4 Factors That Contribute to Belly Fat — and How to Combat Them

Sometimes I look at myself naked in the mirror and tilt my head in confusion about why some parts of my body seem to store more fat than other parts of my body. Take my stomach, for example. It doesn't matter how many sit-ups I do or how long I hold the plank position, getting rid of belly fat seems like an impossible mission.

Of course, diet and exercise are always a good way to start when looking to get in shape and ditch some of the fat around your belly, but there are also other things that you might not even realize are going into the reason why getting rid of belly fat is harder to do than you think.

Here are four factors that contribute to belly fat and what you need to know about each one.

1. Stress

It's a fact that stress can wreak havoc on your body, but you may not know that it can target your belly.

Julie Adams of Thrive to Glow Health Coaching says that stress can keep your body storing fact in your belly because of an overproduction of cortisol when a person is dealing with a lot.

"One's body is stuck in the 'fight or flight' mode which turns the 'fat switch' on in order to protect from a future danger (think famine)," says Adams. "This is an ancient mechanism that has proven to serve us well when needed — sadly, it's not always needed!"

Adams explains that when a woman is stressed, she gains weight (particularly in her midsection) as her body is trying to protect her. In order to alleviate the effects of stress, Adams says the body craves the opposite of stress — relaxation and bliss.

"We gravitate toward sugar, carbs, caffeine, alcohol — anything to help us relax," says Adams. "Sadly, this does not cure anything and typically leads to weight gain."

2. Hormones

A lot happens to our bodies when our hormones are out of whack, and one of those things could be belly fat.

Armen Ghazarians, the CEO of Finish Fit, LLC, says that one such hormone that can contribute to abdominal fat deposits in women is estrogen.

"Estrogen is produced by fat cells, which in turn cause fat production," says Ghazarians. "This cycle of hormone and fat cell production is what causes abdominal fat gain."

Ghazarians suggests increasing fiber intake, adding indoles (broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower), and increasing fatty acids in your diet to regulate your belly fat.

3. Diet

It's no surprise that food plays a large role in your gut health. According to Ghazarians, studies have shown that you should use the following macronutrient breakdown in your diet (carbohydrates = 25 percent, proteins = 40 percent, and fats = 35 percent) to help burn the maximum amount of belly fat.

Ghazarians also recommends staying away from sugar or sweetened drinks, eating protein with every meal, and reducing the refined carbs in your diet.

4. Insulin Resistance

Dr. Barry Sears, a leader in the field of anti-inflammatory nutrition and author of the Zone Diet book, says that excess belly fat is partially genetic but primarily driven by increased insulin resistance.

"Increased insulin resistance is a consequence of inflammation that disrupts the signaling between the insulin receptor and the interior of the cells," says Dr. Sears. "This results in visceral (belly fat) that is stored in all the wrong places and causes significant inflammation. Visceral fat accumulates with decreasing estrogen levels. As estrogen levels decrease, insulin levels increase and drives dietary fat into storage in the fat cells and prevent its release for energy production."

Dr. Sears recommends reducing insulin resistance caused by inflammation to lose excess belly fat.

"It is insulin resistance that causes cells to accumulate excess fat," says Dr. Sears. "Only by reducing it can the stored fat leave the tissue to be burned as fuel for energy. In order to use stored fat for energy, you have to reduce your calorie intake to reduce diet-induced inflammation."