A little bit of abdominal fat isn’t such a bad thing. It helps to protect your vital organs, after all!  It’s a fine balancing act though as storing too much fat around your abdomen can be dangerous and has been linked to some pretty nasty health problems. We’re talking heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, to name just a few of the things that it may set the scene for.

Some of the culprits of belly fat are fairly obvious, like eating a lot of processed foods and not doing much exercise. But, there can be some surprising reasons behind belly fat and these can come into play even if you think you’re living a healthy lifestyle. Here are some of the factors that can make you more likely to store fat in your abdominal area.


Factor #1 – You’re Eating Too Much Sugar and Trans Fats

If you eat a diet that contains a lot of processed sugar, you’ll probably be struggling to shift belly fat. According to studies, there is a definite link between the two. This can be largely to do with the fructose content in processed sugars.

Trans fats are another big no-no if you want to avoid belly fat. These are pretty much the worst type of fat you can eat as they promote inflammation and according to studies on animals, they also encourage more fat to be stored on and around your abdomen. Read labels carefully. While most trans fat have been removed, a product can claim to be trans fat free if they contain less than 0.5g per serving. Sneaky!


Factor #2 – Your Alcohol Intake

You’ve no doubt heard of a “beer belly” and this is something that can affect women too. Depending on how much you drink, it could be the culprit for stubborn belly fat. Some studies have shown that alcohol can make it harder to burn fat and makes it more likely that the extra calories it brings to the party are stored on and around the abdomen.


Factor #3 – You’re On a Low Protein Diet

If you want to stay trim, it’s really important to get enough protein in your diet. Protein helps you to feel more satiated and that can mean that you consume less calories because you aren’t as hungry. People who eat a lot of protein tend to have very little in the way of belly fat.  But remember, protein doesn’t mean you need a heavy meat diet or give you an excuse to load up on the bacon.  If you prefer plant-based proteins there is a lot of choose from (lentils, edamame, vegetables, whole grains, tofu, etc.)


Factor #4 – You Don’t Eat Enough Fiber

If your diet is low in fiber, you can be more likely to store belly fat. Fiber is important for regulating bowel movements, reducing blood sugar spikes, lowering cholesterol and maintaining a healthy weight. In one particular study that involved over 1,100 men and women, every extra 10g of soluble fiber led to a 32% decrease in how much belly fat was stored.   This has a lot to do with the fact that low fiber increases your appetite.

Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium. Eating 30-40g of fiber per day should be your target range for weight loss.


Factor #5 – You’re Scared of Eating Fat

If you lived during the 1980s and early 1990s, you likely have a negative impression of fat. Fat was demonized for so long and that played into the marketing efforts to sell low fat and no fat products. While it’s true that you don’t need a lot of the unhealthier fats, good fats can help you to lose weight and keep belly fat to a minimum. Fats help you to feel fuller for longer so you’re less likely to make unhealthy food choices that increase your potential for storing belly fat (i.e. refined carbs and sugar).  Fats (mono and saturated) are also important for hormone production, enzymes and cell integrity, managing blood sugar, and keeping your mood steady (to name a few reasons).

Choose from monounsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado, and nuts/seeds, as well as some saturated fats like from coconut, grass-fed beef, dairy, and cheese.  Vegetable oils should be avoided because these are often rancid and high in Omega 6 fatty acids. Overconsumption (which is easy) is likely to lead to Omega 3:6 imbalance.


Factor #6 – You Have Too Much “Bad” Bacteria in Your Gut

According to research, an imbalance of gut bacteria can have an effect on your weight and how much fat you store on your abdomen. If you’re overweight, you’re more likely to have a type of bacteria that can mean that more calories are absorbed from your food.  Eating a diet rich in fiber from vegetables can help feed the “good” bugs in the gut.


Factor #7 – You’re Stressed

Under a lot of stress? It could be one of the reasons why you’re storing belly fat. The stress hormone, cortisol, can lead to weight gain, especially in the abdominal area. Rather than going on your body across the board, cortisol often encourages extra calories to be stored as abdominal fat. Finding ways to reduce or manage stress is critical for weight loss.


Factor #8 – You Don’t Sleep Well

If you spend a lot of time tossing and turning in the average night, there’s a much higher chance that you’ll store belly fat. Poor sleep is linked to weight gain in general and according to some studies, it also predisposes you to abdominal weight gain in particular.  A large scale study of more than 68,000 women found that those who were sleeping less than 5 hours per night gained a lot more weight compared to those who slept 7 hours or more.


Factor #9 – You Don’t Get Enough Magnesium

Getting enough magnesium in your diet can lower your blood sugar and insulin levels. That’s not too surprising when you consider that this mighty mineral is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in your body! Some of these reactions have an effect on your body’s ability to burn fat and manage blood sugar, so it can have an indirect impact on your weight. Leafy greens are an excellent source of magnesium.


Factor #10 – Your Exercise Isn’t Intense Enough

Not all exercise is equal when it comes to busting belly fat and keeping it off, especially if your workouts aren’t intense enough. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a good option but anything that involves reasonably intense exercise several times per week should help.


As you can see losing weight is more than just calories in versus calories out. There are many factors contribute to stubborn belly fat and why you might not be losing the weight. If you’ve got all these in order and you are still not losing weight, it’s time to look at hormones (blog post coming soon).