July 5, 2017
Forget “flat belly diets,” “weird tricks,” and other nonsense about how to lose stubborn fat. Here’s the real story and science of losing it for good.
Meet Chris and Jennifer.
They’ve been working hard to lose fat for several months now and have made progress but the good times seem to be coming to an end.
Chris still has a “pooch” covering his abs and his pudgy love handles are driving him nuts. Jennifer can’t understand why her upper body has thinned out nicely but her hips, thighs, and butt fat is holding on for dear life.
Well, Chris and Jennifer aren’t alone. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably experiencing the same. And what you do next is extremely important.
You can turn to fad diets and snake oil supplements and never have the body you really want, or you can learn the science behind why some fat stores are more “stubborn” than others and what to do about it.
I’d prefer the latter for you, which is why I wrote this article.
You see, there are very specific reasons why certain areas of your body get leaner faster than others and why some fat just refuses to go away.
If you’re a guy, chances are you’ve struggled with your stomach area (and particularly the lower part of your abs and your obliques), and the lower back region.
If you’re a woman, it’s probably your thighs, hips, and butt, right?
Well, don’t worry.
- You’re not genetically cursed.
- You don’t need to do special exercises.
- Your hormones are probably fine.
- You’re not eating the “wrong” foods (no, carbs aren’t the problem).
Once you have a good physiological understanding of how “fat burning” actually works, and what stubborn fat really is, you’ll never struggle with it again.
So let’s get started.
The Simple Science of Fat Loss
The overarching principle of dieting…the one that dictates your weight gain and loss more than anything else…is something known as energy balance.
Energy balance is the relationship between the energy you feed your body and the energy it expends. As you probably know, this is often measured in kilocalories.
The bottom line, scientifically validated, unexciting reality…the one that book publishers and TV producers yawn at…is that meaningful weight loss requires you to expend more energy than you consume, and meaningful weight gain (both fat and muscle) requires the opposite: higher consumption than expenditure.
You can also look at it this way: every day, your body stores fat when you eat food and burns fat when it runs out of food energy. Visually, it would look something like this:
The green portions are the periods where your body has excess energy due to eating food. The blue portions are the periods when the body has no energy left from food and thus has to burn fat for energy.
If the green and blue portions balance out every day–if you store just as much fat as you burn–your weight stays the same. If you store more fat than you burn (by overeating), you get fatter. And if you burn more fat than you store, you get leaner.
Fat stores are simply energy stores and, as the body can’t create excess energy from nothing, they can’t increase unless the body has additional energy to store beyond what it burns (also known as a calorie surplus). By the same token, they can’t be reduced unless energy intake is less than expenditure.
That’s why research has shown that so long as people eat less energy than they burn, they lose fat equally well on high-carbohydrate or low-carbohydrate diets.
That’s also why professor Mark Haub was able to lose 27 pounds on a “convenience store diet” consisting mainly of Twinkies, Little Debbie cakes, Doritos, and Oreos: he simply fed his body less energy than it was burning.
Now, if you’re shaking your head, thinking I’m drinking decade-old Kool-Aid , answer me this:
Why has every single controlled weight loss study conducted in the last 100 years…including countless meta-analyses and systematic reviews…concluded that meaningful weight loss requires energy expenditure to exceed energy intake?
Why have bodybuilders dating back just as far…from Sandow to Reeves and all the way up the line…been using, and continue to use, this knowledge to systematically and routinely reduce and increase body fat levels?
And why do new brands of “calorie denying” come and go every year, failing to gain acceptance in the weight loss literature?
A century of metabolic research has proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that energy balance, operating according to the first law of thermodynamics, is the basic mechanism that regulates fat storage and reduction.
The Simple Science of Stubborn Fat
When you eat food, your body breaks it down into various substances and releases insulin in the blood to shuttle the nutrients into your cells.
When you’re in this “fed” state, no fat burning occurs, and depending on how much you eat, this can last for several hours.
This mechanism makes simple physiological sense. Why should your body burn fat for energy when it has all it needs from the food just eaten? It has no reason to and holds onto its valuable fat for when food energy runs out.
To that point, as the nutrients eaten are absorbed, insulin levels decline, and the body senses that its post-meal energy is running out. The body then shifts toward burning fat stores to meet its energy needs.
Day after day, it juggles these states of storing nutrients you eat, and burning its stores when the temporary supplies run out. You can see this depicted in the graph in the previous section.
To burn, or “mobilize,” fat, your body produces chemicals known as catecholamines. These molecules travel through your blood and “attach” to receptors on fat cells, which then triggers the release of the energy stored within the cells to be burned for energy.
Now, fat cells have two types of receptors for catecholamines: alpha- and beta-receptors. To keep this simple, beta-receptors speed up fat mobilization, whereas alpha-receptors hinder it.
And here’s the big difference between “regular” and “stubborn” fat:
Fat that is easy to lose has more beta-receptors than alpha-, and fat that is hard to lose has more alpha-receptors than beta.
This ratio of alpha- and beta-receptors in individual fat cells determines how easy or hard it is to mobilize the energy stored inside.
Thus, when you’re losing fat, you immediately start seeing reductions in fat masses with high amounts of beta-receptors, but the masses with high amounts of alpha-receptors are slow to respond.
For most of us guys, this means steady fat loss in places like our arms, shoulders, chest, face, and legs, and slower fat loss in our stomach area and lower back. For most girls, the stubborn fat is grouped in the hips, thighs, and butt.
So, if that’s the science behind the stubborn pudge, what can we do to get rid of it faster?
4 Strategies to Help You Lose Stubborn Fat Faster
Some people don’t need to do anything special to lose their stubborn fat. They just follow a proper diet and exercise routine and have some patience and voila, they reach their goals smoothly.
They seem to be in the minority, though. I’ve worked with thousands of people and most find that as they get leaner, it gets harder to keep getting leaner. There are various reasons why people can hit weight loss plateaus, but one of the major ones is the fact that as you reduce your body fat percentage, more and more of what remains is stubborn fat. And it can be really stubborn.
That’s why when I cut, I do everything I can that naturally and safely helps the body burn stubborn fat, which is what I’m going to share here.
And in case you’re wondering how well these strategies work, here’s my “summer look,” which I achieve doing exactly what I teach in this article:
I’ve gotten to the 7% body fat range both with and without the strategies discussed below and I can say definitively that they noticeably speed the process up.
How Fasted Training Helps You Lose Stubborn Fat
Your body is in a “fasted” state when insulin is at a low, baseline level and fat stores are the primary source of energy.
The size and composition of a meal as well as various physical factors determine how long it takes for your body to process and absorb the food you eat and enter a fasted state.
There aren’t hard and fast rules but here’s what you should know:
- ~30 grams of whey protein will take 2 to 3 hours to fully process,
- carbs aren’t the only macronutrient that stimulates insulin production–proteinand dietary fat do as well
- dietary fat also slows down the digestion of a mixed meal, causing insulin levels to remain elevated for longer,
The bottom line is the larger the meal, the larger the insulin response and the longer it will take to come back to a fasted state.
This is why most people that train fasted do so first thing in the morning, after at least 8+ hours of time has elapsed since their last meal.
If you can’t do that, then I recommend you eat no more than 30 to 40 grams of protein (whey is particularly good because of how quickly it’s processed) with only trace amounts of carbohydrate and fat (10 grams or less) and wait 3 to 5 hours before exercising.
Now, why bother with fasted training? Because it accelerates fat loss…and especially if combined with a few supplements.
Weight training a fasted state is particularly effective and training first thing in the morning has an added benefit, as fasting for longer than 6 hours increases your body’s ability to burn fat.
Before we dive into the details, I want to make one thing clear: fasted training doesn’t let you somehow “cheat” the laws of energy balance. If you’re not a calorie deficit, no amount of fasted training is going to help you get leaner.
That said, fasted training does “optimize” fat loss in several ways.
Insulin blunts lipolysis (the breakdown of fat cells for energy) and fat oxidation (the burning of the fatty acids resulting from lipolysis), and that’s why the higher your insulin levels are during exercise, the less fat you’ll burn in those workouts.
This is why research shows that exercising when insulin levels are at a baseline levels burns slightly more fat than exercising with higher insulin levels.
(Remember, though, that the workouts will burn large amounts of glucose, which will cause your body to have to turn to its fat stores for energy sooner than if you hadn’t exercised. This is why exercise done in a fed state (elevated insulin levels) is still effective for losing fat.)
Furthermore, blood flow in the abdominal region is increased when you’re in a fasted state. This means that catecholamines can reach the stubborn fat easier, resulting in more stubborn fat mobilization.
This is why many fitness competitors swear by the strategies outlined in this article for getting rid of the final bits of stubborn fat that take you from “lean” to “shredded.”
Fasted training does have one significant drawback, however: accelerated breakdown of muscle tissue.
This is undesirable because a calorie deficit, which is necessary for losing fat, puts you at a protein turnover disadvantage. Thus, higher amounts of protein degradation can result in more muscle loss.