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The #1 Reason You're Not Losing Your Belly Fat

It goes beyond nutrition and exercise.
measuring belly

Belly fat is common for many people, and it is a frequent target area for those who are looking to lose some weight. But why is it so challenging to see any progress when it comes to shedding that belly fat as compared to, say, your legs, arms, or face, even?

If you're struggling, you're not alone, as even people following the most rigorous exercise routines and diets struggle with reducing belly fat.

And it all comes down to very basic principles that center on the connection between your mental, and physical health, along with simply taking care of yourself. (While you're making healthy changes, be sure you're trying out these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.)

So what is the main reason why you're not losing belly fat?

In the abdominal region, you have both subcutaneous fat tissue and visceral fat tissue. It's easier to target the subcutaneous fat, which is the fat tissue beneath the skin. But you also have fat surrounding your organs, aka visceral fat, which is harder to target. As one study points out, some fat is crucial for insulating your body properly. But excess fat, particularly visceral fat in the belly area, is often a risk to your overall health. According to Harvard Medical School, subcutaneous fat produces more beneficial molecules that are anti-inflammatory and help regulate the processing of sugars and fats in the body. But visceral fat releases molecules with inflammatory properties and proteins that increase insulin resistance

As it turns out, the connection between mental and physical health is crucial when it comes to tackling belly fat. Harvard Medical School explains that a lack of sleep and high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, have been shown to lead to a significant increase in visceral fat. This type of fat specifically can be dangerous because it is linked to heart disease and diabetes. Studies have also found higher amounts of visceral fat can lead to breast and colorectal cancers, dementia, and asthma.

"There are root causes of gaining belly fat, for example, bad sleep habits or a stressful environment. Having a healthy sleep schedule with a good amount of sleep daily can help the body reduce anxiety and stress which will allow the body to be more efficient when losing belly fat," says CJ Hammond, an XPS Certified Personal Trainer for RSP Nutrition, a supplement brand.

So if you don't have great sleeping patterns, are often stressed, and you're turning to junk food, these are habits that are preventing your belly fat from shedding. It's certainly daunting to know that the fat that poses a greater risk to your health is also harder to reduce. But if a healthy diet and moderate, regular exercise just aren't doing the trick, Hammond has more tips to help target that visceral fat in the belly area.

"Focusing on increasing your fiber and reducing the intake of trans fat has a drastic effect [and] improving how you handle stress," he says. "[Focus] on not allowing your body to internalize stress, which can force your body to produce belly fat."

We know—reducing stress isn't necessarily easy, but there are small changes you can make that will help you get those stress levels under control. You can try adding yoga to your exercise routine, or start even smaller than that by simply learning to take notice when you're over-extending yourself and knowing when to say no. Set manageable goals for yourself, getting a proper amount of sleep, and experimenting with various relaxation techniques, including meditation can have a great impact on you mentally and physically. Soon enough, you'll see that it gets easier to target that belly fat as you continue your weight-loss journey.

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Paige Bennett
Paige Bennett is a Los Angeles-based editor and freelance food, health, sustainability, and travel writer. Read more