In an ideal world, you could target that pesky boep with a few pinpoint exercises and slowly sculpt out a set of abs. However, if your belly has more staying power than anything else in your life, chances are you’re struggling with fat-burning as a whole and not just a few stubborn pockets of flab. Want to lose belly fat? Read on for a few science-backed reasons your gut is still sticking around.
1. You’re Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Knocking back drink after drink? You could be lathering on the padding. When you indulge in a beer or cocktail, your body turns the alcohol you’re consuming into something known as acetate. While it’s in your system, this becomes your defacto energy source leaving the rest of your macros to be stashed away as fat.
To make matters worse, alcoholic beverages are high in calories with upwards of 210 calories in your average pint.
2. Your Diet Is Heavy on Trans Fats
There’s good fat and bad fat (trans fats), and if your belly has some serious staying power, chances are you’re loading up on too much of the latter. The problem with trans fats is that they won’t just cause you to pack up the pounds, but may also cause your body to transfer fat from other areas to your boep.
One six-year study found that monkeys who were fed a diet consisting of around 8% trans fats had almost 35% more belly fat than those snacking on the same proportion of monounsaturated fats instead.
Many types of foods can contain these pesky fats, here are a few examples:
- Frozen pizza
- Fried foods (think: slap chips, deep-fried chicken and doughnuts)
- Microwave popcorn
- Fatty beef
- Many kinds of pastries (be wary of that petrol station pies)
3. You’re Letting Stress Rule Your Life
Research published in Psychosomatic Medicine uncovered a link between high cortisol levels and excess abdominal fat. This should come as no surprise as the release of this stress hormone can cause your digestive system to shut down. Once the stress has passed, you’ll attack your next meal with ravenous intent, leaving you at serious risk of wolfing down more calories than your daily rec.
Getting a handle on stress isn’t a simple task. Fortunately, you can bolster your mind and burn away your belly with one simple solution: exercise. In a 2014 study, researchers compared the effects of stress on a group of workout warriors against their less active counterparts. They found that those who were putting in daily reps experienced a much smaller dip in their mood than the activity averse.
4. You’re Getting Older
While it’s possible to age gracefully, your metabolism clearly didn’t get the memo. However, while your calorie-burning engine will start to sputter out as you age, new research has shown that the real slowdown only starts to kick in after you turn 60.
The real problem? You will likely experience a drop in lean muscle mass for every decade after your twenties. And with fewer of these all-important fibres to put your daily calories to work (muscles burn far more calories than fat), you’ll have to tweak your portions as you age.
5. You’re Not Exercising Enough
While abs are forged in the kitchen, you should never overlook the importance of working up a sweat. And, no, spot reduction doesn’t work. Despite bold claims in some corners of the internet that certain workout moves (like sit-ups) can pinpoint fat stores in your belly, there’s little evidence to suggest that you can target certain zones when it comes to shedding flab.
Ultimately, your goal should be to burn fat full stop. And building muscle can help expedite this process by ramping up your basal metabolic rate (i.e. the average number of calories your body requires to maintain your current weight.)
That said, some types of workouts have been found to more effective than others when it comes to torching fat. For instance, one study found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) could help burn more fat than moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Consider this your sign to head over to your closest CrossFit Box.
6. You’re Not Sleeping Enough
A lack of shuteye can lead to an abundance of belly fat. Research conducted by the University of Chicago found that people who slept four hours or less each night were far more likely to reach for unhealthy, high-calorie grub than those getting the requisite 8 to 10 hours of dozing time.
7. You’re Eating Too Fast
If you’re in the habit of vacuuming up your meals in record time, you could be turning your temporary boep into a permanent dad bod. A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that those who ate meals at a slow or moderate pace were more likely to feel satiated after finishing their plates.
Can’t stop scarfing? Try mindful eating: slowly chew on each mouthful before reaching for the next forkful. You can also lay down your cutlery between bites to make sure you’re not going too fast.
8. You’re Not Eating Enough Fibre
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that aiming to eat just 30g of fibre today could help you lose weight, improve your body’s insulin response and lower your blood pressure. Why? Other research suggests fibre does more than streamline your bathroom visits as it can help you feel satiated and, thus, less likely to gorge on more grub.
9. You’re Slurping Up Sugary Drinks
If you want to kick belly fat to the curb, sugary beverages are your nemesis. These calorie-dense drinks (including fruit juices, milkshakes and energy drinks) can cause you to pile on the pounds. One study found for every sugary drink consumed in a day, you could be raising your risk of obesity by as much as 60%.
For reference, rounded up (source):
- Average can of cooldrink (130 calories)
- Average can of an energy drink (235 calories)
- Average bottle of milkshake (185 calories)
- Average can of fruit juice (160 calories)
Bottom line: it adds up. Ideally, you should sub in glasses of water instead. (Spoiler: adequate hydration has been shown to help with weight loss.) However, if you’re craving something sweet, opt for low-cal/zero-sugar variety of your favourite beverage instead.
10. You’re Not Talking About It
Social support can be a massive boon when it comes to shrinking your waistline. According to research, having access to a social network of encouraging peers has been linked with lower BMIs and better health. Merely vocalising your fat-loss goals to your mate could give you the impetus (and accountability) to stick to your healthier habits.
Our suggestion? Sign up for a group class at your local gym. Sweat and solidarity are a powerful cocktail when it comes to getting (and staying) fit.
11. You’re Not Portioning Out Your Food
Fact: when it comes to counting calories and tracking our macros, we tend to underestimate what exactly we’re putting on our plates. As such, if you’re eyeballing your meals, there’s a good chance you’re tucking away far more calories than you think.
One study found that when it comes to certain foods, like pasta, pizza and cool drinks, we’re underestimating the extent of our portion sizes by between 30 to 46 percent. And that’s a serious problem. For a pizza, for example, that could mean the difference between a manageable 1,000 calories and a gut-building 1,460.
READ MORE: Can Drinking Coffee Help You Lose Weight?
Speaking to Men’s Health, certified strength and conditioning specialist Tony Gentilcore recommends familiarising yourself with what you should actually be eating. For example, 85g of beef is about the size of a deck of cards and 75g of icecream should fill around half the volume of a tennis ball.
12. You’re Overeating after Your Workouts
After a serious workout, it’s an instinct to want to refuel. However, just because you put in the work doesn’t give you carte blanche to wreck your meal plan. Most post-workout rewards tend to exceed the calories you burnt during your session.
The solution? Opt for smaller portions of healthy treats you really like. A piece of dark chocolate, a protein bar or a scoop of low-cal ice cream will check all the boxes without adding padding to your belly.