It's a common belief that by eating a clean diet and exercising regularly will yield positive results in body composition and energy levels. Sometimes this is 100% the case but in many of my clients' situations it just isn't enough to see their body composition settle in a healthy place.
There are many factors that contribute to weight gain, weight retention and belly fat which don't always have to do with the foods you eat or how regularly you're training.
In today's post I'm breaking down the 5 top factors that I beleive contribute to belly fat.
1. Cortisol and Stress
We have evolved based on experiencing about 95% of our day in our parasympathetic state (rest and digest) and only 5% in our sympathetic state (fight or flight). Our bodies perform best when we are mainly living in a stress-free state.
Though, the days of wandering the forest looking for berries, lounging with our tribe and calmly creating meals are long gone (at least for most of us).
Nowadays we exist living the opposite way, experiencing about 95% of our day in fight or flight and only 5% in our rest and digest state.
We are a stressed society. Social media, work obligations, lack of a support system, money stress, career stress, you name it - we're experiencing it.
How does that stress affect our bodies and organs? Well, they don't love it that's for sure.
There's a cascading effect that negatively impacts our body composition especially in the belly area, when we experience chronic stress.
This is just one factor in what might be contributing to belly fat retention though in my opinion is one that requires a lot of attention and proactivity.
Improving our response to stress, creating healthy boundaries around social media, work, draining relationships etc. are all key ways in reducing our production of cortisol.
Is there one way to address stress management? No. Each person's requirement for personal development is unique and can be seen as a wonderful journey toward self-discovery and freedom if looking through an optimist's filter.
2. Improper macronutrient consumption
Creating a meal plan can be very overwhelming for some people. There is an incredible amount of information out there on how one should be eating for optimal health.
Some say grains are necessary for energy and health while others say it's unnatural to eat grains and our bodies 'hate' them.
The keto diet is incredibly popular right now due to many people's success stories with hormonal balance and weight loss. While these points may all be true for some, they aren't rules.
There are so many factors that contribute to our body's ability to properly metabolize nutrients. One person may not have the ability to produce a lot of amylase, the main digestive enzyme responsible for breaking down carbohydrates. If your production of amylase is low and you're eating a high starch diet chances are you may experience weight gain, stubborn weight retention as well as digestive issues and even blood sugar irregularity (insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hypoglycaemia etc). In that case I would recommend a high fibrous carbohydrate diet (lots of green vegetables!) vs using starchy carbs (rice, potatoes, quinoa etc) for energy and satiety.
A high fat diet such as the keto diet requires a lot of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and minimal starch in order to keep your body in ketosis and staying 'fat adapted' (when your body is using fat for energy instead of glucose).
The APOA2 gene will determine if someone is at risk of gaining weight when eating a diet rich in saturated fats - a fat that is regularly recommended in keto diet guidelines. If someone carries the risk variant they would be sorely disappointed when enthusiastically staying accountable to a high saturated fat diet then doesn't see any positive changes in their BMI.
My advise? Get your Fit Genes test done to know exactly how you should be organizing your macro and micro nutrient consumption as well as learn what exercise is best for you!
3. Endocrine disruption
I speak often of the importance of liver detoxification for effective weight management. The liver is the main hub of our metabolism. If the liver is sluggish (there are many factors that contribute to that) then toxins, including hormones, xenoestrogens and hormone byproducts cannot efficiently be neutralized and/or excreted from the body.
Studies are showing that when these compounds accumulate in the body it can lead to stored adipose tissue and endocrine disruption (weight gain, weight retention, PMS, acne, mood irregularity, PCOS and other illnesses).
Each person's ability to efficiently metabolize estrogens and xenoestrogens differ based on our exposure to toxins, stress and our genetic predispositions. You can find out if you are predisposed to poor hormone detoxification by doing our Fit Genes test.
It's important that we support liver detoxification (proper cleanses, lemon water, certain herbs, stress management, osteopathy etc) but it's also essential that we limit our exposure to xenobiotics and xenoestrogens as well.
Xenobiotics would be things like birth control (the pill, the Nuvaring, Depo-Provera shot etc) and xenoestrogens can be found in chemical cleaners, beauty care products that aren't 100% natural and non-toxic, storing food in plastic or using pots and pans that have non-stick coating.
I coach my clients regularly on how and when to properly detox their home and body from exposure to endocrine disruptors so that they can begin to see a positive shift in body composition.
4. Artificial sweeteners
Studies are now proving that the intended use of artificial sweeteners to aid in managing blood sugar and weight is actually not doing that at all. Instead, artificial sweetener consumption has the opposite effect on body composition.
The biggest struggle I see in clients who have been using artificial sweeteners in hopes to regulate blood sugar and manage weight is that diet drinks, bars, coffee sweeteners etc are very addictive and they find it extremely hard to kick the habit which adds even more stress on their goal of weight loss.
Still using things like Sweet & Low or Diet Coke? Try organic stevia (yes it tastes different but you can get used to it!) or jun (a carbonated drink that contains probiotics and natural sugars - if buying organic) as healthy alternatives.
This one could technically be included in point #1, as overtraining raises cortisol levels and puts a lot of stress on your nervous system and adrenals. This can lead to weight gain and stubborn belly fat/weight retention.
I think that people believe they must train harder and more often in order to see positive shifts in body composition but any good coach knows that prescribing rest to their clients is as equally important as putting them through a great workout program in order for their client to actually lose weight.
Now that's not to say that you should be taking so much rest that it overshadows the amount of activity you're participating in. A good amount of rest per week (it differs for everybody) is 2-4 days.
If we were to get even more specific, those with certain alleles associated with the FTO gene will determine your genetic capability to lose weight with certain types of exercise. Your stubborn belly fat may be due to executing the incorrect type of exercise for your body type. Remember, exercise is medicine and not all of it is right for every-body.
You can read my post on the importance of rest days and how to go about planning your rest days for optimal health, body composition and performance.
Become well with Hope,
RHN + CPT
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