Yuri, I’m trying to figure out how to lose stubborn fat but I’m having a hard time. What do you advise?
I’m always being asked about how to lose stubborn fat. It’s one of the most common questions I receive.
The key word here is “stubborn.” This is fat that people who think they’re doing all the right things—exercising, dieting and living generally healthy lives—just can’t seem to shift.
It’s stubborn fat that just won’t go away no matter what you do.
This is not always as surprising or as uncommon as it might seem. Even if you are doing something as active as college basketball, trimming body fat is not easy. You’d think it would be—after all, you’re playing college basketball!—but for whatever reason the body fat still remains. What gives?
Stubborn Body Fat Explained
When people try to figure out how to lose stubborn fat, they’re usually either thinking of it in terms of how big or lean they are, or how at risk they are of developing a disease related to their weight.
Indeed, body-fat percentage is one of the best ways of measuring our risk of weight-related ailments. (1)
But measuring your body fat doesn’t really tell you much about stubborn fat, and it’s also important to note that not all fat cells are the same; they have many different characteristics.
Whenever you eat anything, your body breaks it down into a composite of substances before releasing insulin into your bloodstream.
Now that you’ve been fed, your body isn’t concerned about burning any fat just yet. It’s in a bit of a resting period. It’s chilling out. It feels as though there is no reason for it to burn any fat right now. It has all the energy it could ever need.
As time passes, the nutrients you’ve just eaten are absorbed, and your insulin levels slowly tumble. Your body goes on red alert as it realizes that it’s actually running out of post-meal energy here. At this point, it starts to burn fat in order to build its energy levels back up.
Day in and day out, your body is performing this juggling act between storing nutrients and burning its wares. When it burns fat, your body releases chemicals that attach themselves to receptors on fat cells.
Our fat cells have two types of receptors: alpha and beta.
The former hinders fat metabolization, whereas the latter speeds it up.
What this means is that fat that is really tricky to lose (stubborn fat) has more alpha-receptors than it has beta ones.
It is this imbalanced ratio that determines how easy it is for your body to mobilize stored energy. So when you’re actively trying to lose weight using your methods, the fat with lots of alpha-receptors just don’t respond, or they respond really slowly.
So how do you get them to respond?
Your Habits and Preconceptions Might Be the Problem
You’ve probably already lost a few bad habits. In coming up with how to lose stubborn fat, you might quit smoking, cut down massively on your alcohol intake and stopped eating junk food.
Maybe you’ve also started working out a little bit too. These are all good approaches.
For all intents and purposes, you’re doing the right things; you’ve eliminated the bad habits from your life and you should start seeing results soon.
But you’re not seeing any kind of results—no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to figure out how to lose stubborn fat.
What are you doing wrong then?
The bad habits you’ve discarded are one thing, but it’s very possible that the routine you’ve adopted still needs tweaking. You might not realize it, but perhaps you’re still doing the wrong things, despite what your friends are telling you and despite what you keep telling yourself.
Cleaning up your diet is one thing, but when you’re trying to figure out how to lose really stubborn fat, there are patterns and habits that you need to adopt.
You might be eating the right foods now, but your routine could be at the heart of the problem.
Let’s say that you have a really disciplined and fixed diet. Maybe you always eat either a bowl of porridge or avocado on toast for breakfast.
For lunch you might have either scrambled eggs and cottage cheese one day and eggs florentine the next day. Dinner is a small meat dish with boiled vegetables before you end the day with a protein bar and an apple. You drink a lot of water, too.
That sounds like a really good diet that should surely be bearing some real weight loss, right? You even get away with slipping in a cheap, pre-packaged ready meal once every fortnight, too.
The problem here is that your diet is just too disciplined. You’re essentially getting the exact same caloric intake per day, which is probably in the region of 3,000 calories. This means that you’re essentially plateauing at the same level every day.
Vary Your Caloric Intake to Lose That Stubborn Fat
What happens when you keep giving your body the same calorie intake each day of every week of every year is that your body gets used to it. At this point, nothing much happens. You’re eating the same food every day, and your body fat is staying at 12% (or whatever yours is).
Einstein said something brilliant when he said that a sure sign of insanity is doing the same thing every day and expecting different results.
Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone is insane here, but giving your body the same caloric intake each day will not change anything.
What you could try doing is varying your caloric intake.
If you have a high caloric intake one day and a lower one the next, followed by another high one, an even higher one, and then a day of total fasting, your body has to keep guessing. You’re keeping your body on its toes and you’re playing with your hormones in a good way.
This is a good thing.
When you have a really high caloric day, the hormone leptin will let your body know when it’s fit for bursting. Leptin is known as a weight-loss hormone that plays a fundamental role in appetite control, as well as metabolism. It tells your brain when you’ve got too much fat, and basically decides how quickly or slowly your body breaks it down.
The more you eat, the higher your leptin levels are. At this point, your body is in a prime fat-burning state.
So what you could do is have a heavier carb day today followed by a day where you don’t really eat much at all. Because your body still has those high levels of leptin, it’s primed to burn extra fat.
Then, you can return to a normal caloric intake day. This is a day that normally works for you.
Changing your caloric intake each day and not doing the same thing all the time can make a pretty big difference in losing that stubborn body fat. You’re no longer plateauing at the same level, and your body isn’t stagnating.
Increasing Your Intervals to Shake off Stubborn Fat
Interval training should now become a fundamental part of your workout program. It is via interval training that you can see some of your best results, as it’s really effective for changing your physique.
There are all kinds of intervals that you can try, but the key is to bump up your intensity and frequency. You’re looking to tap into fat as a fuel source here. You really need to tax your body so that you’re using its fuel sources as much as possible.
After all, they’re there to be used.
Intervals you could try include:
- Jumping Jacks
- Lunge Jumps
- Box Jumps
- Speed Skaters
- Jump Rope
Follow a Specific Regime – and Have Faith in It
Knowing how to lose stubborn fat is one thing, but actually having the dedication to go right ahead and do it is another.
Actually, lots of people are really motivated at the start to lose fat. For many of us, it’s a new years resolution and we spend most of January posting lots of inspiring stuff on Facebook.
But then February comes around and we’ve kind of lost interest because the goal still seems to be so far away.
The thing is, if you’re following a specific workout and diet regimen that has worked for others, you should always keep in mind that it has worked for others.
If it works for them, there is absolutely no reason why it can’t work for you, too. They don’t have anything that you don’t.
It’s like when you want to bake a cake. You take the exact same ingredients that a master chef used, follow the instructions to the letter, and you end up with a cake that is just as good as theirs.
It’s all about replicating a model of success.
When it comes to losing stubborn fat, though, the length of time it takes to achieve success is often dependent on your current percentage of body fat.
If you’re someone who carries a lot of weight, you’ll know that you have to work really hard to get shredded. You have to work harder than someone who is naturally lean and who finds it hard to put on weight. Therefore, getting to around 7% body fat if you’re currently around 16% requires a lot of hard work and dedication.
It means following a proper procedure and having the commitment and desire to see it through. It means having the faith in the procedure so that you keep going.
Work with coaches if you have to, talk to people who have been in your situation. Find out from them what works and implement it in your daily regime.
How to Lose Stubborn Fat: Dedication
A final point I’d like to make borrows an old phrase: Rome wasn’t built in a day. That is, you should always bear in mind that it’s easier to go from 30% body fat to 20% body fat than it is to drop from 10% to 7%.
Once you get down to 10%, you’re going to be making marginal, incremental and small gains from a LOT of hard work.
The top sprinters, for example, will spend about four years training exceptionally hard just to shave around one tenth of a second off their sprint time. That’s a lot of hard work for such a small gain.
But that’s what you need to do if you want to lose that stubborn body fat that just doesn’t want to go. You need to find a proper process, have faith in it and dedicate yourself to it. It won’t be easy, but with persistence and the right knowledge it can be done.
It’s also important that you stay safe because 7% body fat is really low and if your overall health isn’t in tip-top shape, your body is going to suffer.
I hope this information arms you with the knowledge you need to burn those last few pounds off. You’re so much closer than you think!
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.