Go ahead, let it out: Weight loss feels impossible! Hip, thigh, and abdominal fat are especially discouraging. Why is stubborn fat so hard to lose?
Nobody’s going to lie and tell you it’s easy—but sustainable weight loss is possible!
Sure, it takes work, and some bodies are particularly obstinate. But a body is designed to maintain its processes, adapt to its circumstances, and keep on living, right? That’s science telling you your body wants to be healthy.
Armed with knowledge, you can confidently guide your body on how to remove stubborn fat from thighs, or how to lose stubborn fat on the stomach. Read on for 12 science-based tactics to lose fat.
Why is Stubborn Fat So Hard to Lose?
What causes stubborn fat? You might think all fat cells are equally immovable. But it’s a little more complicated than that.
Alpha and Beta Receptor Density
The fat breakdown process is called lipolysis. It requires the hormones Epinephrine and Norepinephrine. That’s adrenaline, in layman’s terms. These hormones interact with fat cells to instigate lipolysis. When they bind to alpha1 and beta receptors, lipolysis occurs. Alpha2 receptors, on the other hand, blunt lipolysis.
Interestingly, the fat cells in your face, arms, and legs have a high concentration of beta receptors. That’s why when you lose weight, you often see it first in your face.
Hips, thighs, and bellies have a higher concentration of both alpha1 and alpha2 receptors. That means that while the alpha1 receptors are ready to get lipolysis going, alpha2 receptors are hitting the brakes.
And that is why stubborn fat is hard to lose. But don’t get discouraged! There are ways to turn it around.
Different Types of Fat Cells & Why Fat Loss is Different across Areas of the Body
White and Brown Cells
White cells show up where aesthetics matter: as visceral fat (found deep in the belly) and subcutaneous fat (just under the skin). Inconveniently, their job is to store fat.
Amazingly, you can rewire white cells to act like brown ones. Research shows that diet and exercise are key in this process called “browning.” By coaxing white cells into burning calories instead of holding on to them, you can finally attack stubborn fat.
That’s why these 12 points have to do with overall diet and lifestyle.
20 Scientifically Proven Tips for Losing Fat
1. Understand Why You Hold Weight Where You Do
Knowledge is power: Start with a better understanding of how fat and muscle tend to act in your particular body. Sex hormones and age play a significant role.
Have you noticed that men and women have different weight issues? Or how it’s dramatically harder to keep weight off after a certain age? The following information is key to fully understanding what helps stubborn belly fat.
Most women are concerned with how to remove stubborn fat from thighs. It’s because women have more estrogen, which encourages fat to gather in the upper leg and hips. Because men have less estrogen, weight goes straight to the abdomen. That’s why many women don’t really hold weight in their bellies until after they hit menopause, when estrogen levels decrease.
Estrogen has another interesting characteristic: it suppresses the chemical reaction that converts alcohol into abdominal fat. That’s why men get beer bellies and women are less visibly affected by alcohol.
Everyone has some testosterone. Among other things, it helps you build muscle, which burns more calories than fat tissue does. Because men typically build muscle more readily, men have some advantage in weight loss.
But age changes everything. As testosterone lowers, muscle mass can diminish, inhibiting the ability to burn calories. Consider your estrogen and testosterone levels: rare disorders and medication can affect your sex hormones—so if every reasonable advice on how to lose stubborn fat on your stomach fails, check in with your doctor.
2. Get into a Mindset to Make Healthier Decisions
As you read on, you’ll see that each point is very specific. The key is less about getting it all right and more about taking baby steps.
Try committing to one thing at a time, and you’ll learn what adjustments your body responds best to. As you experience small successes, increased confidence can boost you into making more and more healthy choices!
3. Try Intermittent Fasting
“Fasting” doesn’t equal “starving.” That can interfere with your metabolism and make you dangerously hungry. It will also make your body want to store everything you eat instead of burning it!
Intermittent fasting does involve eating less, but in a structured, healthy way. Rather than depriving your body, it’s about giving it an opportunity to access stores of fat.
Here’s how it works: Eat only within a certain number of hours. One common pattern is eating for eight hours and fasting for 16. Say you have your first meal at 10 a.m., you would be done eating by 6 p.m. It gives your body a chance to finish burning through what you ate so it can move on to stored fat.
You might worry about how sustainable intermittent fasting is. While you will likely feel hungry and cranky as you adjust, people typically feel wonderful in two to four weeks. When our bodies get to feel hungry, they find a kind of equilibrium, more able to access the fat that was stored for a reason: to keep us warm, or to be burned!
4. Cook Your Meals
Cooking is another proven way to help you lose weight. One study showed that someone who ate five home-cooked meals a week was 24% less likely to have excess body fat than someone who ate less than three home-cooked meals a week.
The point is that by buying and preparing food, you will naturally avoid what causes stubborn fat: unhealthy ingredients. Not only will you consume less calories without even trying, the substance within those calories will fuel you better and longer.
If cooking for yourself sounds overwhelming, the next point may help you.
5. Start by Adding Good Things
Weight loss calls for avoiding so many things—the drastic life transition can be a dealbreaker. One study suggested that encouraging good habits may be more effective than fiercely avoiding all vices.
In this study, one of two groups of people simply ate at least 30 grams of fiber every day. The other group followed the American Heart Association’s complicated dietary recommendations, which include eating relatively clean and limiting sugar, salt, fat, and alcohol.
Although the first group’s adjustment was much simpler than the second group’s, the results were comparable.
Adding something good into your lifestyle could jumpstart it all. It might put you on a more sustainable and rewarding track for weight loss.
With that in mind, pick one thing. If you choose fiber, for example, maybe start by adding just beans, broccoli, and berries to your diet.
6. Add Apple Cider Vinegar
While the reason apple cider vinegar helps weight loss is still debated, studies support its effectiveness. In one study, among two groups of people that cut the same number of calories a day, the group that consumed a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar a day lost 8.8 pounds over 12 weeks. In contrast, the other group lost only 5 pounds.
One possible explanation has to do with blood sugar. It’s likely that consuming apple cider vinegar before a meal helps regulate spikes. By maintaining blood sugar levels, it helps you avoid a sugar crash, which could send false hunger signals to your brain.
7. Drink Green Tea
Green tea is said to have a myriad of weight loss benefits. One significant one is that it increases your brown fat cells. You read earlier about the difference between white fat cells and brown fat cells—brown ones burn more calories!
Remember that losing weight doesn’t mean losing fat cells. It means the fat cells expel their fatty liquid. Here lies another impressive benefit of green tea: its catechins help activate the cell-shrinking process.
8. Take Probiotics
Probiotics are crucial for gut health. While the science behind probiotics for weight loss are still inconclusive, studies suggest a relationship. One study in 2015 found that healthy individuals and obese individuals had very different gut flora. While it may not be the sole cause, gut health likely contributes to obesity.
Beyond direct weight loss, helpful gut bacteria helps you digest food and absorb nutrients. When a body can take advantage of all the good things you feed it, your body and brain will be more satisfied, making you more likely to have a healthy relationship with food.
9. Eat More Protein
Protein keeps you full longer! Even if you eat the same amount of calories in carbs or fats, they simply don’t have the qualities that suppress appetite. One study found their subjects spontaneously eating about 400 less calories a day when they consumed more protein. It’s because this creates higher levels of GLP-1, a hormone that reduces appetite.
As if that wasn’t cool enough, another study showed that eating more protein helps your body access calories in stored fat. So protein helps you eat less and helps you burn off what you want to burn off.
10. Eat a Low-Carb Diet
This doesn’t mean go hungry. If you eat less carbs, you have to give your body something else: vegetables, proteins, and fat. These options make you feel more full than carbs do. One possible reason for this is hormones: certain foods will encourage your body to release a “full” hormone, such as cholecystokinin.
In short, eating less carbs can help you consume less calories naturally, without even counting!
11. Avoid Trans Fats
Did you know that there are “good” fats and “bad” fats? Trans fats are absolutely the “bad” kind. The FDA has banned adding them, but they linger in commonly accessible food items.
Different kinds of fats affect bodies differently. In a study where 51 male monkeys were given equal calories, those fed unsaturated fat gained 1.8% body weight, and those fed trans fats gained a whopping 7.2% body weight. Those are significant gains.
Interestingly, trans fat specifically increases belly fat, which can make you more prone to heart disease.
You’ll likely have an easier time avoiding bad fats if you cook your own meals. But if you use shortening and margarine, check first. If you purchase snacks, look at the label on any manufactured items like cookies or crackers.
If you must have your favorite fast food once in a while (since we all know the occasional cheat day helps us sustain healthy eating habits), look up their nutritional facts online. It’s possible you’ll want to switch your go-to cheat day patronage.
12. Eat Healthy Fats
Your first instinct in weight loss may be to cut out fat completely, but this is somewhat misguided.
Your body needs fat: it’s a nutrient. It keeps your heart and brain healthy, helps you absorb vitamins, and maintains mood.
Fat also helps you burn fat. It goes back to hormones. When you shock your body by seriously decreasing the fat you consume, the fat cells in your body will produce less leptin. This hormone is vital for metabolism.
Some examples of foods with “good” fats are avocados, nut butters, soy products, and fish. In advertisements or packaging, look for unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
13. Avoid Added Sugar
Plenty of natural foods have sugar in them. They aren’t the problem. Because they’re made of more than just sugar, they can nourish your body and help satiate hunger. For example, an apple’s fiber will help you feel full. It will also cause you to process the apple’s sugar at a useful rate.
Added sugar ends up being empty calories. Consider candy, for example: it has no nourishing components. Because it won’t make you full, you’re likely to keep eating and overload on unhelpful calories.
Artificial sugar is also problematic. If you’ve been told your zero-calorie, zero-sugar soda won’t affect your weight—think again.
Artificial sweeteners are 200 to 600 times sweeter than sugar. That confuses hormones and takes a toll on metabolism. Not only that, artificial sweeteners can make you hungry, so that innocent-looking soda will make you want to eat more throughout the day.
14. Reassess Your Alcohol Consumption
The solution isn’t necessarily to cut alcohol out completely: you’re going for a sustainable lifestyle change, not a total overhaul. Potential weight gain from alcohol depends on what type, how much, and what is eaten with it.
Find out how many grams of carbs your favorite drink has. A couple huge culprits are beer and spirits, both grain-based drinks. While one can of beer averages 13 grams of carbs, one glass of wine averages less than 4 grams. One can of beer won’t hurt you, but it adds up quickly.
When you drink, you also need to eat, but your body processes alcohol before food. Since your body thinks alcohol is poison, it prioritizes flushing it out over other bodily functions. That means that if you have some trashy bar food with your drink, your body might never get to burning those calories. In a way, alcohol prevents your body from burning fat.
15. Reduce Stress
Yet again, this goes back to hormones. If your diet is healthy and you’re wondering why stubborn fat is still hard to lose, it may be because your body is producing a lot of cortisol. This is part of the fight-or-flight response, which causes your body to look for fast energy.
Translation: being stressed out makes you hungry.
Monitoring stress is an especially important aspect of weight loss because cortisol doesn’t get tired. If you are constantly stressed, your cortisol levels will remain high. With no ebb and flow in hunger, you’re basically a snacking machine.
This is doubly impactful because cortisol encourages you to gain weight in your belly specifically, putting you at greater risk for heart disease.
If your anxiety is overwhelming, talk to a mental health professional. If your stress levels are manageable on your own, practice common management techniques such as meditation, social activity, or exercise.
16. Do Cardio Exercises
The benefits of cardio are similar to the benefits of intermittent fasting. By burning through the calories you consume in a day, you create a calorie deficit and give your body a chance to burn fat stores.
The more aerobic these exercises are, the more calories you will burn. Some good options are running, cycling, and swimming. If you are new to cardio, start with something lighter, such as walking. You’ll still see results, and you’ll avoid injury.
17. Lift Weights to Build Muscle
When you lose weight, you lose both fat and muscle. And because muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does, losing muscle isn’t beneficial for weight loss! Combine cardio with weight training or resistance training so you can build muscle and maintain a healthy metabolism.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to work up to heavy lifting. Don’t lift too much before you’re ready, or you may injure yourself and will have to take a break. A personal trainer can advise you on how to start.
18. Use a Diet and Exercise Tracking App
Losing weight requires mental energy, and it can be hard to stay motivated. A tracking app works like a multifaceted calculator and accountability buddy: you can bypass the need for extraordinary willpower and organization skills.
Some people find enjoyment in inputting data: the everyday commitment may even act as a dopamine hit to spur you along your weight loss journey!
19. Get Lots of Sleep
Inadequate sleep affects your metabolic rate. One study showed that when people maintained calories but cut sleep, fat loss dropped by 55%.
Lack of sleep also encourages cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes you crave quick energy. Pair that with poor impulse control, thanks to a weary frontal lobe, and you may not be able to resist your stash of emergency chocolate.
20. Consider a Non-Invasive Fat Loss Procedure
Since your weight loss journey is all about being sustainably healthy, surgical weight loss isn’t often an option because most fat loss procedures damage or eliminate fat cells. You need those cells for leptin, which supports your metabolism.
Laser liposuction, in contrast, shrinks fat cells. Cells let go of their fatty acid, which is processed by the lymphatic system, but the cells themselves stay in the body to continue supporting vital bodily functions.
Low-level laser therapy also requires no preparation, and there are no side effects—so there’s no unhealthy cortisol to worry about.
Additionally, it’s the only fat loss procedure approved for people with a BMI over 30. A Harvard study also proved that it works without changing diet and exercise, so it can meet you at zero. With that help early on in your weight loss journey, you can give real mental energy to establishing good diet and exercise habits.
There are so many science-backed ways to lose fat. Keep in mind that mindset is everything: Start a little at a time. For example, maybe you need the boost of laser fat removal to get you started. Get in touch with an Emerald Laser provider near you.