Most of us know that most of these solutions don’t make sense from the perspective of our physiology, so what’s the solution? Let’s ask the science!
To start, I would highly recommend reading this previous article [link] where I explain the nature of body fat, why we stubborn areas, plus how and why these areas worsen. Also, I should mention and emphasize that “stubborn fat” is called that because it almost seems to be impossible to get rid of, and it stays on even when the rest of the body is lean. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to try to get rid of annoying belly fat or love handles when your general body fat percentage is significantly high, it just won’t work. Meaning that the very first step to defeat stubborn fat is always general fat loss.
If you haven’t read the article about fat [this one] I’ll briefly explain about the nature of stubborn fat here.
From an evolutionary point of view, stubborn fat is our body’s hunger surviving mechanism, sort of like a secure energy deposit, that our body keeps in case of bad days.
The key role in fat loss or accumulation in these areas play hormones and sensitivity of adipocytes (i.e. fat cells) to lipolytic (i.e. fat burning) or lipogenetic (i.e. fat building) hormones. The higher the level of “fat-burning hormones” in your blood steam and the higher the sensitivity of your adipocyte receptors, the better the rate of fat burning, and vice versa.
Long and uncontrolled restrictive, or poor, diets create conditions for negative metabolic adaptations, where our body increases the size of stubborn fat deposits by manipulating our adipose receptor sensitivity through our central nerve system (CNS).
This means to burn stubborn fat in problematic areas, we need to create conditions that avoid negative metabolic adaptations and cause fat burning without alerting our CNS about hunger.
There are three main ways to get rid of stubborn fat: dietary, exercising and medicinal i.e with supplements.
Diet is the most important component when it comes to getting rid of stubborn fat, while all other measures would be supplementary and built around it.
1. First – you have to find out your daily norm of calorie intake. Without it, all your effort would be just a wild guess.
2. Calorie deficit is a key. But as mentioned before - long and uncontrolled dieting can cause negative metabolic adaptations which will make stubborn fat even more “stubborn”. The way around it would be a strategic planning of diet and calorie (and macronutrient) intake.
3. I would recommend to stick to the following macronutrient ratio: protein - 30%, carbs – 40%, fats – 30% of total daily calories. Or you can consume 1.5-2g of protein, and 0.8-1g of fats per kilo of your fatless body mass. The rest of your calories can be made up of carbs.
If my fatless weight is 80kg and I estimated that my daily (deficit) norm of calorie intake is 2000cal, my macro ratio would be:
Protein: 80kg(fatless weight) x 1.5g (of protein) = 120g (of protein a day, minimum)
120g (of protein) x 4cal (contains in 1 g or protein) = 480kal (gotten from the protein)
Fats: 80kg(fatless weight) x 0.8g (of fats) = 64g (of fat a day)
64g (of fat) x 9kal (contains in 1g of fat) = 576kal (from fat)
Carbs: 2000kal (daily intake) – 480kal(from protein) – 576kal(from fats) = 944 kal (from carbs)
944kal / 4kal (in 1 g of carbs) = 236g (of carbs a day)
You can adjust this ratio slightly, but I wouldn’t recommend to eliminate any macros as it can lead to unpleasant consequences such as: muscle loss, lower metabolism, weakness, fatigue and a number of possible health issues. (do I need to explain why? Not really, otherwise you will go off track and it’s hard to focus as a reader)
4. There are two strategies that I can recommend for shredding stubborn fat while avoiding negative metabolic adaptations: deficit with cheat day OR cheat meal and cycling diet.
a) First one features one day/one meal during the cycle period, where you can loosen up diet restrictions and indulge in something that you usually don’t, but still keeping within your current cycle’s calorie deficit.
Let’s say we decide to have a cheat meal at the end of every 10 days (where 10 days = 1 cycle). According to our example above, the daily deficit is at 300kal/day, which will mean this person would have achieved a 3000kal deficit at the end of their 10 day cycle. If on the last day of the cycle we indulge an extra 500-1000 calories, we will still have 2000 kal of deficit, but we’ll “break the starvation period” and avoid negative effects of dieting at the same time.
On a hormonal level: Breaking the “starvation cycle” like this helps to recover our level of leptin hormones, which is responsible for controlling your appetite and reporting to our central nerve system (CNS) about the amount of fat that is currently stored in our body. If leptin levels are low, a signal is sent to our CNS that there are drastic changes in our body fat mass and would be considered a threat for survival - this is when CNS starts the process of muscle loss and other negative metabolic adaptations. Breaking this cycle can help to avoid it.
On a Psychological Level: Having a planned and controlled cheat day/meal will help you stay strong and sustain a diet.
Suggested cycle period 7-14 days.
b) “Cycling diet” is a very effective weapon against stubborn fat, but it can be quite tricky to manage. I would suggest these two types.
For people with low physical activity – two week deficit + one week maintenance.
Let’s use numbers from previous example: With 2000kal/day consumed daily with a 300kal deficit, this means our maintenance calories would be 2300kal/day (maintenance is when we consume same amount of energy as we burn). To cycle diet, you should consume 2000kal/day for 14 days, 2300kal/day for the next 7 days, and then 2000kal for the next 14 days, and the cycle goes on. This kind of approach is less drastic, and easier to deal with both psychologically and physically.
For people who train and have a high level of activity I suggest a carb-cycling routine. This concept considers shifting part of your carb intake (and calories) from non-training days to training days.
Using the same example above, if you know that you are supposed to eat 300g of carbs everyday, you should “shift” a part of this amount (let’s say 100g) from your non-training day to the days where you train. This means, you will consume only 200g of carbs during non-training days, and 400g during training days instead. Even though your carb intake shifts, you should stay within the same daily average of calories at the end of each cycle.
How and why does this work? Two main reasons:
To avoid metabolic adaptations and negative effects of the diet. It’s almost like having a cheat day on training days, and eating less on non-training days.
To improve physical performance and maintain/build muscles. Training on a deficit is way harder because you will experience a lack of energy. This is because your glycogen depot is empty making it impossible to be as strong and explosive as before. As a result, your performance decreases, muscle loss occurs, and it’s harder to keep up with the same pace or lift as heavy as before.
Other stubborn fat shredding hacks? Here are just a few more nutrition tips to help you to defeat stubborn fat.
Eat clean. Natural food contains a lot more important microelements compared with processed food. And this difference will affect your body composition. The same amount of food (in terms of calories) eaten in natural food versus processed food leads to very different results in the mirror.
Eat fiber with every meal. Apart from all the benefits described in this article, consuming fiber with food helps avoid insulin spikes, which is yet another additional benefit to your stubborn fat shredding journey.
Drink enough water and fluids. Our body is an aqueous environment, so it’s not surprising that all processes (fat burning included) are way more effective when you are well hydrated.
You should remember that there are NO EXERCISES that can target problematic areas. You can’t get rid of “love handles” by doing dorsal holds, twists or extensions, you can’t hit stubborn belly fat with endless planks or crunchies, you can’t burn chest fat by doing push-ups, or reduce leg fat or hip fat with any kind of leg exercises – all that will activate and work the muscles underneath the fat, but not burn stubborn fat itself.
What exercise does is create/increase calorie deficit (for general weight loss) and create a favorable hormonal environment for successful lipolysis (i.e. fat burning) in problematic zones.
If you train with weights (resistance training), minimize isolating exercises and focus on multi-joint or compound moves. Isolation exercises are exercises where you use a single joint, engage one muscle group such as legs/arms extensions, shoulder raises, etc. You should target big compound moves such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups, dips, pull-ups, etc) instead.
A good solution would be to mix activities within your resistance training cycle: add running, swimming, HIITs and other kinds of interval training, conditioning or agility work.
Another effective training modality is functional training, when you perform unusual or even awkward moves, like running backwards or “bearwalking” on all fours. This will not only make your body fitter and well-developed overall, this training style will also create conditions where your body does not adapt to the same training routine or movement patterns. When you keep your body guessing, your body demands more energy resources => you’ll burn more calories.
Cycle your training intensity. Plan your workout routine in a way where one training week is more intense than another. Training hard can be counter-productive if you do it all the time. Generally intensive training has stronger hormonal feedback and creates good conditions for fat loss. Yet, training hard with the same intensity all the time is not possible, as our systems need to recover to adapt (become stronger, faster, burn fat, etc). Therefore, cycling your training intensity is a good solution for increasing the effectiveness of your training in terms of performance and fat-burning results.
Recovery factor. Recovery is crucial when it comes to fat burning, especially when we're talking about working on problematic areas. Poor sleep, stress combined with intensive exercise and restrictive dieting, will signal to your body to increase it’s fat storage a.k.a saving more “emergency cash for the bad days”.
As mentioned before, zones with stubborn fat were, evolutionary speaking, designed to be an untouchable stack of energy that could feed the body in times when there was no access to food (think cave men during winter). In simple words – to create favorable conditions for fat loss, we need to eliminate or minimize (perceived) threats to survival, and maintain low levels of cortisol ( stress hormone).
That’s why any fat loss strategy should always contain planned breaks from training and diets.
Not much really...If you follow these guidelines you will stack all the necessary conditions - for stubborn fat loss - in your favor. Remember, changes don't happen over night, so stick to the plan and trust the process as best you can.
One additional thing you could do to reap even better results from this routine is to enhance it with strategic supplements.
Yet this is a story for another day! First things first, focus on creating a proper routine. This should be priority and will get 90% of the job done.
Feel free to contact us if you need advice or consultation, and don’t forget to enjoy your journey.
Live! Train! Enjoy!
Written by Anton