If you are a female that stores fat primarily in your belly, an apple instead of a pear, then this blog is for you. I have been asked a variation of this exact question at almost every talk or lecture I give on female fat loss. BTW, as an aside and because I don’t think it is said enough, I happen to think women of all sizes and shapes are beautiful. Estrogen is insulin sensitizing making it less likely excess calories are stored as belly fat and more likely a calorie deficit results in fat loss rather than muscle loss.
Cortisol is associated with stress, and more stress reactive women release more cortisol and have higher amounts of belly fat whether they are thin or overweight.
Catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline) are released during intense exercise and have a strong fat burning impact on visceral belly fat (deep stomach fat), and a weaker fat burning impact on subcutaneous belly fat (this is because sub Q belly fat has more ANTI-fat burning alpha adrenergic receptors while visceral fat has more fat burning beta receptors). Testosterone is tricky because men with low testosterone have larger bellies, but just as estrogen is responsible for giving women smaller waists testosterone may be the reason men have bigger waists. Many are not aware, but a large amount of study has been done on female body shape and attractiveness (a lot has been done on the male body too, but that is for another blog).
This is important because as the waist to hip ratio (WHR) rises much above .8, this is an indication that the hormonal situation is changing. If you are a woman doing everything right and still struggling with female belly fat, and especially a thin woman suffering from belly fat, you need to understand that the primary issue for you is stress management. In fact, the dieting mentality of eat less and exercise more is exactly the wrong approach to take to attack STUBBORN female belly fat. I hesitate to give you a nutrition plan to follow because you will likely follow it to a T and forget that it is not about following a diet, it is about creating the diet perfect for you. Integrative Physician, Author The Metabolic Effect Diet, Founder CEO Metabolic Effect Inc., Health, Fitness and fat loss expert.
The TRUTH of the matter is that losing the last 10 pounds is totally different than losing the first 20 (or 40 in my case).
In fact, if you’ve eaten clean and counted your calories you’d know that it becomes a law of diminishing returns. You can eat under your daily maintenance level of calories for months on end only to stay stuck in some dreaded plateaus.
The fact is that losing the last 10 pounds takes a different approach and that specific approach is one that I’ll be talking about in today’s blog. You see, from an evolutionary standpoint, there is simply NO real benefit to being extremely lean. Quite the opposite—people who stored fat efficiently we able to survive longer and live to pass on their efficient fat storage genes. Which means that only the cave people who were good at storing fat tended to live through famine, and passed the fat-storing genes on.
Generations later, we’re all walking around with super-high fat storage efficiency in a world where food is now in abundance all around us.
When it comes down to the final 5-10 pounds of stubborn fat on your body it really relates back to the hormonal environment in your body. It’s also one of the main culprits of on your body that stimulate fat gain in your abdomen. Also known as Human Growth Hormone or simply GH, is produced in the pituitary gland and is responsible for muscle growth, and fat loss among other things.
Growth Hormone is also known as the celebrity hormone that people will pay hundreds of dollars a month to inject into their bodies for faster fat loss and muscle building. Little do they know that we can produce growth hormone naturally in our bodies without the use of expensive injections. More specific to this blog, growth hormone is actually one of the most effective hormones in the world to offset cortisol. While producing growth hormone in our bodies may seem like a daunting task it really isn’t. Lactic acid is a waste byproduct of some of the chemical and metabolic processes that happen during exercise. So, if you do exercise in a specific way, you can produce MORE lactic acid, which will then produce tremendous amounts of growth hormone as a result. I learned this trick from a good friend of mine who is amazing at helping people lose the last few pounds off of their bodies. What it is is an unusual style of exercise that can actually produce even MORE lactic acid than is generally possible with other types of exercise. It’s called Lactic Acid Training and this type of training utilizes slow lifting speeds and faster lowering speeds. In general terms we are slowing down the lifting portion of the exercise and speeding up the lowering portion of it. Performing exercises with these extended concentric movements is going to create a tremendous amount of lactic acid, which in turn is going to prompt your body to produce fantastic amounts of growth hormone.
And if all THAT wasn’t enough, lactic acid training is also just a great fat loss training methods, so you’ll lose fat overall. Full Disclosure: I have used this program twice in the past and while it is incredibly effective it is one of the hardest fat loss systems I’ve ever done on my body. Did you know that cortisol levels which can become elevated with stress can lead to belly fat? Pour your applesauce, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and baking soda into a bowl and stir to combine. Making the change to a natural, healthy lifestyle is more than a diet; you may trim some inches off your waistline, but you’ll also discover an all-around improvement of your health and happiness.
These are all great questions, and you are going to quickly find out that the answers are far more complicated than you may have thought.


The story of estrogen can be a little confusing, but if you showed up here and are reading this blog, you are likely tired of the oversimplified explanations that dominate the web. Estrogen rises steadily during the first 14 days of the menstrual cycle (called the follicular phase).
Estrogen has a growth promoting effect on reproductive tissue and will cause the uterine lining to thicken. During the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle (day 1-14) estrogen is elevated without progesterone. During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle both estrogen and progesterone are elevated together with progesterone more dominant. Some evidence hints that when estrogen levels are higher, the activity of the alpha-receptors are greater suggesting that training in low estrogen states may speed fat release from more stubborn estrogen impacted areas (like the lower body). Estrogen also makes women store fat more in the subcutaneous areas (fat just under the skin and in the arms and legs), versus the deep belly fat in the middle of the body. Estrogen may have a different impact on deep abdominal fat, either not impacting it at all or speeding its release.
Estrogen seems to have an anabolic effect (helps women build muscle) compared to progesterone. Estrogen has an anti-cortisol effect, another mechanism by which it may control fat storage at the belly. Insulin and cortisol have far greater impacts on fat metabolism compared to estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen and progesterone need to be in balance as they both enhance the action of the other as well as offset the action of the other. Estrogen dominance is a term used in complementary & alternative medicine where estrogen action is greater than progesterone. Animal foods, most notably dairy, can have significant amounts of estrogen and progesterone in it. Common sources of environmental estrogens: fatty meats, milk products, caffeine containing foods, pesticides, plastic, cosmetics. Most common sources of plant estrogens include soy and flax, but there are many others with smaller amounts HERE. Estrogens can vary slightly in their chemistry with some being stronger in activity than others. Common conditions believed to be related to estrogen dominance are: fibroids, fibrocystic breast, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, breast cancer, PMS, and PCOS.
A high fiber diet and regular bowel movements help decrease estrogen exposure since estrogen is removed through the body when the gallbladder releases its contents into the GI tract. OCPs (oral contraceptive pills), HRT (hormone replacement therapy), hormone releasing patches, and IUDS use estrogen compounds that are NOT identical to estrogen made in the body (unless you are specifically taking bioidentical hormones).
These hormones can have weaker action in certain tissues compared with bioidentical hormones or stronger action. In general, the research is mixed as to whether these hormones cause weight loss or weight gain. The research hints that HRT has either no impact or has a slight weight gaining effect in women, although at the same time does reduce the belly fat distribution issue that occurs at menopause. HRT may have a fat gaining effect in those more susceptible to eating response to hunger since it does seem to increase the brain’s sensitivity to one of the major hunger hormones, ghrelin.
Given estrogen and progesterone are further down on the fat burning totem poll compared with other hormones, a woman wanting to lose weight while using these will likely have little success unless controlling the other hormones first.
Given the relationship between thyroid and estrogen compounds, females on hormone replacement may want to ask their doctors about possible anti-thyroid effects. Since these hormones are given in static doses across the menstrual cycle, women lose the natural rhythmic changes in estrogen and progesterone. Low estrogen states can especially impact dopamine (the brains number one motivating neurochemical) and serotonin (a major relaxing and well-being brain chemical). If you are menstruating normally and not on any hormones you may want to experiment with our phase training protocol by timing your eating and exercise with your cycle. Watch your consumption of animal based and plant based estrogen, but don’t stress too much. Watch your exposure to environmental estrogens through plastic, pesticides, cosmetics, and caffeine. If you have symptoms of estrogen dominance, look into seeing an integrative physician who can help with this.
Tired of diet and exercise advice that does not take your unique female physiology into account? Another interesting thing about this patient is that she is not fat by anyone’s standard. And before the calorie zealots get in an uproar, I am not saying calories don’t matter. To lose stubborn fat, particularly stubborn belly fat, you need to understand the hormones involved. This testosterone to estrogen ratio is critical for women.  Women with higher testosterone levels, like those with PCOS, have thicker waists. Foods that combine fat and sugar have the greatest number of calories and the most negative impact on fat storing hormones (for more on that mechanism see this BLOG & this BLOG).
Cortisol added to insulin is a bad combination and the most problematic hormonal combination for belly fat. Not only does stress raise testosterone, lower estrogen, and negatively impact insulin in women, it also causes increased hunger, constant cravings, and a physiology that is more likely to lose muscle. What is interesting is this research shows that across cultures both males and females have a particular shape they prefer on the female physique.


Calories matter, but hormones matter more when it comes to where we store fat and how to attack stubborn areas of body fat unique to us.
This simply makes the physiological stress greater, and there is much evidence that suggests dieting may actually be making your fat parts (i.e. 3 R & R workouts per week (these lower cortisol and will help re-balance estrogen and testosterone).
You will have to make a choice whether your late night TV habit is more important than a flat tummy because sleep deprivation is a huge issue for belly fat.
A better approach is to either eat less and exercise less, OR eat more and exercise more (both can also create the environment for fat loss: a caloric deficit and hormonal balance). Stress is a very tricky thing and can be wreaking havoc on your metabolism without you knowing it. This stress can be in the form of life stress, lack of sleep, and obviously bad dieting habits. It just comes down to a few modifications to our diet and one little trick I do in my exercise programs.
One of the main reasons for confusion is the simplistic view that hormones have one single action in the body. For example, estrogen may have one impact in the brain, another in the uterus, and still another in your fat cells. This means low estrogen or progesterone will have a negative impact on the other hormone as well.
In the uterus, progesterone has a thinning effect on the uterine lining while estrogen has a thickening effect. This may be one reason why menopausal women who have lost the influence of estrogen see their fat distribution switch to the belly. This is important to understand and the reason why hormone replacement therapy does not suddenly result in weight loss. This is another reason why hormone replacement is not a recipe for fat loss and could even contribute to fat gain in some women. Phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) and xenoestrogens (environmental estrogens) are now ubiquitous (i.e.
Some believe that the 4 and 16 hydroxy estrogens have more negative effects while the 2-hydroxyestrogens are protective. Sometimes I think all we are doing is making people neurotic when talking about body change.
What I am saying is that it is the hormonal situation that determines where fat is stored, and belly fat is no different.
If you are not familiar with how stress leads to weight loss resistance and more of that mechanism, check out this BLOG. And what we know conclusively from women suffering from stubborn belly fat is that they are more stress reactive and less able to adapt to stress than women without (the STUDY). 2 Traditional weight training workouts per week (these help use testosterone for muscle building not belly storing).
It should feel relaxing and give you time to take in the scenery which lowers cortisol further. Just make sure the meals have high protein & fiber above all else (they keep you full and keep you from losing muscle).
There are contributing foods to this factor as well and there are some common choices that people make on the go.
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc) may increase the 2 and decrease the 4 and 16-hydroxy estrogens. This means a carb controlling and stress controlling approach especially if you are menopausal. And if it were not for the fact that I know her measurements, I would have probably dismissed her observation as another example of poor body image. Chronic stress in women leads to increased testosterone and lower estrogen and progesterone. I took a picture right out of the pages of this STUDY so you could see what I mean by this. Of course, real food is ALWAYS preferred, but high stressed individuals need to prioritize simplicity and convenience at all times.
These include curcumin, fish oil (preferably krill oil since it contains phospholipids), and rhodiola. We look at which is better for you in those rushed situations, but, also please see a much better for you recipe for muffins below! The relative proportions of waist to chest and hips dominate the attractiveness factor for females.
For a women suffering from stubborn belly fat she can’t get rid of, another hour in bed may be a better strategy than another hour on the treadmill!
For example, a large amount of testosterone may decrease estrogen’s impact on female fat storage. Excess fat, especially around the belly has health implications and losing it is beneficial, but beauty, to me anyway, goes far beyond a particular look or shape.
When attacking female belly fat it is these proportions that tell you the most about your progress, not your weight on the scale. She is nutritionally depleted from growing a baby and supplying the baby with milk (stress).



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