Why is it so hard to lose belly fat?

Because we have not really got to the root cause of why we gain belly fat. 

This is a very complex area and involves a huge interplay of many factors such as hormones, genetics, epigenetics, gut microbiome, inflammation, toxic burden… one affects the other and these are all interlaced in a spider web of interactions. I busted common myths in my last blog post, the biggest of which is – weight loss is not about calories in, calories out… now let’s look at why it is so hard to lose belly fat.

Two people can eat the same calories and one will gain inches on their waist and the other will not gain any weight at all. Essentially it comes down to how your body handles the calories you have just inputted…. and the hunger signals.


Here are the common issues that contribute to a increased belly fat:


Insulin resistance and high cortisol. Do you get food coma frequently where you feel drained after a big meal? Or that post lunch lull where your brain just seems to have given up? Blame your insulin.

When you eat, your gut digests the food and absorbs it into the blood stream so the blood sugar level goes up after a meal. Insulin is an important hormone that helps drive sugar from the blood into cells, thus lowering the blood sugar level. If you didn’t have insulin, the blood sugar level will remain very high after a meal and you will become very sick (what happens in Type 1 diabetes).


Insulin resistance occurs when the insulin does not work well anymore. It can no longer drive sugar effectively into the cell, so in order to lower blood sugar after meals, your body produces MORE insulin.  It’s like when we shout at our kids – after a while, they stop listening and we have to shout louder to get the same effect. What causes insulin resistance? Many factors including: Processed foods, refined sugar, excess calories, Processed meat, meat in general (factory farmed meat is particularly inflammatory), inflammation in the body, toxins such as PCB/dioxins, which jam up those insulin receptors. The result is that the body needs to produce more insulin in order to get the blood sugar down.


Contrary to popular belief, sugar is NOT the MAIN reason we get insulin resistance, it is the intramyocellular fat (click to read more about the association between intramyocellular fat and insulin resistance) – sugar does contribute : if you have frequent sugar spikes then your pancreas has to work harder to produce more insulin plus sugar causes inflammation in your body and causes gut dysbiosis which can all lead to insulin resistance too.

But what a lot of people is not focusing on is the inflammatory fats in their diets, many of these are hidden eg in processed/packaged foods…  not all fats are created equal – our bodies do need fat – but the good fats… from whole foods.

The key is ‘whole foods’ – I don’t believe in ‘low fat’ products where fat is taken out (through processing) and replaced with sugar. This is NOT healthy and can cause inflammation.


Why does a high insulin level matter though?

Because other than driving sugar into cells, insulin also tells the body to store fat. So if you have a high circulating level of insulin, you will store more fat. You will also have more difficulty burning the stored fat because insulin inhibits fat burning.


Now how about Cortisol?

Here’s an overview: Cortisol is the ‘stress’ hormone – it is released from our adrenal glands during periods of stress to prepare our body for a fight (aka flight or fight). Cortisol level should follow a pattern of peak and trough, and our body has its own NORMAL circadian rhythm of night and day.  When it is elevated e.g. running for the bus when you are late, it should then dip to a normal level after the event has passed. When it is constantly elevated however, it starts to increase insulin. Chronic cortisol elevation leads to insulin resistance and this is why common side effects of steroid (cortisone) administration is weight gain and diabetes.


What is the No. 1 cause of high cortisol? STRESS


We all know STRESS in the form of things like financial pressure, work stress. But overlooked sources of stress on the body include lack of sleep (sleep has such a HUGE effect on weight through its effect on other hormones that control appetite e.g. leptin), over exercise, and eating a Standard American Diet (processed food and sugar puts our bodies into stress mode) 


Other hormones also contribute – estrogen, thyroid, DHEA… think about environmental toxins, food sources, and your gut microbiome e.g. did you know that your gut microbiome helps with elimination of estrogen from  your gut? And if you have dysbiosis estrogen (Or constipated) estrogen is re-absorbed, recycled and can lead to estrogen dominance?


So how would I bring everything together and prioritize? 

First – reduce stress.


Second – sleep MORE and sleep BETTER


Third – clean up your diet. Cut out the refined sugar/refined carbs, processed foods, inflammatory substances(e.g. canola oil, food additives and food dyes)


Fourth – fix your gut – no, this does not mean go take a bunch of probiotics or drink kombucha.. if you have gut dysbiosis, you need to look at why and what is causing that… is it food intolerances? is it heavy metal? if you simply add probiotics to an already imbalanced gut that can sometimes makes things worse.


Fifth – reduce toxins in your environment – one thing I didn’t talk about was estrogen and its role in belly fat/weight gain. But the hormone disruptors in your personal care products, household cleaners etc can all contribute to estrogen dominance which will also lead to weight gain/belly fat (I can talk more about this in a separate post if you want). A heavy toxic load in your body will also drive changes that makes it hard for your to lose weight.


So to answer my question – why is it so hard to lose belly fat? The answer is, we are simply not addressing the correct problems… address these underlying problems and you will have a much more permanent solution on your hands rather than yo-yo dieting.


The truth is, generic weight loss programs and plans do not address any of these issues, and there is a big bio-individuality between each and every one of us. One person may have severe gut issues and dysbiosis that is causing them to gain weight, while another will have stress as the main cause. If you would like to look at what might be affecting you and get personalized guidance/advice – email me at [email protected]


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