How to lose stubborn fat (in 5 steps)

written by Philip Stefanov  |  OCTOBER 5, 2021

“How do I lose stubborn body fat?” is a question that certainly draws the interest of people. But deep down, we all know what we have to do: create a calorie deficit, lift weights, eat plenty of protein, and maybe do some cardio. Oh, and be patient.

But why is stubborn fat, well, stubborn, and is there anything else we can do to get rid of it? Let’s explore.

What is ‘Stubborn’ Fat, Anyway?

Stubborn fat is the fatty tissue that forms around the troublesome areas and refuses to go away no matter how long we diet. These areas include – but are not limited to – the love handles, lower belly, and thighs.

So, what makes this fat stubborn? To understand this, we first have to take a brief look at fat-burning as a whole.

To lose fat, we have to break down fatty acids from fat molecules and use them for energy. As we put ourselves in a calorie deficit, our body begins to mobilize fatty acids through a group of hormones called catecholamines (1). These hormones bind to beta-2 receptors of fat cells, which stimulates fatty acid release and breakdown.

The problem is, fat cells have another type of receptor: alpha-2. When catecholamines bind to alpha-2 receptors, nothing happens (2, 3).

Stubborn fat cells have more alpha-2 and fewer beta-2 receptors (4). Meaning, catecholamines are more likely to bind to an alpha-2 receptor on such a cell, leading to no fat-burning. When your brain signals your body to release fat for energy, fatty acids get released from beta-2-receptor-rich fat cells. By the time fat-burning ceases, stubborn fat cells have barely released any fat.

Other factors such as poor blood flow, elevated insulin sensitivity, and lower hormone-sensitive lipase activity in these stubborn areas further prevent the body from targeting stubborn fat (5, 6).

Can We Do Something to Get Rid of Stubborn Fat?

If you’ve ever dieted hard and gotten impressively lean, you probably felt hopeless because you still had fat in some troublesome areas. Men typically have more love handle fat, where women struggle to lose it from their thighs.

The sure thing you can do is to keep dieting and get quite lean. As discussed above, non-stubborn fat cells preferentially release their contents for energy. But at some point, these cells will be depleted, and stubborn fat cells will have to give up the goods, too. But for that to start happening, you’ll have to be decently lean (10-12 percent for men and 20-22 percent for women).

You should also make sure to remain in a deficit and keep getting leaner. This means tracking your weight and circumference measurements and taking some progress photos. The leaner you get, the more careful you have to be due to natural metabolic adaptations, elevated hunger, and greater risks of binge eating (7).

Adding some cardio and having a daily step count goal can also help. Cardio burns extra calories, allowing you to remain in a calorie deficit more easily. A daily step count ensures your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) also stays high, helping you burn extra calories.

Some folks also speculate that supplementing with Yohimbine and doing fasted cardio can stimulate stubborn fat mobilization. But research doesn’t show that fasted cardio is superior, and Yohimbine isn’t the safest supplement (8, 9). I can’t recommend either strategy.

The bottom line? Be consistent, patient, and accurate with your tracking. That’s the only way to shed the stubborn fat eventually.

Thank you for reading! Until next week,


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