Stubborn fat is like that one last, rude party guest who just refuses to leave. You’ve done your hosting duties, you’ve cleaned the kitchen, and it simply won’t skedaddle! You begin to wonder if you’ll be stuck with it forever. Cue: anxiety.
After all, you’re working out and eating right, and still, the fat just won’t budge. What’s gives? We posed that exact question to the Directors of Nutrition and Training Methodology at Peak Performance, a cutting-edge gym in New York City. Below, they explain why stubborn weight sticks around—and what you can do about it.
What the hell is "Stubborn Fat"?
“Stubborn fat is usually your oldest fat,” explains Dr. Mike Roussell, Ph.D., Director of Nutrition at Peak Performance. “We have different distributions of body fat, and our bodies access that fat roughly in reverse order of when it created it. So if you gained a little fat around your abdominal area over the holidays, for example, when you start working out and watching what you eat, that will be the first fat to go," he says. "We call this old fat 'stubborn fat' because it seems to take our body a long time to get around to burning it off."
Why Won't It GTFO?
We wanted to know why stubborn fat seems to stick around in certain areas in particular, like lower belly, hips, and thighs, and unfortunately the answer there is our old friend “hormones.” Explains Pat Davidson, M.D., Director of Training Methodology at Peak Performance, “Certain hormones are known to centralize fat, i.e., move fat to the trunk and hips. The primary hormones associated with this partitioning of fat include insulin, estrogen, and cortisol. Estrogen is going to centralize fat in women more than men, so that women can support pregnancy; however, the modern-day processed food and hyper-stressful world we live in leads to accumulation of insulin- and cortisol-based fat deposits,” he says.
In addition to the “umbilical” area (aka, the area surrounding the belly button), Davidson explains that specific areas of fat deposits for females tend to be the "love handle" region, under the arm pit (along your rib cage), around your back, where your butt meets the leg, and the the inner thighs—so basically, all over. Thanks for that, hormones!
What Can You Do?
Roussell and Davidson agree that to lose stubborn fat you need to be persistent and consistent. But, of course, there’s more to it than that.
“In some, more rare cases, hormonal imbalances can be driving preferential distribution of fat in a particular area,” says Davidson. “For women, this can be excess estrogen that would drive fat storage to, and reduce the liberation of fat, in the hips and thigh area."
Davidson explains that a compound known as DIM, found in cruciferous vegetables (think: cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale), can help clear your system of excessive estrogen. Supplements containing the same compound are also available. “Taking advantage of this compound that aids in estrogen clearance can help with fat loss in hips and thighs,” he says. Even if you don’t have excess estrogen, dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are exceptionally healthy, and full of fiber to keep you fuller longer.
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In addition to eating healthy, your fitness should focus on full-body exercise. “Studies have demonstrated that spot-training is a myth, debunked by research within exercise science,” says Davidson. “What we know is that training abdominals will not lead to burning more fat from your abdominals, for example,” he says. “Tiny exercises like crunches will never provide the punch that total-body exercise will.”
Davidson defines total body exercise as workouts that involve large movements, and that move multiple joints with significant force and velocity, repeated with high effort, and with relatively short rest. We know that’s a mouthful (we reread it a few times), but makes sense when you think about it, and luckily Davison broke it down for us a bit further.
“The kind of training program that has the greatest potential to set you up to lose weight and fat trains you in every movement plane and involves activities done at high velocity (jumping and throwing), activities that involve heavy loading (squatting, deadlifting, pressing, pulling), activities that involve repeated high intensity bouts (shuttle sprints, bike sprints), and activities that involve a significant cardiovascular challenge (running).” Translation: The boot-camp workouts we do on BodyRock are the kind of classes you want to take to melt away your oldest and most stubborn fat.