You’re standing in front of the mirror, getting ready for a night out. You’re excited and a little bit in a hurry, but none of your outfits seems to fit right. You’re pulling and tugging at your clothes. You don’t like what you see. Somehow, they all look unflattering. Your belly always sticks out. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just get rid of that excess belly fat?
Many people who embark on a weight loss journey have one specific body part they would like to lose fat from the most. Marketers know this and take advantage of it to advertise certain devices or products claiming they help you lose fat in a specific target area. But the truth is that a so called spot reduction of body fat is unfortunately not possible.
People store fat in different places. Where your body prefers to store its fat is largely determined by genetics, regardless of whether you’re overweight or not.
But you’d still like to lose that stubborn stomach fat. There must be a way, right?
The most effective way to lose fat in the areas that bother you is to lower your overall body fat percentage. You can think of excess body fat as stored energy. You can prompt your body to use this energy, even though you can’t influence where it will draw it from first. The best means to lower your overall body fat percentage are regular exercise and dietary changes.
Regular cardio and strength exercise
When you move, you burn calories. Therefore, if you make exercise a regular part of your life, it can help you use up the excess energy stored on your body (provided you don’t eat the workout calories back).
A common idea amongst people who are trying to lose fat is “the more calories you burn, the better”. Following this thought pattern, they opt for cardio-type exercises like running, swimming or zumba that promise a high calorie burn per hour, in order to get “more bang for their buck”.
There’s no doubt that in terms of health any exercise is good exercise. But when it comes to long-term weight and fat loss, you’d ideally not exclusively aim at burning as many calories as possible, but also at building up some muscle. (Don’t worry, “building muscle” doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get to look bulky, but that’s a different topic…)
Over time, you’ll adapt to exercise. Your body becomes more efficient at it. That does not only mean that exercising gets easier, but also that your body will need less energy to perform the exercise. This means, in turn, that you’ll have to train harder to burn the same amount of calories, either by exercising for longer or going heavier/faster.
Plus, the lighter you get, the less calories your body needs – just because you have less mass overall. This is especially true, if you don’t have a lot of muscle mass.
Regular strength training can help you to counteract this effect. Muscle uses up more calories than fat, so building up muscle can help you maintain or even elevate your calorie needs at a lower weight. When you strength train, you send a signal to your body that it needs muscle. Consequently, your body will retain the muscle mass it already has and start building up more muscle. Therefore, we at Walnut recommend a mix of cardio and strength training.
To tap into your body’s energy storage, you need a calorie deficit. You can achieve this not only by exercising, but also by making some dietary changes. But be careful that your daily available calories don’t drop too low. What “too low” concretely means can vary quite a bit for different people, depending for example on your height and activity level. You can find out your calorie needs by using a calorie calculator.
If you eat too little overall, your body doesn’t get all the nutrients it needs to function properly any more. Then it starts drawing protein from muscles and other body structures to use it for energy. This can make you feel tired and cause you to lose muscle mass, which lowers your caloric need even more. It can have a lot of other unpleasant side effects, too. Therefore, it’s best to aim for a moderate calorie deficit.
To make sure that you’ll primarily lose fat, not muscle, you’ll need a higher protein intake while you’re on a calorie deficit. Therefore, we recommend eating protein-rich foods with every meal, no matter if it’s a full meal or a snack. Protein-rich foods include for example meat, cheese, yoghurt, eggs or vegan sources like tofu, quinoa or black beans.
Another thing to watch out for is fiber. According to the Finravinto-study (2012) many people in Finland already eat slightly too little fiber on their normal diet (recommended is 25-35g/day while people on average get 21-22g/day). On a calorie deficit, the fiber intake typically drops even lower.
Foods rich in fiber can help you feel full faster and for longer, which is a big advantage if you’re trying to lose weight. They also help and enhance your digestion. Fiber-rich foods are for example berries, oats, beans, whole grains and dark leafy greens like spinach.
Last but not least, try to limit highly processed foods. These foods are typically very calorie-dense and it’s easy to overeat on them without even noticing it. They are processed in a way to make them taste so good that you’ll almost certainly want (and buy) more after you’ve finished your serving. They’re typically very unhealthy, too. While this so-called “hyperpalatability” is lucrative business for food companies, it can easily prevent you from reaching your fat-loss goal if you indulge in these foods too often.
The bottom line: Unfortunately there’s no shortcut to getting rid of stubborn fat in specific spots. But if you exercise regularly, consistently keep an eye on your diet, keep it up and trust the process, you’ll get there in no time.
Eager to transform your life and turn into the most confident, healthy, best version of yourself? Book your appointment with Walnut Coaching.