“I don’t know why they call it stubborn belly fat. Mine is flexible and rolls with the punches.”
As women, we are ever preoccupied with how to lose belly fat. In order to do so, however, we must understand a few things first.
There are two major categories of stomach fat: subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is the visible outer layer right above the hips that you can pinch, while visceral fat is hidden beneath the surface around your internal organs. The latter type of fat is what you should be worried about because it is harmful, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, cancer and more.
While the amount of subcutaneous fat is easier to determine (with body calipers) because of its visibility, it is unfortunately very difficult to measure visceral fat because it lurks beneath the surface. One rule of thumb is that if you have subcutaneous fat, your visceral fat is proportional to it. However, warning! You can have very little of the visible subcutaneous fat while still having a good amount of visceral fat around your organs. This phenomenon is known as skinny fat. Therefore, always remember size is NOT an indicator of health. You can be skinny while still being at high risk for all kinds of disease (that is why we should focus on obtaining optimal health versus optimal size – but that is a completely other topic for another day).
Ideally, you would like to get rid of both kinds of belly fat. The good news is that the bad, dangerous visceral fat is actually easier to remove through healthy eating and exercise. It is the subcutaneous, visible fat that is stubborn and hangs on. Therefore, you have to trust in the process of your health journey even if you can’t physically see the results right away! You are making progress, becoming healthier and at less risk for disease even if it is just not visible to the naked eye yet.
So how do you lose belly fat?
You must have a negative calorie balance, meaning you must consume less calories than you burn on a daily basis. You can achieve this by either eating less calories or burning more through exercise. Ideally, you should be doing both! You should strive to have a clean diet free of added sugar and processed foods. Work to be eating foods that either come from the ground or have a mother! Additionally, aim to exercise 5 times per week. Ultimately, the best exercise is the one that you are actually going to do. However, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be highly effective in burning more calories for a longer amount of time.
Once you achieve this negative calorie balance, your body will then start using the stored fat as a fuel reserve, and thus burning it off. Your body is converting the molecules in the fat cells to usable forms of energy, which results in the fat cell shrinking and lost weight. The fat cells unfortunately do not magically disappear, nor do they turn into muscle cells (that will never happen because they have a completely different cell structure). The fat cell is still there, just smaller.
On a side note, there is the issue of excess skin in weight loss. Thankfully, your skin has a protein called collagen which gives the it some elasticity. So with moderate weight gain and loss, your skin will shrink back to fit the body’s new size. Unfortunately, collagen is limited. Rapid weight gain can outpace collagen production in the skin, causing overstretching and stretch marks (occurs often in pregnancy), and on the flip side, with extreme weight loss, the skin has been overstretched and will lose it’s elasticity.
In summary, there are two kinds of fat to be concerned about when trying to lose weight in the midsection. While the visceral fat inside of you around your organs is dangerous, increasing your chances of disease, it is easier to lose than the stubborn subcutaneous, visible fat on your tummy. In order for both kinds of fat cells to shrink, you must create a negative calorie balance by eating fewer calories and exercising.