How to Lose Stubborn Body Fat | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

How to Lose Stubborn Body Fat

How to lose stubborn body fat is quite a challenge.  What is stubborn body fat?  Well, stubborn belly fat is the most common problem for men while fat centered around the waist, hips, and thighs is the most common problem for women.  Now let’s be clear here; we’re not talking about an extra 10-20lbs you may be carrying.  We’re talking the remaining fat you have when you’re within 5lbs of your ideal weight (around 10-12% body fat for men and 17-20% for women).  Notice that these body fat percentages are pretty good for the average person so you’ve undoubtedly worked hard to achieve a relatively lean, defined body.  This is when fitness becomes a challenge.

My Experience

I followed the intense diet and exercise routine outlined in my Fitness in a Flash book to help me essentially cut my body fat in half last year.  However, once I got to around 10-11% body fat, it was highly challenging to lose any more.  I had very little fat in my arms, legs, or chest; the remainder was stored in a little roll around my abs.  Patient and focused, I managed to get down to around 9% body fat and had a nice set of visible abs but still not void of all fat.  Certainly not worthy of a fitness model but not bad for the average guy in his 30s who spends his days behind a desk.

An example of stubborn belly fat

Fast forward through the holidays and my body fat is back up to 12-13%.  Not something I’m proud of, but between all the holiday parties, sickness, and a potential micro fracture in my foot that prevented me from doing intense cardio and plyometrics, I’m not too dismayed.  I’ve been doing Phase 1 of Visual Impact Muscle Building so expected some weight gain, but I would have liked to have kept my body fat a little lower overall.

On a positive note, I’ve put on around 10lbs and added 3 inches on my chest so a good portion of my weight gain has been muscle.  Furthermore, the last time I weighed this amount, I was closer to 18-20% body fat.  Therefore, I’m optimistic that I can get back down to 9-10% while maintaining a higher level of muscle mass by going through Phases 2 and 3 of Visual Impact.

This is belly fat...not stubborn belly fat

What’s the point of this story?  Well, my abs were the last place fat remained when I got really lean.  Now, when I used my body fat caliper to take measurements, my arms and legs are almost exactly the same fat level as they were when I was 10lbs lighter meaning I’ve added almost all muscle there.  My abs on the other hand are where all the extra fat stores deposited themselves.  Like most males, my stubborn body fat is centered around my belly.

Lose Stubborn Body Fat

Below I summarize articles by some fitness experts discussing how to lose stubborn body fat.  Tom Venuto’s article offers a good background and overview of stubborn body fat while recommending six strategies for burning it.  Martin Berkhan’s article focuses on reducing stubborn body fat through intermittent fasting.  Finally, Rusty Moore’s article discusses the role estrogen plays in stubborn body fat.  Personally, I think you should read them all in their entirety, but the key takeaways are listed below.

The Truth About Stubborn Body Fat

Tom Venuto, author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, is a natural bodybuilder with 3.7% body fat…and even he has problems with stubborn body fat.  Tom discusses how we are genetically predisposed to carry stubborn fat in certain areas.  This stubborn fat is the last place we burn fat and first place we put it back on.  The challenge is that most people hit a weight loss plateau when they get lean enough where stubborn fat is all that remains.  Unfortunately you can’t spot reduce that fat.

So what are Tom Venuto’s recommendations?

  1. Lose fat slowly: patience is key here.  As Tom says, you can lose weight quickly, but it’s much harder to lose fat quickly.
  2. Don’t stay low calorie too long: calorie restrictive diets fail for a reason; Tom believes in re-feeding the body on a regular basis.
  3. Chronic dieting is dangerous: diet strictly for a while, ease up, eat more, relax, and then go back to an even stricter diet; same goes for training
  4. Develop a long term perspective: again, be patient and don’t train to get in amazing shape only to gain back all the fat you lost
  5. Re-set your “set point:” Tom believes we all have a natural amount of fat that we gravitate toward; in college, his was 16% and every year he would get down to single digits only to elevate back to 16%.  He made a goal that each year he would reduce this “set point” and now he doesn’t allow himself over 10%.
  6. Positive attitude: if you don’t think you can eliminate stubborn body fat, then you won’t be able to.  Visualize your ideal and know that you can in fact get there over time.

Intermittent Fasting and Stubborn Body Fat

Martin Berkhan, who writes the very popular Leangains site, posted this article discussing how intermittent fasting helps burn stubborn body fat.  I’ll save you the science lesson, but essentially Martin has found in his research that the ideal state of stubborn fat burning occurs after a 12-18 hour fast.  A longer fast can help you burn more fat overall but the stubborn fat is burned in those first 12-18 hours, making the time spend fasting beyond 18 hours less critical for someone who wants to simply lose stubborn fat while maintaining muscle.  In addition to intermittent fasting, Martin believes training in a fasted state, supplementation, and carb refeeds can help you lose stubborn body fat.  One final component is patience.

Stubborn Body Fat Caused by Excess Estrogen

Rusty Moore, author of Visual Impact Muscle Building, describes how your body is meant to balance estrogen with other hormones in your body.  Because of the widespread use of chemicals, your body struggles to regulate hormonal balances potentially leading to the accumulation of stubborn body fat.  The key to preventing this is to limit substances that increase estrogen.  These include pesticides and herbicides in fruits/veggies, hormones in meat/dairy, plastic in packaged foods, and omega 6 rich oils.  Bottom line, stick to organic foods and limit processed foods.  You can also focus on foods that inhibit estrogen production such as omega 3, citrus fruits, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and garlic.

Be Patient to Lose Stubborn Body Fat

Stubborn body fat can be a problem for everyone, even the leanest bodybuilders and fitness experts.  Taking some of the steps above is a great way to lose stubborn body fat.  However, in my opinion, the most important step is patience.  If you try to lose too much fat too quickly, you’re going to be stuck with stubborn body fat.  With patience, you’ll eventually achieve your fat loss goal.

21 Responses to “How to Lose Stubborn Body Fat”

  • Good summary Dave,

    some of this stuff can get pretty technical so its nice you can break it down to the key takeways.

    Its an important point about patience. We’ve probabaly all felt the urge to move on and do something new to feel like we are doing something. But so long as you are doing the right thing, you’ll get there in the end.

    Michael

  • Nice overview of several different ways. It’s important to know that one size does not fit all and you may need to do some searching to find what works best for you. If you are avoiding estrogens (as in the last example), I’d suggest giving all soy products the boot, since they are one of the most potent sources found in our food supply.

  • I am in the same spot as you Dave. I am ever so close to seeing my abs, depending on the light! I am looking to make that final push, thanks for the great reading material. It’s nice to know others are experiencing the same things too.

    Cheers,
    Jordan

  • Nice post, Dave. A lot of great resources here.

    There’s always going to be something holding us back from our goals (i.e. sickness, injuries, etc.). As long as we keep pushing and being patient, we’ll get the results we want.

    You just have to be more stubborn than the body fat!

  • Very good references you have picked those guys have been around long enough to know what works.
    Yeah like everyone I’m having that trouble with dropping that little bit more so I recently purchased Holy Grail by Tom Venuto and currently using his cycling strategies to drop a few more percent.
    Reading Rusty’s report on estrogen I’ve now dropped soy products, cause as a vegetarian my protein sources are limiting.
    I think to have patience and re-setting your base point is a very good idea.
    Raymond

  • Those are some great resources. I really like Tom Venuto. I think he combines common sense with science better than anyone else. I also like the fact that he is all natural. I’m looking forward to shedding some more stubborn fat in the next couple months just like everyone else.

  • Hi Dave

    Nicely laid out article that gives some great points to getting that ripped look. To get to 6% or below it is all about the diet so manipulating that in some way is the answer in my opinion so you just have to be willing to try out different strategies to find the magic formula that works for you. I like the idea of changing my set point as when I relax for too long or can’t train properly due to injury I tend to sit about 13-14% so would like to be around 10% most of the year then just drop that extra few pounds when needed. Have you decided how your going to try and change things once your back in single figures?

    Cheers

    H

  • Michael,
    I agree, if you work hard enough for long enough, you’ll achieve your goals.

    Darrin,
    Nice tip on the soy products.

    Jordan,
    My first step is working back down to the 10% level. I’m hopeful I’ll achieve that during Phase 2 of Visual Impact. The goal after that is to achieve a new best in Phase 3.

    Srdjan,
    I like that saying: be more stubborn than the fat.

    Raymond,
    You already look pretty darn lean but hopefully Tom’s Holy Grail helps you take that final step. I like Tom’s suggestion of re-setting your set point as well. It makes a lot of sense.

    Tom,
    Tom Venuto is one of the few bodybuilders that I trust.

    Howard,
    I may not change anything. With a lower set point, I’m hopeful that I’ll get under 9% after completing Visual Impact again. Regardless, I don’t find a need to stay too low for too long since I’m not a fitness model. I think this will just help me reset my set point once again so that I can eventually just maintain around 10% year round.

    Dave

  • Sam:

    It is always that last stubborn body fat percentage that is hard to get rid of. The best thing to do is much like what you are talking about, staying as low as possible, within striking distance of your ideal goal. So being in the low double digits will make it easier to go down to the single digits in fat percentage.
    The important thing to remember is to avoid dieting in the traditional sense and keeping a clean diet along with a good workout plan.
    -Sam

  • I’ve been trying Tom’s concepts out for awhile and really like them. I’ll eat lower calories earlier in the week, slowly increase it in the middle of the week, and then relax and eat normal or higher than normal over the weekend. It’s helped me drop an extra quarter of an inch around my waist without really dropping much in scale weight. But you summarized it perfectly: be patient.

  • Dave,

    Nice summary. I also like Tom Venuto’s The Body Fat Solution. It goes over some of the psychological aspects of fat loss and diet. Patience is key because it takes much longer than people think to get really lean. If you are not within “striking distance”, it takes a few months to get close enough to your target and then another couple of months to lose the stubborn fat (given you are dieting and working hard).

    Alykhan

  • Sam,
    I find that if you once you hit a new low body fat percentage, it’s easier to hit that low again. As you say, just stay within striking distance.

    Mike,
    Sounds like some good results from calorie cycling. I’ve tried the same in the past…I stopped doing it because I felt like diet was starting to control my life. I’ll be doing it again during Visual Impact Phase 3 though.

    Dave

  • Stubborn fat AKA “the Enemy” I didnt know that about omega 6 oils, would you say that it would be a good idea to take a supplement, I dont eat fish so maybe I’m missing out on something there..

  • None of you people are genuine scientists. Obesity is extremely complex.

    Anyone making guarantees of fat loss is scamming. GENUINE science does not permit such extravagances. The knowns are far less than the UNKNOWNS bout obesity.

  • Razwell,

    You think people helping others lose weight is scamming? Are personal trainers a scam?

    Genuine science or not, don’t put down people who have overcome fat loss struggles themselves and are actually trying to help people.

    I don’t really understand your agenda either…..Let people come to their own conclusions.

    Like it or not, THESE PEOPLE, have helped a lot of people. Blaming obesity on genetics is an easy out for too many people.

    Please don’t tell me that eating well and exercising can’t help….Because that is the real scam.

    Cheers,
    Jordan

  • Toni:

    I think people make losing body fat a lot harder than it has to be IMO. I’m almost 40, have two kids and achieved 17% body fat. Did I starve myself or spend hours upon hours working out? Absolutely not. All I did was up my cardio to make it more intense and eat like a cavewoman, seriously. That’s it. I will agree that once you get to a certain point, it’s harder to lose body fat. I’m at that phase now. I’m pretty lean so the fat is not exactly melting off me like before because essentially there’s less of it, honestly. My doctor told me sugar is the main culprit to the obesity epidemic in this country. I think he’s right. If people would just give up eating junk and processed food, you’d be amazed at how the excess weight would fall off you and how much better you’d feel too: better sleep quality, improved concentration, more energy, clearer skin, etc.

  • Toni,
    You hit a lot of good points. Sugar can be pretty brutal to our bodies, especially for people who want to get really lean. The benefits like better sleep and improved concentration and energy would lead to a higher fitness level by themselves. For general weight loss, I think 3-4 hours of exercise and a good clean diet go a long way. This is basically what I outline in Fitness in a Flash. However, it helps to ramp up the intensity and really focus on a strict diet to take things to the next level or speed up results.
    Dave

  • Toni:

    I realize that I may have oversimplified for purposes of the post but my point is (after that long-winded explanation, sorry) is that I could’ve made so many excuses why I couldn’t possibly lower my body fat. Once I made the decision to do it and stick with the program, so to speak, it became easier and easier. It was hard at first, obviously but when I started seeing results in the first two weeks, that propelled me to keep going. I just wish I had done it sooner rather than later.

  • Toni,
    That makes sense. Patience is key when it comes to getting in shape and unfortunately we’re a very impatient society that wants everyone immediately. Consistency goes a long way.
    Dave

  • Don:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences in the challenge of taming one’s body fat. I can so relate except you’ve had way more success than I have. This post has given me some food for thought and I think I’ll take a closer look at some of your other posts. I’m also intrigued with the idea of a 12-18 hour fast being helpful in burning stubborn fat.

  • Jessamine Noakes:

    Organic food isn`t the best thing to do if you want to get rid of the body fat you can try with protein shakes if you want but the best thing is to exercise daily and loose it naturally.

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