Carrying too much fat around your midsection has been associated with increasing risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and over all death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), having a waist to hip ratio more than 0.85 for women or 0.90 for men is considered high and can increase risk for some chronic diseases.
Losing the weight around your stomach can be more challenging for some people.
Unfortunately, we can’t spot reduce any fat loss. Where you lose weight can be determined in part by genetics, hormone levels, age or stress along with lifestyle habits. If you are trying to lose weight through diet and exercise, make sure you are doing the right types of exercise for the highest benefit for abdominal weight loss.
Genetics can make it harder
Some people are genetically predisposed to carry fat around the midsection. Other people tend to store fat around the thighs or hips. In general, men are more likely to carry excess fat around the stomach. However, after menopause women are more susceptible to weight gain in the stomach.
If your family members struggle with losing weight around the midsection, it could mean you also may have a harder time losing belly fat. However, that shouldn’t discourage you.
Weight loss from the stomach can happen, it may just take more time and effort. Changing things you can control, like your food intake and how much you move also has a huge impact on weight loss.
Hormone and stress levels
Higher levels of testosterone increase fat storage in the stomach area. In general, estrogen promotes fat storage more in the lower body. This is why after menopause women can shift where they store fat. They may notice their body may be storing extra fat in the belly than before.
The way hormones regulate body processes are complex. Just slight shifts in the levels of cortisol, thyroid, insulin or adrenal hormones can impact metabolic rate and fat storage.
You could be feeling like you are doing everything “right” in terms of eating and exercising, but if your hormone levels are out of balance that can influence how or why not fat is being lost.
See also: Can stress cause weight gain or weight loss?
Change up your exercise
First of all, starting to exercise is important for overall health but also important for fat loss in the stomach. Many studies have shown a benefit for reducing abdominal fat in the midsection through exercise including a 2003 study (1).
This study looked at 30 obese men and found large exercise induced weight loss was associated with a preferential fat loss from the stomach while maintaining muscle mass.
Sometimes weight loss can get stagnant or hit a plateau even when you are exercising and eating right. When this happens, it might help to change up your exercise routine.
Aerobic exercise is a high calorie burner and can have benefits for heart health. However, if you just do aerobic exercise, like walking or jogging, it may not be the best for targeting fat loss in the stomach.
A 2003 study (2) found when obese women did a combination of 3 days a week aerobic exercise and 3 days a week strength training they lost more fat around the stomach compared to the group of obese women who just did aerobic exercise 6 days a week.
This study suggests if you are just doing aerobic exercise, it could be beneficial to add in resistance training for weight loss in the stomach.
Another way to help lose abdominal fat is to vary your exercise intensity. A 2008 study (3) concluded that high intensity exercise significantly reduced abdominal fat compared to lower intensity exercise.
One suggestion why high intensity exercise may be more beneficial for stomach fat loss is because high intensity exercise releases lipolytic (fat breaking down) hormones that can elevate metabolism after exercise.
If you have questions about incorporating high intensity intervals into your exercise routine, talk with an exercise specialist.
Lack of sleep
Another reason you may not be losing stomach is if you aren’t sleeping enough, and it turns out most people may not be getting enough sleep at night.
Less than 30% of Americans got 8 hours of sleep in 2009 (4). Studies have found an inverse relationship between sleep duration and obesity meaning the less you sleep the higher chance for being obese.
Sleep duration may specifically be related to carrying fat around your stomach, according to a 2010 study (5). In people younger than 40 years old, getting less than 5 hours of sleep per night correlated with higher levels of fat around the stomach and BMI.
Everyone’s sleep patterns and needs are different, but if you consistently feel like you are not getting enough sleep and are feeling stressed, it could be a double negative against you for trying to lose weight around your stomach.
Too many processed carbs
Even if you are exercising, sleeping enough and hormone levels are healthy, your diet can influence fat around your stomach. Eating a diet high in simple carbohydrates like white bread, cookies, sweets, crackers and sweetened beverages can promote the release of insulin.
One of insulin’s jobs is to promote fat storage. By cutting down the amount of excess sugar you eat, you can help do yourself a favor for losing fat around the stomach.
Your stomach might be the last place to lose weight because of age, stress, genetics or hormone levels. This doesn’t mean you can’t lose stomach fat if that is your genetic predisposition, it just means you may have to work harder to reach your goals.
Doing the right type of exercise can also affect your fat loss around the stomach. Starting to do exercise is an important first step, but from there adding in resistance training and doing some high intensity exercise can further benefit fat loss in the stomach.
Besides exercise, watch your simple sugar intake. Eating a diet high in sugar can promote high levels of blood sugar which stimulate high levels of insulin. Insulin can promote fat storage.
Lastly, make sure you are getting adequate sleep. The amount of sleep you can be related to BMI and abdominal fat levels.