Have you ever wondered why you still can’t get rid of your gut even though your constantly active and exercise all the time? Well, if you’re one of those people that exercise regularly and eat really well but can’t seem to get rid of your stubborn belly fat…it may be that you’re simply doing too much.
Before I continue, I want to make sure that there isn’t any misunderstanding here. When I mean exercising too much, I’m talking at least once a day and for a duration of an hour at minimum doing mostly cardio related activities. And eating “really well” means you’re already eating the way I recommend in my Lean Body Diet…composed of all whole foods with no refined carbohydrates and the proper ratio of protein, carbs and healthy fats.
Okay let’s be frank, most people don’t fall into this category, but if you do it’s super frustrating to work so hard and eat well and still not have the results you want…right?
Well, believe it or not you may actually be doing too much!
As much as exercise and being active is good for your body, it does have it’s down side when your body can’t recover enough. Exercise is a stressor and so your body produces cortisol (a stress hormone) as a result. This is completely normal and in fact very important, without cortisol you couldn’t workout at all. It’s what drives your body to produce the power needed to exercise. However, your cortisol hormone is meant to be produced in short spurts and not for long periods of time. When your body is exposed to cortisol for longer than normal periods, it starts to produce negative effects.
Too much cortisol production can have serious health consequences and stubborn fat is just one of many negative effects it can have on your body. Although we’re talking specifically about exercising, which is a physical stressor, prolonged mental stressors can also trigger the same negative effects. If you’re constantly stressed at work or you have a stressful personal life, your body will produce cortisol just like when you’re exercising. Keep in mind that with exercise when you’re done, your body simply stops producing cortisol, but mental stressors are much more difficult to simply stop. This is why mental stressors can often times be more damaging to your body than any physical stressors.
Although exercise is a great way to help relieve mental stress…it’s a double edge sword, since most forms of exercising produce additional stress to your body. It’s easy to see how you can get into a vicious cycle of overwhelming your body with too much stressors. When you combine this with even a little “indulgence” in your diet like sweets and alcohol, you have a recipe for disaster. Even though in your eyes you’re doing all the right things by exercising and eating well, you’re completely unaware of the “real” underlying cause of your stubborn fat.
Your body has an amazing capacity to adapt, which is what makes your body so resilient. BUT, if you keep demanding TOO MUCH from your body, without the necessary rest and recovery, it will start to compromise and compensate in an effort to keep functioning. Your stubborn body fat…especially belly fat…is just one of the ways in which your body compensates when exposed to too much stressors.
There really isn’t just one simple solution to problem, but you can start by taking a look at your daily life. How much stress do you have at work, at home, in your personal life? You may be quite surprised to find out how much stress you unknowingly deal with on a daily basis. Once you get an idea of how much “daily stress” you’re dealing with, then take a look at your exercise regimen. What kind of exercises are you doing? Do you lean towards cardio intensive exercises…if so, are you doing too much? I find that people who lead a more stressful lifestyle tend to gravitate towards, long mind-numbing cardio as a way to escape from it all.
So, if you happen to fall into the category of being over-stressed and over-exercising, without adequate rest and recovery… this is what I recommend:
- Using exercise to relieve stress is completely normal and fine, but making it the only way to deal with all of the stresses in life is not good. Find other ways to manage stress, perhaps meditation, maybe a little solitude…I find even a 5 - 10 minute quiet time where I focus on nothing but breathing often does the trick for me. Either way finding other effective ways to manage your daily stress along with exercising is the best approach.
- If you’re doing long cardio workout, you’re only adding to the problem. Long cardio eats away at your lean muscle mass which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories. And it dramatically increases your appetite making you more susceptible to unnecessary snacking and over eating. Instead of long cardio, try doing short, high intensity workouts. These workouts are much more effective at promoting fat burning hormones that target your stubborn fat.
- Keep the workouts to less then 30 minutes. I actually prefer to keep it around 20 minutes (or less) with 5 - 10 minutes for warm up. The workouts are intensity dependent and not time dependent, so you don’t need to worry about exercising for hours. Keep in mind that the higher the intensity, the shorter the workout time.
- Recovery and rest are often times more important than exercising. If you’re feeling sluggish or drained of energy you can do an active recovery instead like an easy walk, hike, leisurely bike ride or if you’re really tired, take the day off. Remember, it’s during periods of rest that your body does most of the fat burning, so don’t short change yourself. Proper rest and recovery means you’re enabling your body to burn more fat
- This one goes without saying but it’s imperative that you keep a good diet. If you’re cortisol levels are out of control, even a little indulgence can produce significantly negative effects. Your diet should be composed of a well balanced ratio of whole foods, which should include ample amounts of dark green leafy vegetables (ie. kale, spinach, collard greens, chard, etc), fruits especially berries (ie. blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.) and cruciferous vegetables (ie. broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage etc.) which are all high in antioxidants. These foods will help fight the negative effects of (too much) stressors. Keep away from refined sugar and alcohol…which (unfortunately) also happen to be the two foods your body craves most when you’re overstressed. Keep in mind that it’s not forever, once your cortisol levels are back to normal a little indulgence is completely fine, but during times of cortisol overload, it’s best to stay away from any foods that’ll makes thing worse.
If you’ve had a real tough time getting rid of that last bit of stubborn (belly) fat, it may be that your body is overwhelmed and needs more time to rest and recover, and if so try implementing these 5 simple steps. You may be pleasantly surprised at how simple but effective these steps are in helping you finally shed that last bit of fat.
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