How To Get That Stubborn Body Fat Shifting in 7 Simple Steps
What to do if your results start to slow down or grind to a halt...
“Why are my stubborn body fat areas so damn stubborn to shift fat from?“
If you’ve ever asked yourself that question you must not be doing the exercises to target those
specific areas or need to do more of them right?
We hear the request for more ‘abs’ exercises in sessions many times, as ‘that’s the area I need
shift fat from most’!
But, by doing a ton of ‘abs’ your not gonna shift a whole lot of belly fat and see a glistening 6 pack
anytime soon. Sorry!
Josh got super ripped for his WBFF comp last year and get this, he did do 'abs' but he also dieted hard for 6 months straight to get in that shape.
Read that last bit again ^^
He had no alcohol, no sweet treats, nothing off plan, not even once. It was stressful, tiring and
probably miserable to do at times but it needed to be done to compete at that level.
This is far beyond what most of the members who see us want to achieve and we know that, but the principles stay true.
The whole spot reduction thing (such as targeting specific areas with exercises to primarily burn body fat from that and only that area) is such a fallacy that surely anyone whose exercised for a time and followed such advice knows is a lie.
However, many times we get the same questions or requests come up and it all comes back to this thing of ‘I need to shift body fat from X so should I be doing more Y?’
By training the muscles in specific areas you’re likely to get stronger and more efficient using those particular muscles in movement patterns you primarily use those muscles in but burning body fat?
Not a whole lot for the effort put in, no. I mean exercising in general will burn calories and if you eat less than you need you’re body will begin to lose weight (some body fat in the process) but the spot reduction thing is a myth.
That’s why at TUF we aim to get you working in whole body training sessions involving compound (multi joint and muscle) movements that strengthen the body and get you burning maximum amount of calories not just during but after a session through metabolic rate increase.
The kicker is though, despite all your hard efforts, the stubborn area you want to lose fat from most is usually the last place it goes from.
If this is belly fat it can be because of a number of reasons, one being lack of blood flow to subcutaneous areas (under the skin) as opposed to areas of thinner skin where blood flow is high.
Reason why we see a drop off of fat around the face and neck quite quickly but trying to shift back, belly or bum fat is tough as hell.
Taken from Lyle McDonalds ‘Stubborn Fat Loss Solution’ book who can explain things in a way
only a scientist can, read on…
There are three primary factors that control how quickly you lose fat from different parts of your body:
1. How fat cells respond to catecholamines.
2. How fat cells respond to insulin.
3. How much blood flow an area of fat cells receive.
One of the ways your body tells fat cells to release their energy is through catecholamines —signalling molecules that act on different tissues in the body. In this case, the two main signalling molecules are adrenaline and noradrenaline.
Catecholamines are like an instant messaging system for the brain. All of your cells have catecholamine receptors, or “cell phones,” that receive messages.
When your body needs more energy, your brain “texts” your cells to release some of their stored fat to be used elsewhere.
Fat cells have two types of catecholamine receptors: alpha-2 and beta-2. Each receptor behaves differently when it gets a signal from a catecholamine. Beta-2 receptors tell cells to release more fat. On the other hand, alpha-2 receptors tell your cells to stop releasing fat.
When a fat cell has more alpha-2 receptors than beta-2 receptors, it releases fat slower than other cells. When your brain senses that it has enough energy from other cells, it tells fat cells to stop releasing their energy. By the time this happens, these “stubborn fat cells” have barely released any fat.
These stubborn cells tend to congregate in the same areas on your body. For example, fat cells from the stomach tend to be about 10-20 times more responsive to catecholamines than fat cells from the glutes.
Fat cells can also respond differently to the effects of the hormone insulin, another kind of signalling molecule. Insulin is generally considered a “storage hormone,” meaning it helps nutrients like fat enter cells. When insulin levels are high fat burning usually drops to zero, and vice versa.
Some kinds of fat, like visceral fat, are more insulin resistant than others. They keep releasing fat despite insulin being present. On the other hand, stubborn fat tends to stop releasing triglycerides in response to insulin.
The amount of blood flow to different parts of your body also determines how much fat you lose.
Areas that receive more blood flow generally lose fat easier.
Lower body fat in both males and females has about 67% less blood flow, and has 87% less hormone sensitive lipase activity (HSL). HSL is an enzyme that helps release fat from cells — for our purposes, it’s good.
In other words, stubborn fat is stubborn because it doesn’t respond as well to catecholamines or insulin, and it doesn’t get as much blood flow as other kinds of fat.
So how do we begin get rid of this stubborn body fat?
Some strategies that may help…
In most cases, losing stubborn fat is a constant battle. You have to maintain a calorie deficit until the last areas succumb to your dieting efforts.
You generally don’t need to do anything special to get rid of stubborn fat; it just takes patience.
You’ve probably heard that fasted training, certain ‘fat burning’ supplements, and special foods are the best ways to get rid of stubborn fat. Not only are these unnecessary, there’s generally no evidence they work.
Here’s what can actually work for you.
1. Be patient.
As you get leaner, you’re going to lose fat at a slower rate. Refer to my swimming pool analogy further on or video here >> https://youtu.be/SQumdGT5uac
The trouble is, when people begin to lose less than a pound a week they start to give up and think things aren’t working anymore.
In many cases, you might only lose 0.5-0.25 pounds of fat per week but be doing everything right and just need to be patient.
Here’s an interesting fact - sometimes, you may also have to increase your calories in the short-term to ‘kickstart’ a fat loss plateau before worrying about getting rid of more stubborn fat.
“A minority of the population can experience complete fat loss plateaus, which is almost universally due to a pathology (e.g. hypothyroidism or a neural disorder) or excessive stress. The first usually presents with a weight loss plateau and the latter presents with great weight loss but no more fat loss, i.e. muscle loss. Increasing calories tends to work when stress is too high,” says Menno Henselman, a Pro Bodybuilder.
If you plateau for a week or two, look to do this…
2. Weigh Your Food.
If you want to get rid of stubborn body fat, you have to be more strict about your diet. In most cases, that means planning your meals and weighing your food. When you reach very low body fat levels, you’re more likely to UNDERestimate your calorie intake.
If you aren’t currently weighing your food out and knowing what’s going in, start. If you are weighing your food, and you haven’t made progress in 2-3 weeks, double and triple check your accuracy then move to the next step.
3. Lower Your Overall Calorie Intake.
As you get leaner, the number of calories you burn will drop. To keep losing fat, you’ll probably have to eat less, move more, or both.
For most people, it’s best to do both. If you’ve been weighing your food and you still haven’t lost weight, drop your calories by 100-200 per day.
4. Do Low-Intensity Cardio.
In addition to dropping your calorie intake, increase your daily activity levels.
Usually, this is enough to help you burn another 100-200 calories per day. When you combine that with a small drop in your calorie intake, you’ll usually start losing fat again.
If you’re extremely tight on time, it might be worth trying the next option.
5. Do High Intensity Interval Training (HiiT)
For the same amount of time, high intensity interval training burns more calories and increases catecholamines more than low intensity exercise.
In addition, low intensity exercise can burn just as many calories and expose your fat cells to just as many catecholamines, without causing strength or muscle loss. It just takes longer.
If you try interval training, focus on exercises that mainly focus on less impact. That means cycling, rowing, swimming, and preferably less running. These kinds of workouts also tend to interfere less with strength training.
Focus on very short, intense bursts of exercise.
It’s easy enough (in theory), just jump on a static bike, warm up for 5 mins steady pace.
Then alternate between 20 seconds high intensity sprints out of the saddle on a high resistance then pedal easy for 40 seconds back in the saddle.Repeat for 10 to 15 minutes and end with a short cool down.
This workout only includes a few minutes of maximal cycling. It’s nowhere near some of the crazy HIIT workouts you see online with 45-60 minutes of intervals. The more you do, the greater your risk of losing muscle and strength.
Start with one HIIT workout per week, and do that for two weeks. Then maybe do two per week.
Check out our YouTube Channel here for some great 'no equipment needed' workout videos.
6. Try Caffeine (in moderation).
Most supplements are useless for fat loss, but caffeine is one that might help. Caffeine increases, adrenaline levels, fat burning, blood flow, and metabolic rate, to a moderate degree, which could help get rid of fat. But, there’s no evidence that it can help get rid of stubborn fat more than regular body fat.
It’s also cheap, safe, and easily available. Plus it’s a good excuse to drink (great) coffee.
A normal dose is 4-6 mg per kilogram of body weight, or 300-400 mg for a 150 pound person. That’s 2-3 cups of coffee, depending on the type. Take this 30-60 minutes before your workout, as caffeine can also increase power output and endurance.
7. Lower Your Carbohydrate Intake.
Low-carb diets may decrease the activity of alpha-2 receptors and lower insulin levels, which could help mobilise stubborn fat.
The downside is that low-carb diets almost always decrease your strength, and usually cause muscle loss when you’re dieting to low body fat levels.
So given the above, is it all doom and gloom? ‘Oh I’ll never shift this fat!’ :(
If you think of our body as a swimming pool and the water filling it as fat we want rid of.
Imagine the pool floor from shallow end to sloping down to deep end.
Now think how the pool empties if a plug located at the deep end is pulled out. Water steadily drains out and over time the level is noticeably lower.
The volume of water (and weight) is vast at first so although the plug hole remains the same it pours out at full flow.
As the water level gets lower there’s less downward force from weight and gravity forcing the water out so the flow slows a bit.
Near to the end when the level nears the bottom it almost trickle BUT is still emptying.
What if we opened more plug holes? Think more exercise or a larger calorie deficit?
I’m sure the water would empty a bit faster right?
The moral here is to believe that the water WILL empty as long as the plug is out (exercise and nutrition is correct and frequent). The belief has to be that there will be areas that take longer to lose from (the deep end) but being consistent will mean it gets emptied eventually.
Stopping exercise and eating well because of slow down (of weight loss usually) is the number one killer to your progress and the ONE thing keeping you stuck in an endless cycle.
So before you ask for more ‘abs’ to shift that belly fat, ask yourself if:
- Am I doing enough whole body strength based workouts with regular daily physical activity to burn extra calories? (Train hard, move more, do less of doing less, get outside and walk or run
- Am I eating for the body I want, not the body I have right now? (ie if you want to drop some weight then you have to eat less than you need right now)
- Have I truly accepted how long it is going to take to get the results I want? (Hint: if it took you 5 years to gain the weight, it won’t be gone in 5 weeks!)
Hopefully that analogy has helped a little explain why stubborn fat loss is just that and also that spot reduction is not a viable option to pin all your hopes on.
But what if you think you’re doing everything right?
Eating healthy, exercising a few times per week, drinking more water, cutting some of the bad habits you know were holding you back…
Despite these efforts progress has either seemed to take an age to show, ground to a halt or is non existent!
Hardly inspiring you to go at it for more right?
More punishment in the gym, coming back with sore muscles, feeling tired and drained of energy isn’t fun for some.
More effort making healthy meals when the family just want easy, ‘tasty’ meals (and remind you of this every day), more having to watch what you eat, more skipping indulgences that were once a regular occurrence.
No wonder most give up on their efforts around this time of year after a great start.
However, a HUGE reason a lot of people struggle to make any progress at all (or see it slow down dramatically around this time) is, well TWO reasons really - and could be one, the other or both.
You are simply UNDERestimating the calories you’re consuming.
Simply put, the portion sizes you think are no more than 500 calories are probably more like 7 or 800. The snacks you regularly eat are adding up to hundreds of calories more than you’re planning on eating across that day. Maybe you’re not even counting liquid calories or ‘forgetting’ certain bite size treats throughout the day.
Without knowing exactly how much you’re consuming you can only go with best guess and this is based on what you perceive things to contain. We always use the tablespoon of peanut butter example - a real tablespoon of PB (and usually the serving size on the jar) might equal around 100 cals but what we think constitutes a tablespoon serving (a nice heaped spoonful) is probably 2 or 3 times the amount of a ‘serving’.
Tip on getting straight with the above problem…
Take 7 days of weighing, measuring and tracking every scrap of food you eat and every calorie you drink.
During this time also weigh yourself daily every morning after going to the toilet and before eating or drinking anything. Add the daily bodyweight together then divide by 7 to get an average across the week. How does that average compare to your beginning weight?
If it’s the same, then what you’ve eaten that week is around your maintenance calorie level. If you’ve slightly lost weight (maybe 0.25 to 0.5 lb) then you’re in a slight calorie deficit and vice versa.
What can you do with the data you get from tracking your food? Well, you will have a better understanding on what the foods you regularly consume actually contain calorie wise and macro nutrient wise Does that high protein breakfast bar actually have a high protein content compared to fats and carbs? Probably not in that case and you can make informed decisions on what to change it for. But also, shows you (along with bodyweight measures) if what you’re taking in is too much for your current activity level.
Which brings us onto the next reason…
You are OVERestimating what you’re burning during exercise.
Look, we know that TUF gym session felt like you burned 700 calories because it was crazy hard and every muscle burned, along with your lungs feeling like they were going to explode but chances are it was more like half that amount burned!
Sounds quite depressing really and almost like ‘is it worth it for such little return’? Well, one thing you can do instantly is become more active during daily life.
Walk more, lift things, do physical work (in the garden, around the house etc), use the stairs instead of the lift or escalator when out shopping, have a daily step target and try to beat yesterdays total.
Whatever it is that means you move more - DO IT. You’ll be burning more calories and if your intake remains the same then you’ll get closer to a calorie deficit required to lose weight (and reduce body fat).
One thing to bear in mind is that post weights training your body will still remain in an elevated ‘calorie burning’ state for longer whilst you recover compared to a cardio session after which you could return back to ‘normal’ rates quite quickly after.
This does mean that you should evaluate your methods of training and exercise to involve things that stress the body as a whole for short intense periods of time (sets and reps with heavy weights, interval based exercises, short sprint intervals etc) instead of relying on a sole modal of training such as running to lose body fat and get leaner.
During a steady paced run your body will most probably be using carbs and oxygen to fuel your efforts, so if you’re taking in excess carbs through food and drink then running to lose weight you may just be burning off what you put in and not touching the ‘stores’ you want to reduce. One to watch - make sense?
Tip on getting more of an insight into what you’re burning through movement and daily activity…
Get a FitBit type tracker or use a heart rate monitor to get some idea of your calorie output. it won’t be 100% accurate but it’s better than having no idea AND if you combine that OUTPUT info with your average daily calorie INTAKE info you can work out where your progress is potentially getting lost.
Just my quick view on this as we’ve had a couple of members come to us as their progress slowed up after 6 weeks of solid exercise and diet focus.
One more thing to mention is as you lose weight your body will require less calories. If you keep up the same intake as you did when you weighed more you’ll be eating too much. When you diet for a period of time certain things slow down and mean you require less calories. You body will always fight against losing weight so jumping back regular tracking weeks now and again can bring you back in line with where you’re sitting at at that moment in time.
So in summary, the only truly well supported methods for getting rid of stubborn body are a calorie deficit, proper macro nutrition, strength training, and patience.
BONUS: 7 Quick Tips To Reduce Body Fat
- 1. Set a calorie deficit. Quite simply, if you eat more than you burn, you’ll struggle to shift any fat.
- 2. Eat adequate protein. This will maintain lean muscle mass when in a calorie deficit as well as keeping you fuller for longer on a diet.
- 3. Weigh your food. Doing this is the only way to accurately know what food is going in.
- 4. Lift heavy weights. Strength training is one of the best ways to maintain muscle mass while dieting.
- 5. Create a meal plan. This can make things 100 times easier to plan and stick to each week so there’s no scope to our eat or slip up.
- 6. Move more during the day. Go on walks, try using a stand up desk, play with your kids — do more of whatever you enjoy.
- 7. Repeat the above steps.
If you maintain a calorie deficit and keep lifting weights, you’ll get rid of stubborn fat. Be patient.
One of the best ways to ruin your progress is to overcomplicate things and doubt your diet and training. Nothing else matters until you’re covering the basics.
Remember, no matter what you do, some parts of your body will lose fat slower than others.
These areas of stubborn fat are the last to leave, but they will shift eventually.
If you maintain a calorie deficit, eat enough protein, and lift weights, you can get rid of every bit of stubborn fat on your body.
Hopefully the text above has given you a better understanding on what to focus on as well as why fat loss might be static right now.
Co -Founder, The Unit Fitness
P.S Thank you for reading so far... we'd love to give you a free 'Macro Masterclass Cheatsheet' download to help you understand the basics of great nutrition.