Why Your Belly Fat Is So Stubborn

Winter begins to die, flowers begin to bloom and the sun’s rays start to peek through the clouds. We are ready to dress in simpler, lighter attire. Our thoughts drift to what we might look like in these clothes, and we think about why we just can’t achieve the body we want so badly, no matter how hard we try.

A naturally good place to look first is the diet. Diets that are full of processed carbohydrates (a bowl of cereal is processed much differently than a bowl of blueberries) are bad fits for a slimmer body. A whole-foods diet free of inflammatory ingredients like gluten and processed sugars leads to not only a healthier life but can help melt that belly fat away. Inflammatory foods lead to inflammation all over the body, and this leads to more abdominal fat – and lower energy levels, not to mention increased risks of heart disease. A good way to trim the fat is to cut out the inflammation. Limiting grains (even gluten-free ones), avoiding sodas and fruit juices (yes, even diet soda, which raise insulin levels, triggering fat storage), and focusing on healthy fats, protein and vegetable intake will clean things up so your body starts figuring out what you want it to do.

But diet isn’t the only player in this game. Extra stress (coupled with poor stress management) raises cortisol levels, which leads to more belly fat deposition (which I know, leads to more stress). When we manage the cortisol we reduce the belly fat. And speaking of hormones, when cortisol is out of balance likely estrogen, testosterone and progesterone are as well. Lack of hormonal balance changes the whole metabolism of the body making us hold onto more weight (never does a woman understand this more than during menopause!). Managing stress with proper exercise, meditation, a walk in nature or daily deep breathing can help reduce the belly fat. If you want a targeted approach to improving your health, an experienced naturopathic physician can help you naturally balance your cortisol and other hormones, leaving you slim, relaxed and energetic, no matter your phase of life.

Other pieces that come into play for holding onto belly fat include:

Water – You must drink enough! The liver needs water to break down fats. If you are dehydrated (and most people are), your kidneys will need most of what you drink, leaving little for the liver to do its job. Unless you have an underlying kidney or heart condition, a general rule is to drink half of your body weight in ounces, and even more during warm weather.

Sleep – Get a good quantity and quality of sleep (8-9 hours for most adults)! The side effects of lack of sleep are well documented. But one area that people forget about in regard to sleep is weight. While we sleep, the liver manages blood sugar, hormones and body fat. Fasting for three hours before bedtime and making sure you are getting enough hours of deep, refreshing sleep in a completely dark room is a great first step in getting your sleep to support you in the ways you really want.

Exercise routine – Avoid long cardio workouts (45+ minutes), which can actually work against your weight loss efforts. I know, it’s surprising, isn’t it? But a prolonged cardio burn is the same as a prolonged stress response, increasing the production of cortisol in your body. Over time, this response promotes insulin resistance and the loss of muscle, not fat. HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training (over a shorter period of time), in contrast, is characterized by alternating between periods of high- and low-intensity activity. For example, instead of running on the treadmill at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, you would alternate between sprinting for one minute and then jogging for two minutes. There is evidence that this alternating intensity technique maximizes fat burning. According to a study published in the Journal of American Physiology, participants who engaged in HIIT activities regularly burned greater amounts of fat and improved their overall cardiovascular fitness. (HIIT may work by training the cell’s energy centers to burn fat calories before carbohydrate calories. No matter how it works, it has improved results for me and many of our Insights patients.)

The recommendations represented in this article should be discussed with your doctor. A naturopathic physician can help you to find an individualized plan of action to help address your specific needs, allowing you to shine your brightest!

Dr. Christie Winkelman is the owner and director of Insights to Health Clinic in Multnomah Village (InsightsND.com), a four-doctor family naturopathic and neurofeedback clinic specializing in sustainable weight loss, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, in- somnia, ADHD, fertility and hormone balancing. She and her husband, Gil, are members of Congregation Neveh Shalom, and their children attend Portland Jewish Academy.

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