There's a reason belly fat is known as the most stubborn to shift. The fat cells that gather around your lower abdomen are known as 'beta fat' cells, which are notoriously hard to get rid of.
So what do you do if you've been exercising regularly and maintaining a balanced diet, but you're still failing to see any results?
Bupa UK's Dr Luke James has some suggestions about where you might be going wrong:
- You're not getting enough sleep
'From scrolling through social media to having a late-night coffee, there are plenty of ways we unknowingly keep ourselves awake at night. Aside from feeling tired and groggy the next day, not getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night can affect weight loss.
'When we're lacking in sleep, our body's hormones get thrown off balance which can impact our hunger levels the next day. We all have two hormones that affect our appetite: ghrelin and leptin. When we don't get enough sleep, our ghrelin levels (the hormone that makes us feel hungry) rise, and our leptin levels (the hormone that makes us feel full) drop. This means that when we're awake, we tend to eat more but feel less satisfied. Try going to bed a little earlier than usual to avoid this imbalance and remember to remove any distractions that might prevent you from nodding off.'
- You're doing the wrong type of workout
'Only doing abdominal-focused workouts, like crunches, won't help you banish the bulge. Belly fat is simply where your body stores energy, so you need to take a whole-body approach to tackle it. HIIT training (high intensity interval training) is a great way to burn fat and get your heart rate up. Squats, burpees and treadmill sprints are all examples to try.'
- You're consuming too much sugar
'If your diet consists of lots of sports drinks, sugar-sweetened drinks like fizzy pop and flavoured waters, or sugary foods like chocolate and cakes, it will make losing weight harder. While whole fruits and vegetables are undoubtedly good for you, they can also sometimes cause weight gain if you eat too much, as they have high levels of natural sugars in them. Low-fat food options might have high amounts of added sugar in there too, so make sure to check the food label.
'Try cutting back on the amount of simple carbohydrates you eat, like pasta and bread, and substituting for healthier alternatives like courgetti. It won't be easy, but by dropping your overall carbohydrate intake (not eradicating carbs completely!) you will have the best chance of tackling your belly fat.'
- You're not eating enough protein
'Protein is great for fat loss. It helps build and preserve lean muscle tissue and can increase the amount of calories you burn. It's also a great source of energy that helps you feel fuller for longer, so you're less tempted to snack.
Good sources include chicken breast, tuna, eggs, milk and chickpeas. And if you're finding it difficult to avoid snacks that are high in carbohydrates, try substituting them for protein shakes or bars. Remember also to opt for the lean sources of protein because some sources can be high in saturated fat.'
- You're feeling stressed or anxious
'Feeling stressed can wreak havoc on our bodies. It can cause our body to produce the steroid hormone cortisol, which can make you crave sugary foods that provide instant energy and pleasure.
Short-term bursts of cortisol are necessary to help us cope with immediate danger, but our body will also release this hormone if we're feeling stressed or anxious. When our cortisol levels are high for a long amount of time, it can increase the amount of fat you hold in your belly.'
- You're expecting a quick fix
'It's easy to become impatient and frustrated when you're trying to lose weight and haven't seen the results yet.
But be realistic – you won't see the affect overnight. Your brain's wiring plays a huge part in resisting changes in lifestyle, and it takes time to establish new habits – up to 12 weeks. Stick with it for at least eight weeks and you should notice a change.'
- You're not tracking your progress
'There are some great apps and wearable tech devices available that make it easier to stick to your plan. They can help you monitor your goals, your food intake and the calories burned during exercise. If these aren't an option, write down a meal and exercise plan. This will help you stick to your goals and remain focussed.'
- You're crash-dieting
'Crash diets (dramatically cutting down how much you eat) might help you to lose a few pounds at first, but they're hard to sustain and won't help you keep the weight off. It might seem like a quick and easy option, but eating too few calories can actually do more harm than good.
'If your calorie intake dips too low, your body could go into starvation mode. This will slow down your metabolism, making it harder for your body to lose weight. Make sensible, healthy changes to your lifestyle that you can stick to and avoid the fad diets.'
- You're doing too much
'Your body needs a healthy balance of exercise and rest. Doing too much prevents the body from shifting excess fat. Exercising without rest can impact our levels of the steroid hormone cortisol and cause an increase of stubborn fat stored in the belly.
'Not allowing your body to recover can increase the risk of injury too, so make sure you factor in rest days to your plan.'
- You haven't got the right exercise balance
'With all the different tips out there, it can be tricky to understand exactly which exercises work the best. HIIT is great for fat burning and will get your heart rate up, but I'd also recommend including strength (resistance) exercises too.
'Try lifting weights, using resistance bands or using the weight machines at the gym as these will increase your metabolism to help with weight loss, and increase your muscle strength. It's important to mix-up your whole-body workouts so you don't get bored.'
- You've lost motivation
'One of the hardest parts of losing weight is maintaining the lifestyle changes you've made. It's difficult to stay motivated all the time, especially if you've slipped up along the way. But don't let this affect your end goal.
'If you're feeling particularly unmotivated, ask a friend to join you for your workout and then afterwards cook something healthy for dinner together.'
From: Cosmo UK