I’ve personally struggled with lower belly fat my whole life. Even on my leanest mornings, my lower belly pooch just never seemed to go away. Even today, it’s a very tricky and insecure area for me. I’ve tried everything to get rid of it, trust me, from fad diets to eating disorders to extreme exercising, nothing seemed to get that lower pooch out of the way. (I don’t recommend any of them by the way)
Then, I started reading more on our body composition and realized that everything I knew about belly fat was wrong. Yes, that means that no amount of crunches will help rid you of belly fat if you don’t tackle the real problem head on.
You see, the muscles can be extremely developed underneath the belly fat, but if the fat on top of it isn’t being dealt with, you won’t have a lean stomach.
Let me repeat: developed muscles covered in fat won’t create a lean body.
That being said, why would you do thousand of crunches if you’re not burning the fat on top of it? You need to burn the fat first and then do the crunches, if you really want to.
Secret tip: you don’t need to do thousands of crunches to get abs. We’ll talk about that in another post though!
To better understand how belly fat works, I’ve divided the abdominal area into three section: upper, middle, lower. I’ll discuss each section in details and give you a few tips on how to tackle each section appropriately.
1. Upper Belly Fat
The upper belly goes from right under the breast line to about a palm-width down. A larger circumference in the upper belly area is usually directly associated with the accumulation of visceral fat, which is the fat found in between your muscles and organs.
There are many causes for visceral fat accumulation in the upper belly area:
– Excessive Eating
This food baby we all love to joke about from time to time can actually be detrimental if repetitive. Eating too many calories, above our TDEE, can lead to fat accumulation in the upper belly area first. Refined carbohydrates can actually cause a lot of fat accumulation, if eaten in excessive amounts, in the upper abdominal region, resulting in a fat lump right underneath the breasts.
Solution: eat less refined carbohydrates and stay within your macronutrient count. If you do not count macronutrients or calories, make sure you eat according to portions. Stop eating when you’re full and keep snacking to a minimum.
Before I get too much into it, let me just mention that stress is actually the number 1 cause of weight gain AND belly fat in all three sections. When under stress, the body secretes a hormone called cortisol, in turn causing the liver to release excessive insulin not required by the body. This hormone imbalance, due to excess insulin and high blood sugar levels, makes you feel hungrier, in turn making you eat more foods, often high in sodium. Ta-da! Belly fat.
Solution: stress can’t always be avoided, so make sure you learn to control it. Meditate, breathe, take a break, go for a walk, or simply talk about it. Don’t let stress win.
– Health Problems
Upper belly fat is also caused by health problems such as digestive system diseases, cardiovascular diseases or hormonal imbalances. These diseases all cause an imbalance in your health, which in turn can accumulate fat in the upper belly area. If you’re taking medication that contains steroids, it can also cause upper belly fat.
Solution: see your health practitioner. Your doctor will be the best person to find a solution for you. If you have health problems, abdominal fat will be the last thing you’ll want to fix; your doctor will help you reach optimal health, and the belly fat will just leave on its own as you start being healthier.
2. Middle Belly Fat
The middle belly is the palm-wide area of the belly button. Most people who have fat accumulation in that area is often due to hormone imbalance, caused by stress. You see, when your body feels like it’s in danger, your body will automatically release adrenaline and cortisol as part of your fight or flight system.
The two hormones will enable you to react quickly while in a dangerous situation by giving you an extra boost in energy through the form of a natural sugar spike. Unfortunately, our every day stress activates our fight or flight mechanism as our brain feels in danger when it’s under a lot of stress. As the natural sugar spike is released in the body, we need to burn the excess energy in some way to avoid it being stored as fat. More often than not, we can’t run away from problems, so we simply let stress take over. The excess sugar released in the body is therefore redistributed throughout the abdominal area as stored fat.
Why the middle belly area?
Your body will store fat in the middle area because it’s close to the liver and can be converted into energy quickly, if needed. Since the fat stored due to stress was originally intended for immediate energy, the body only wants to help by storing it somewhere nearby, should you need it again for a quick fight or flight type of situation. Any food you eat post-stress is also stored in the middle section, as extra energy should you need it in stressful situation.
Someone who follows a healthy lifestyle will still be affected by stress weight gain, so make sure you meditate and cope with stress in a healthy manner.
3. Lower Belly Fat
The lower belly fat is the palm-wide area right underneath the belly button and the most common area for belly fat. There are a few reasons for lower belly fat:
– Bad Posture/Weak Muscles
There’s a thing called hyperlordosis, which makes the pelvis tilt forward more than it should. The tilt causes the lower abdominal area to protrude forward and the butt to spring upwards, creating a lower belly pooch, often mistaken for lower belly fat.
This problem is caused by one thing: weak muscles. The weak muscles in turn create a bad posture which lead to hyperlordosis.
To test your current posture, and see if it is the cause of your belly pooch, stand with your back against a wall and your feet together. Your upper back, buttocks and the back of your heels should slightly touch the wall. If your buttocks touch the wall a little too much, which causes a bit of a discomfort in your position, your curvature is bigger than it should.
Solution: strengthen your abdominal muscles and stretch those hip flexors. Tightening your abdominal muscles, especially the lower ones, will help bring the pelvis back up, to its natural position, as your abdominal muscles are connected to your pelvis. Stretching your hip flexors will help bring down your pelvis in the posterior area, in turn creating that perfect curvature and eliminating that dreaded lower belly pooch.
Related: 4 Exercises To Work Your Glutes
– Excessive Stress
Ah, stress. Don’t you just love it? Stress will cause a lot of lower belly fat to accumulate due to the post-stress munchies. As your blood sugar levels will increase, since the liver is forced to release insulin, you will start cravings sugary foods, often in excess. This will cause extra fat to be stored in the lower belly area.
Solution: take a breather and stay away from food when under a lot of stress. Food will not make the stress go away, at least not permanently. Go for a walk, use the extra energy to finish projects or talk about the situation with a loved one. You’ll be surprised how powerful talking can be, especially when under a lot of stress.
– Hormone Imbalance
The lower belly area is home to the reproductive system. Any hormonal imbalance you may have, especially estrogen-related, can cause inflammation in that lower abdominal area. This inflammation is often mistaken for lower belly fat, but it actually rarely has to do with fat accumulation.
Solution: check with your OBGYN to make sure everything in your reproductive system is working optimally. Inflammation in the ovaries can cause ovarian cancer and other dangerous problems, so make sure you check with a health specialist before doing thousands of crunches or changing your diet.
As you can see, there are many causes for belly fat. If you eat a balanced diet, exercise and control your levels of stress though, fat accumulation in the abdominal region shouldn’t be a problem.