One of the most common fitness goals I hear expressed is the need to lose belly fat. In part, I think this is partly because, misguided or not, many people tend to judge their fitness by their abs and their stomach. But it’s also probably partly due to the fact that the belly is one of the most difficult areas to trim fat. Even people that have been dieting conscientiously and working out like madmen often have a hard time losing those last few pounds which are usually in their abdominal area. There are few things more annoying that working so hard to lose weight only to never quite reach that six pack look.
Why is belly fat so hard to lose?
Well, there are several hormones that contribute to the storage and loss of fat, such as leptin, estrogen, insuling and ghrelin. But cortisol and estrogen play the biggest roles in fat storage in the lower body, and cortisol, in particular, is the primary culprit in belly fat.
Blame it on the Hormones!
Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases to deal with stress. It may be mental, emotional or physical stress – it doesn’t matter – when your brain detects stress, it releases cortisol into your bloodstream. And guess what cortisol does, my friends – it triggers fat storage.
Obviously, cortisol isn’t the only cause of belly fat – it can just make it a lot more challenging to get rid of. Managing your cortisol level can make the process of losing belly fat naturally a lot easier and a good deal quicker. This article will describe measures you can take to control your cortisol production, as well as balance your insulin level and reduce calories by limiting your carbohydrate intake.
So let’s take a look at ways you can get your hormones under control, particularly the cortisol and estrogen.
Reduce Estrogen by Increasing Testosterone
Contrary to what a lot of people think, estrogen isn’t just a woman’s hormone – everybody produces it. Women just typically have more estrogen in their system than they do testosterone. And the way to reduce the amount of estrogen your body excretes is to increase your testosterone production. Some bodybuilders use steroids for just that reason, but steroids can do a tremendous amount of damage to your system. We’re looking for natural method of losing belly fat, not chemical.
Increasing the intensity of your workouts is one very effective way of boosting your testosterone level. You can do that by either speeding up the tempo of your workout or pushing yourself harder in the same timeframe. This is a totally natural way to increase your testosterone production, and the most effective and safe manner of lowering your estrogen level. As that goes down, you’ll find that fat stored in your lower body will be freed for burn-off at a much faster rate.
Reduce Cortisol Level
Unfortunately, managing your cortisol level is a little more complex than simply managing stress. Even a workout will create sufficient stress to boost the release of cortisol. There are, however, several ways to fight this.
For instance, several studies have shown that the longer a cardio or weight training session lasts, the more cortisol is produced. So shorter sessions of higher intensity is the secret. That’s one of the reasons I like high intensity interval training (also known at HIIT), particularly as cardio. It delivers more benefit, faster. and with less cortisol.
Proper nutrition and adequate sleep is also key in controlling your cortisol production. Studies have shown that people who regularly get less than 8 hours of sleep will have a higher percentage of body fat and more fat around the midsection.
Sleep deficit is a major cause of stress, which leads to more cortisol production. Less sleep = more stress = more cortisol. But there’s more to it than that. Growth hormone is produced when you’re sleeping, too, and that can reduce the effects of cortisol. Double whammy! So make it a point to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, at about the same time every night.
Okay, that covers the estrogen and cortisol control… now let’s talk a little about nutrition – specifically, the sort of nutrition you need to help you lose that belly fat.
Proper nutrition While Shedding Belly Fat
The first step in losing belly fat is to cut the carbs. Carbohydrates in your diet cause insulin spikes, and insulin stops fat loss cold. Insulin is very helpful when you’re trying to bulk up, but not at all when you want to lose fat – especially that hard to lose belly fat.
The diet you need will be one that’s high in protein and low in glycemic vegetables. Next would be grains and low-glycemic fruits, like berries. The amounts you should consume will be dependent upon how intense your workout program is, how much fat you need to lose and your body’s metabolism.
Nuts, leafy greens, high quality meats and healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil are great foods to help you lose belly fat. They’re filling and they won’t cause your energy level or insulin production to go up and down like a yo-yo.
Proper Timing of Meals
Knowing what to eat is critical, but knowing when to eat it can be nearly as important. When natural loss of belly fat is your goal, you’ll want to consume all or most of your daily carbs early in the day. The rest of the day, you can take your protein and healthy fats. The reason is because you’ll need the energy from the carbs during the day and they’ll be burned off. Any carbs you’re not burning immediately will normally end up as stored fat. You don’t want to take two steps forward and one back.
As you’ve heard me say many times, the best place to start is with an understanding of how your body works and why. With that knowledge, you can avoid working against yourself. When you concentrate on controlling your hormones and your diet, you’ll find that your belly fat will come off a lot quicker.