal and visceral fat. So if you needed one more reason to quit, you have one.

High levels of cortisol are associated with abdominal obesity.

You're Stressed

When the stress hormone cortisol goes through your body, fat takes residence in your belly. Talk to your doctor about how to handle your stress. Exercise can help ease it. Meditate. Do yoga. Put together a good support system. Talk to a mental health professional if you need it.

Exercise helps whittle away abdominal fat.

You're Not Exercising Enough

Nobody said shedding belly fat was going to be easy. If your gut is stretching the tape measure too much -- for men, that's more than 40 inches around the waist, and women, more than 35 -- you need moderate physical activity (like walking) for at least 150 minutes a week, or vigorous (running) for 75, and strength training at least twice a week. Check with your doctor first before starting any exercise program.

Building muscles with strength training can help you get a handle on abdominal fat.

You're Doing the Wrong Exercises

Those sit-ups aren't enough. You also need weight training to build muscle. More muscle means more calorie burning.

That said, if you can only do one exercise, choose aerobic exercise (like walking or running). It works best for burning fat. Make it a habit, and slowly ratchet up the intensity to get the results you're after.

Beer is high in calories and may help you grow a "beer belly."

You Like Beer

It's not just beer and the carbs in beer that make that beer belly pop. All alcohol has calories. If you take in too many calories -- especially if you're not exercising and eating well -- you're going to pack on the pounds. If you drink, remember to do it in moderation.

Sugary sports drinks are high in calories and may lead to weight gain around the middle.

Sports and Energy Drinks Fill Your Fridge

Sports drinks can have a lot of sugar. That brings calories. If you drink too many of these, you're setting yourself up for weight gain that might end up around your beltline. Cut back on sugary, high-calorie drinks. That means energy drinks and non-diet sodas, too.

Drinking more water may help you lose weight.

You're Not Drinking Enough Water

Studies show that drinking more water can help you lose weight. Choosing H2O instead of sweetened drinks means fewer calories. That can help you trim that belly fat. It's also the only beverage that can hydrate without adding sugars or other compounds.

Genes have an effect on your risk of obesity and propensity to gain weight around your middle.

Genetics

Yes, your family tree affects your chances of obesity. It also has a say in where you store fat. Still, there is hope. Striking the right balance between how many calories you take in (your diet) and how many you burn (through exercise) can help keep you from gaining weight, despite your genes.

Lack of sleep increases stress hormones and encourages the body to hold on to fat.

You're Not Sleeping Well

Those nighttime raids on the fridge are diet killers. Not only that, if you're not sleeping, you're jump-starting stress hormones. Those encourage your body to keep fat.

Learn good sleep-time habits, like:

  • Put down the phone.
  • Turn off the laptop.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed.
  • Get your exercise.
Waist size is more important than your overall weight so pay attention to how snug your clothes feel around your waist.

You're Obsessed With the Scale

Here's some good news: You might be losing that belly fat and not even realize it. If you're eating well and exercising right, remember that how your clothes fit -- measured by your waist size -- is more important than what the scale says. If that waistband is less snug, you may have replaced some belly fat with muscle.

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REFERENCES:

  • Mayo Clinic: "Belly fat in men: Why weight loss matters," "Belly fat in women: Taking — and keeping — it off."
  • Vispute, S.S. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Sept. 25, 2011.
  • Cleveland Clinic: "Will Sit-ups Burn Off Your Belly Fat?"
  • John Hopkins Medical: "8 Ways to Lose Belly Fat and Live a Healthier Life."
  • Willis, L. Journal of Applied Physiology, published online Sept. 27, 2012.
  • The Heart Foundation: "Belly Fat."
  • Harvard Health: "Abdominal fat and what to do about it."
  • Liu, F.X. The Journal of Obesity and Weight Loss Therapy, published online Aug. 14, 2017.
  • Gower, B. The Journal of Nutrition, published online Dec. 3, 2014.
  • CDC: "Healthy Weight: Rethink Your Drink," "Diabetes: Healthy Weight," "Tips for Better Sleep."
  • National Center for Health Research: "Energy Drinks: Caffeine + Calories = ???"
  • Thornton, S. Frontiers in Nutrition, published online June 10, 2016.
  • Popkin, B. Nutrition Reviews, August, 2010.
  • Daniels, M. Nutrition Reviews, September, 2010.
  • Kim, J. PLOS One, published online Sept. 24, 2012.
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