Shifting those last few pounds can be the most difficult of all and this is where many people keep on dreaming rather than achieving their goals. It is entirely possible to achieve, but it just takes a little more effort. You probably lost weight quickly when you began working out, but you need to redesign your thinking for that last 3-5% of body fat. There are some general exercise and nutrition rules to help, but firstly it is important to get to grips with the science behind that stubborn belly fat.

There are 2 key reasons (well hormones actually) why people with excess fat often struggle to burn it off:

  • Insulin Levels Are High

  • Cortisol Levels Are High

People really do burn fat and add fat differently than others because of these two hormones. Stomach fat in particular is very sensitive to them.  Unfortunately this has consequences for shifting those last few pounds that exercising and nutrition won’t fix alone.  So what are they?

Insulin plays a key role in everything involving fat gain or loss. It is important to keep in mind that insulin is involved in a very sensitive process when it comes to fat loss.  Even a slight increase in insulin can disrupt the entire process and stop you from being able to burn off any stubborn fat. 

So if keeping low insulin is essential to success what do you need to know?

  • To inhibit your alpha-2 receptors (responsible for storing fat), you need to keep you insulin level low. The best way to achieve that is by keeping a relatively low carbohydrate diet or intermittent fasting.

  • Catecholamines (your flight & fight hormones) are what binds to the receptors on your fat cells. To stimulate your catecholamines you need to:

Perform high intensity exercise, out of comfort zone stuff such as sprints, heavy compound exercises and so on. Ensure your form whilst exercising isn’t compromised as it becomes easier to get injured if it is. Good core strength is a must. Intermittent fasting will help produce catecholamines as well.

  • Stubborn fat has typically poor blood flow, which prevents necessary hormones from reaching the receptors on the fat cells. Keeping your insulin level low also helps increase blood flow into these difficult to reach areas.

  • To avoid restoring your mobilised fat back into your stubborn fat regions, you need to exercise at a low to moderate level, to keep the blood flowing so you can move the fat out of the bloodstream. Just staying on the treadmill for an extra 20 - 30 minutes after an intense workout is over can really help. 

Cortisol is your stress hormone. This is an important hormone which is secreted by the body which keeps the body functioning whist dealing with the physiological repercussions of stress. In essence, the length of time and how much cortisol you have circulating in your body can seriously compromise your health and alter your metabolic process causing you to gain stubborn fat. In a normal situation, cortisol production only lasts for a short period of time and afterwards, all of your metabolic functions go back to normal. But in many cases these stressful moments that cause your body to secrete cortisol can occur way too often and stay for way too long. 

So how do you keep your levels of cortisol from hindering your progress to shifting stubborn fat?

  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep a night – during this period your body uses fat as fuel and it minimises stress.

  • Recover. If you feel tired all the time you are having inadequate recovery which will increase cortisol levels.

  • Avoid or reduce stimulants like caffeine – they only mask the signs of high cortisol.

  • Do short intense workouts – intensity is the key not duration. These boost your metabolism to increase your calorie burn intensity.

It is important to understand that your body can’t tell the difference between emotional and physical stress. This even includes exercise! Although exercise is an effective component of weight loss, if you are doing the wrong kind of exercise, it can actually increase your cortisol levels and cause you to retain stubborn fat. 

Keep in mind that there are many other possible factors that may contribute to your stubborn fat.  It is important to take a look at all factors, including lifestyle (too much late night partying), stress (personal, work), sleep (not enough rest), poor nutrition and environment (exposure to toxins and pollutants) as well.


Please get in touch if you need any further guidance.