Losing belly fat and being able to see the results of all that intense ab work is probably one of the most common goals I hear people making. This is partly because a lot of people judge their entire body by their abs, right or wrong. It’s also because one of the toughest places to lose fat is in the belly. People who have been taking their diets really seriously and working out like crazy often struggle to lose those last few pounds of fat and those last few pounds of fat are usually in their stomach area.
Why is it so hard to lose fat in the belly? Well, you can put most of the blame on cortisol. There are several hormones that control fat loss and fat storage, including leptin, ghrelin, estrogen and insulin. But cortisol and estrogen have the most impact on lower body fat storage, with cortisol taking the lead in belly fat storage specifically.
It’s Those Frackin’ Hormones!
Cortisol is a stress hormone that reacts to all types of stress, including physical, mental and emotional stress. When your brain perceives stress, it releases cortisol into your bloodstream and the cortisol starts storing up fat.
Cortisol isn’t the only thing that you have to deal with when you’re trying to lose belly fat naturally, but it’s one of the biggest and taking steps to correct your cortisol levels will make all the difference in how quickly you can lose belly fat naturally, so most of this article will focus on how you can do that. We’re also going to talk about balancing out your insulin and cutting calories by cutting down your carbs.
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First, let’s talk about the ways that you get your hormones, specifically estrogen and cortisol, under control.
Decreasing Estrogen by Increasing Testosterone
Everybody produces and excretes estrogen; it isn’t just a woman’s hormone. The way to combat estrogen is with testosterone, which is one of the reasons that some bodybuilders take steroids. However, steroids destroy your body and what we’re interested in is how to lose belly fat naturally, not chemically.
One of the very best ways to increase your testosterone levels is by upping the intensity of your workouts. This means either doing your workout in less time or working out harder in the same time. It’s the safest, most effective way to increase your testosterone levels and decrease your estrogen levels. As those estrogen levels go down, your body begins to free up that stored lower body fat.
Decreasing Your Cortisol Levels
You might think that fighting cortisol is all about managing your stress levels but if that were true, you could meditate your way to a lean stomach. The fact is that even working out produces enough stress to release cortisol into your bloodstream. However, there are several things you can do to fight cortisol.
First, it’s been shown in several studies that prolonged cardio sessions and long weight training sessions produce a lot more cortisol than shorter, more intense sessions. This is why I’m so in favor of high intensity interval training, especially for cardio. You get more benefits than you do with static training and you get them in much less time. So cut those hour long cardio sessions and five mile runs and do some high intensity interval training for twenty minutes instead.
Second, get enough sleep and the right nutrition. Research has shown that people who sleep less than eight hours a night on a regular basis have higher body fat percentages, more belly fat and thicker waists. This is because sleep deprivation or deficit is one of the key indicators of stress for cortisol’s purpose. The less sleep you get, the more cortisol your brain releases. But there’s one more reason to get enough sleep: your body produces growth hormone while you’re sleeping and growth hormone reduces the effects of cortisol. How cool is that? Let them battle it out while you’re snoozing.
Try to get between 7-8 hours of sleep, every night and at roughly the same time every night.
Now on to the nutritional aspect of how to lose belly fat naturally. In order to really give this subject its due, we have to look not only at how you eat but what you eat. In other words, the best way to eat and the best foods to help you lose belly fat.
What to Eat
If you want to lose fat, especially those last few pounds of stubborn belly fat, you have to cut the carbs. A high intake of carbs creates insulin spikes and when insulin is present, fat loss stops. Insulin can be a helpful hormone when it comes to building mass, but not when it comes to fat loss.
You need to eat a diet that is high in quality protein and low-glycemic vegetables. Grains and fruits (lower-glycemic fruits like berries) should come next. How much will depend on your body type, your metabolism, how much you’re working out and how much fat you need to lose.
High quality meats, nuts, leafy green vegetables and healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil are some of the best foods to help you lose belly fat naturally, without going hungry and without your insulin and energy levels being all over the place.
When to Eat It
You not only want to up your protein and cut your carbs, you also want to eat the right things at the right time. When you’re trying to lose belly fat naturally, you want to eat the majority of your carbs, if not all of them, in the first half of the day and stick with proteins and healthy fats the rest of the day. This is because you typically need the energy from those carbs during the day, not at night, when your work and your workouts are over. Carbs you eat at night are usually going to wind up being stored as fat.