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Why Is Belly Fat the Last to Go?

by
author image Frank Kermes
Frank Kermes has been writing about fitness since 2008. A certified personal trainer with the National Strength and Conditioning Association, he also holds bachelor's degrees in English and history.
Why Is Belly Fat the Last to Go?
Hormonal responses to stress can contribute to an increase in fat around the midsection. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images

Many who are involved in a fat-loss program complain about stubborn areas where fat deposits seem to take forever to diminish. The abdomen is one of the most common of these stubborn areas. Reasons for this reluctance to reduce fat in a specific area can range from the genetically encoded order in which your body stores fat to gender differences to possible hormonal responses to your diet and environment.

Spot-Reducing Fat

Spot reduction is a common misconception involving fat loss. This is the idea that exercising one body part should help reduce the fat surrounding that area. This is not true. Reducing body fat levels results in the removal of fat in the entire body. According to a study cited on Acefitness.org, a group of men performed 5,000 sit-ups over the course of a 27-day research project. Testing showed that they lost fat equally over the entire body, rather than just around the abdomen.

Fat Deposition

Body fat is often deposited in one area first. Fat deposition is generally gender specific; males deposit fat first in the abdominal area, whereas females generally gain first in the hips and thighs. There is also a great deal of individual variation. However, as a rule, while subcutaneous fat is lost from over the entire body, it is preferentially deposited at one site first. When the excess fat is lost through diet or exercise, the first place to have gained appears to be the last place to lose.

Stress and Belly Fat

The hormone cortisol is released in times of prolonged stress. One of cortisol's functions is to release stored fat into the bloodstream for transportation. It can be used to fuel the muscles in aerobic metabolism, as in a fight-or-flight response. However, cortisol can also cause the released fat to be stored again, this time as visceral fat surrounding the internal organs. The modern sedentary lifestyle can mean that stress often cannot be responded to physically, resulting in the redistribution of fat from elsewhere in the body to the abdomen.

Risks Associated with Visceral Fat

Abdominal fat surrounding your organs is an indicator or cause of greater risk factors, more so than subcutaneous fat stored in other areas. Visceral fat has been linked to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, breast and colon cancer, high blood pressure and gallbladder problems.

Losing Belly Fat

Successfully losing fat and maintaining the fat loss requires a combination of diet and exercise. Diet appears to result in greater visceral fat loss. However, exercise has also been shown to help effectively manage stress. An improved response to stress helps utilize fat freed by cortisol, rather than allowing it to be deposited as visceral fat. For the most part, consistency and dedication to the fat-loss plan ultimately reduce belly fat.

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