Why Belly Fat is Hard to Lose and How to Do It

What’s the most frustrating part of dieting? For many of us, it’s not changing our eating habits or sweating through gym routines. Instead, it’s the disheartening realization that even when we reach a healthy weight, we retain two or more inches of belly fat. Indeed, even some individuals who are otherwise very slim have a small “pot belly.”

The good news? While belly fat can be very hard to lose, getting rid of it isn’t impossible. If you know the right techniques and are willing to consider alternatives to conventional fat loss methods (such as cosmetic medicine), getting rid of belly fat can be downright painless. Here’s what you need to know:

Understanding—and Conquering—Stubborn Belly Fat

Before trying to banish belly fat, it’s useful to know why belly fat is especially stubborn. The causes of diet-resistant fat deposits on the stomach vary from person to person, and may include one or more of the following factors:

  • Age. As we get older, our fat becomes more “centralized.” That is to say, it moves away from the extremities (like the hands, feet, and face) and collects around the abdomen. As such, even if you don’t actually gain extra weight over the years, you can develop a noticeable belly. Making matters worse, we lose muscle mass as we age. This means that the belly fat we have is poorly supported. Without strong abdominal muscles in place to help “compress” the stomach, the abdomen tends to protrude, making fat deposits even more noticeable.


  • Diet. Even if you’re eating a calorie-controlled diet, eating the wrong kinds of foods can encourage your body to retain belly fat. Foods that cause insulin levels to spike, i.e., refined carbohydrates and sugary foods and drinks, are associated with an increase in “visceral fat.” This is an especially dense form of abdominal fat that clusters close to the organs. Not only is it hard to lose visceral fat, having a higher percentage of this type of fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.


  • Genetic and hormonal factors. Bodily composition varies from person to person, and some people are simply more genetically prone to storing fat around the midsection. This is particularly common in people whose ancestors lived at high latitudes, as storing fat around the midsection helps the body to retain heat. Likewise, as you probably already know if you’re female, feminine hormones like estrogen tend to aid in fat storage. This, too, used to serve a vital purpose: It gave women extra fat deposits to draw on while carrying and nursing their babies, which could be life-saving in times of famine. Today, however, it makes battling the bulge particularly challenging for women.


Now that you know what causes stubborn belly fat, you can figure out what to do about it. If the problem is diet—that is, you’ve been eating less but still consuming a lot of sweet or processed foods—then the solution may be as simple as changing what you eat. Try sticking to foods that stabilize insulin levels, such as vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, legumes, and fruit (in moderation; fruit can be high in natural sugars).

If the problem is age, genetics, or hormones, you’re facing a bit more of an uphill battle. Dieting down to a very low body fat percentage isn’t recommended, so you’re left with two options: You can either step up your exercise routine and focus on the abdomen, or you can consider cosmetic medicine.

In general, cosmetic body sculpting procedures like liposuction and CoolSculpting offer the best and most convenient solution to diet-resistant belly fat. While targeted exercises can slightly alter the appearance of belly fat (by toning and compressing the abdomen), it’s actually impossible to “spot reduce” fat via exercise. When the body burns fat, fat cells all over the body shrink at an even rate. They don’t burn off faster in a given area just because you’re moving the muscles there. When you have CoolSculpting or liposuction, on the other hand, the fat cells in targeted areas are permanently destroyed. These procedures therefore can be said to truly get rid of unwanted belly fat, leaving the patient with a smooth, flat stomach. In fact, it’s a myth that procedures like liposuction are intended for use on heavily overweight patients. The ideal body sculpting candidate is actually someone who is a healthy weight but still requires a bit of “fine tuning” in some areas. If that last sentences describes you, body sculpting may be your best bet for getting the body of your dreams.