5 Reasons Your Belly Fat Isn't Budging — and What to Do About It
Stubborn belly fat isn't just annoying when you're trying to get into a new pair of jeans; excess visceral fat around your stomach can lead to health problems, particularly in women. A study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology found that the incidence of coronary heart disease was greater in women with a higher body mass index (BMI), and a separate study published in the European Journal of Cancer found that body fat and particularly belly fat can raise the risk of breast cancer in women. Whether you want to lose that excess belly fat for weight loss or health reasons (or heck, both), here are the sneaky culprits that are preventing you from shedding abdominal fat, plus some ways to combat it.
Your Sleep Is Out of Whack
Women who don't sleep enough are at risk for excess belly fat, Mikka Knapp, RDN, LDN, CLT, founder of Bright Body Nutrition in Sarasota, FL, told POPSUGAR. But here's the kicker — women who sleep too much are also at risk for carrying extra belly fat. "The sweet spot for sleep and less abdominal fat falls between seven to eight hours a night," Knapp says. "Too much or too little sleep results in cravings for simple carbs and an imbalance of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which help signal hunger and fullness." Try this trick to help you fall asleep faster.
You're Too Stressed
Everyone deals with some level of stress on an average day, but if you find yourself feeling like you're constantly frazzled, that may result in the accumulation of belly fat, Nazirber De La Cruz, RDN, CDN, CDE, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Elmhurst Digestive and Liver Diseases in Queens, NY, told POPSUGAR. According to Cruz, chronic stress promotes inflammation in the body, similar to how too much added sugar does. Fat cells in the belly produce and react to cortisol hormones and other proteins that drive inflammation, which promote cell growth and can lead to weight gain. Try these stress-busting techniques to naturally lower your cortisol levels.
You Don't Eat Enough Fiber
A study published in Nature found that naturally lean women have more bacteria called bacteroidetes in their gut, and women who carry more fat tend to have more gut bacteria known as firmicutes. "The good news about this is that you can influence your personal bacteria by eating more fiber," says Knapp. "Fiber breaks down into short chain fatty acids that feeds the bacteria bacteroidetes," she adds. Aim for five cups of fruits and vegetables (combined) a day to help boost this lean bacteria and ward off belly fat. Start with these 10 high-fiber foods, and try to eat them every week.
You're Not Taking a Probiotic
Both Knapp and Cruz say that when your gut bacteria is imbalanced and you're lacking good bacteria, like certain strains of lactobacilli (which has been proven to help lose belly fat, in a study published in the Journal of Functional Foods), the result can be an influx in belly fat and a higher weight. Cruz recommends her patients make sure they are providing an optimal gut ecosystem by eating fermented foods (like Greek yogurt) and a diet that's primarily plant-based, while Knapp suggests clients take a daily probiotic and follow a low-sugar diet to keep gut balance in check.
Your Water Bottle Isn't BPA-Free
"Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are hormone-disrupting chemicals found in many foods, beauty care products, and plastic containers," says Knapp. "They're also referred to as 'obesogens' because they're now understood to interfere with healthy processes of metabolism, resulting in obesity and extra fat around the abdomen," she adds. Among these obesogens are phthalates and BPA, which are in many plastic and aluminum containers. Knapp says she tells clients to choose aluminum cans that are clearly marked BPA-free and to use glass containers over plastic to avoid excess exposure to obesogens. Pick up one of these reusable water bottles to make sure you're staying hydrated and healthy.