We all have our problem areas. It might be your thighs or your back, it might be the love handles hanging over your jeans or the pouch right below your belly button. Wherever it is, it drives you mad. What are the stubborn fat solutions? It is true that some areas metabolize fat at a slower rate and seem resistant to diet and exercise. How many women have I seen with lean upper bodies and hips that don’t match How many men sport a six pack and a roll under each shoulder blade?
Stubborn fat and fat patterning can be explained by recognizing your body type I see myself as a mesomorph/androgenic. My legs can stay lean, but I won’t wear a backless dress. When I reduce my bodyfat that back fat will hold on for dear life and be the last to go.
Identifying with your body type will help with the frustration, but stubborn fat can have other causes.
Stubborn fat solutions – Let’s start with the those you can fix.
Nutrition is not just about losing weight, and losing weight is not just about nutrition. An unhealthy diet will burden the liver, which has to deal with everything we throw at it; it has to break down alcohol, medication, environmental toxins and so the list of aggressors goes on. If you are bombarding the liver it can become a toxic place. High carbohydrate sugary foods combined with pills, booze and too little exercise will make it more difficult for us to break down body fat. A poor diet low in B vitamins, chromium, zinc, protein and omega 3 fatty acids will affect your fat burning ability, no doubt about it.
Moving towards less processed foods (easier for the liver to handle), staying away from foods that you are allergic or intolerant to (digestive stress), limiting alcohol, controlling insulin, managing stress and making exercise a priority, are all ways you can improve your ability to burn fat.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and similar vegetables are good for detoxifiying the liver. They contain Inol 3 Carbinol which you can find in supplement form as DIM (diindolylmethane). Milk thistle and dandelion root are also excellent for cleansing the liver, as well as SAM (adenosylmethionine) which, along with its other uses, is a popular liver supplement.
You are only as good as your body’s ability to digest and absorb what you consume.
Second generation fat is more stubborn than the first. It gets harder to lose weight the second, third, fourth time around. Yo-yo dieting will cause more weight gain in the upper body and arms, and that fat will become harder and harder to lose.
INSULIN RESISTANCE (IR)
High carbohydrate diets with little exercise create an environment of high blood sugar and too much sugar in the blood triggers too much insulin. If a person continues with this behavior, they will be putting themselves on a course heading towards insulin resistance.
Unbeknownst to the host cells stop responding to insulin. Insulin is a hormone, hormones are messengers, and cells stop listening to the message. Insulin tries to get sugar out of the blood but if the cells don’t listen then the sugar (and the insulin) stay in the blood and levels get dangerously high.
At this point, you know what this means. High blood sugar and high insulin will shut down lipolysis. Fat is not going anywhere and could be considered ‘stubborn,’ but this is not true.
Get rid of the sugar, watch your carbs, relax more, get good sleep. Laugh every day, drink less of the fun stuff, drink more of the good stuff, don’t pop pills, move, stretch and sweat. Watch that fat fall off – hopefully.
If you are doing all the right things and that fat is still the friend that won’t leave then the term ‘stubborn fat’ may apply.
There is an explanation.
MORE THAN YOU NEED TO KNOW
In lipolysis, the chain of reactions starts with epinephrine (adrenaline), We have focused on Hormone Sensitive Lipase (HSL) and its crucial role in lipolysis, but before we even get to HSL epinephrine has to bind with the receptors of the fat cell.
Hormones are simply messengers; they do not do anything by themselves; they travel around the body and bind to their matching receptors. Think of a lock and key. Alone neither do anything but put the right key in the right lock and doors open. In the same way, hormones attach to their specific receptors, and the message is relayed, and things start to happen.
Estrogen can only attach itself to estrogen receptors. Insulin connects with cells that have insulin receptors, and Epinephrine (the first step in lipolysis) has to bind to its own unique receptor sites.
There are two types of receptors. Alpha (type 1 and 2) and Beta (types 1, 2 and 3).
The body always seeks balance, and to create balance we need regulators. You regulate the temperature of your home by using heat and AC. You regulate the speed of your car by using the accelerator and the brake.
Cells have Alpha and Beta receptors which work very much like an accelerator or a brake. These two types of receptors can speed up a reaction or slow it down. Lipolysis is a reaction, and when epinephrine binds to the receptors on the fat cell, it can go either way. Activation of Alpha 1 and Beta receptors will allow for the breakdown of fat, while activation of Alpha 2 is anti-lipolytic and it will slow fat breakdown. If there are more Alpha 2 receptors then they will dominate and fat breakdown will be blunted. When we have an area of stubborn fat, it may be that there are more Alpha 2 receptors.
Your foot is the hormone but what your foot does depends on which pedal you hit.
Muscle cells have Alpha and Beta receptors, the latter stimulate protein synthesis and help in muscle building. A lack of Beta receptors may be a limiting factor for a hard gainer
Women struggle with lower body weight to the point where there is a dramatic difference between their upper bodies and their butt, hips and thighs. Hormones, LPL activity, and Alpha receptor activation may be an explanation.
Competitive pool players and golfers may take beta blockers so that they are calm and can concentrate on their game. Beta receptors are the accelerators, they increase heart rate. In a sport that demands accuracy, it does not help if your heart is racing and this is where beta ‘blockers’ can prove useful.
Beta blockers are banned in competitive sports because of the unfair advantage they can give, but there is no “anti-doping committee” in the weight loss world. There have been many attempts to block the Alpha 2 receptors or specifically stimulate the Beta.
A few decades ago, ephedra was a very popular weight loss and performance supplement. It was like slamming your foot on the accelerator, giving yourself a crazy amount of short lived energy. Spin classes were full of people hopped up on this over-the-counter supplement. Truck drivers could drive all night and girls got bikini ready in record time due to ephedra and its synthetic partner ephedrine HCL.
Ephedra was banned and there are two sides to that story – like every story. Human nature does push up towards the “more is better” mentality, and there was no doubt and unsafe mass abuse of this product. Lipolysis starts with ephedrine, and ephedra products boosted that first step in fat breakdown, people were taking the process into their own hands. BUT it did not work for everyone.
Ladies took ephedrine to get rid of that stubborn body fat, but because those parts of their body were dominant in Alpha 2 receptors, it proved ineffective. The mistake was then to take more and more ephedra, torso’s got shredded, and butts continued to jiggle.
While Alpha 2 receptors were slamming on the brakes in the stubborn fat, the gas pedal was being slammed everywhere else and you know what happens to an engine when you rev the gas too hard for too long…
Ephedra is “Non-Specific” and its success as a fat burner is dependent on the ratio of Alpha and Beta receptors. Chronic use of ephedra during calorie restriction can have an anabolic effect, and it can increase levels of the thyroid hormone T3.
I witnessed this many times back in the 90’s. Due to the anabolic effect ladies could get hard muscular upper bodies and a little fuzzy facial hair. I recall one lady losing 30% in body fat while dropping only a few pounds from her glutes and thighs. She was burnt out within a year of competing and fell into a major depression. Depression being an unavoidable pitfall after stimulant abuse.
Alpha and Beta receptors allow for balance.
Stubborn fat solutions
Some people with access turned to Clenbuterol (popular with reace horses) which is “Beta Specific.” If you specifically hit the Beta receptors you speed everything up. This was a game changer, people gained muscle and lost body fat which, in theory, is great but no action works in isolation. A Beta Specific drug will hit every beta receptor, including those in the heart and the lungs.
If you keep revving an engine it will blow.
There have been natural attempts to swing the balance in favor of lipolysis. Some herbal remedies like Yohimbine bark are “Alpha Antagonists” used to inhibit the Alpha 2 receptors.
I wish I recommend a solution to stubborn fat but I cannot. Receptors create balance, and I am never going to suggest messing with that. What I can offer up is one priceless nugget of information.
Insulin makes the Alpha 2 receptors more sensitive!
At the end of the day, it all comes back to nutrition.
We have billions of fat cells and each cell holds a droplet of fat. That fat (aka lipid) takes up about 85% of the cell’s volume, while the other 15% is the cell’s nucleus (the message center) and cytoplasm (usually water, salt and protein). When we lose weight we do not lose fat cells; rather we reduce the volume of each cell. A balloon half filled with water weighs less than a balloon filled with water.
If you have four times more fat cells than your friend and you both have fat cells that are 85% lipid, then you are going to be much larger and much heavier than that pal of yours. To get to be the same weight you’re going to have to drastically reduce the volume of each cell and here lies the frustration of weight loss and achieving long-lasting results.
The role of homeostasis is to bring about balance. Fat cells strive to return to their former volume. The person that swears their eating did not warrant their rebound in weight. They may well be telling the truth.
There are thought to be three times in our life when we can increase the number of fat cells in our body; the third trimester of pregnancy (before we are born), our first year of life and also during puberty.
We had no control over what our mothers ate or fed to us before or after our birth, and body composition isn’t a real priority during puberty.
Today the challenge for children is fast food, soda and candy on every corner, on every shelf and on every commercial. Children are not as active, and there is more screen time than playtime.
Large children are becoming the norm.
The sadness here is that without even knowing it, children and their parents are setting the stage for adulthood. Children go through so many physical changes as they barrel towards adulthood. We call it ‘puppy fat’ and often that’s all it really. The podgy 9-year-old girl that transforms into a svelte 14-year-old. The 11 year old boy that grows taller than his mom in one school year.
And then there’s that heavy kid that doesn’t lose the weight.
The depressing fact is that 75% of obese children become obese adults and these kids are adding new fat cells at twice the rate of their lean counterparts (Dynamics of fat turnover in humans Nature.) Of the normal weight children, only 10% will become obese adults.
Obesity which is said to be 25-40% hereditary,
Two obese adults have a child, and there is an 80-90% chance that their child will also be obese.
Two normal-weight people have a child, and there is only a 10-15% chance their child will be obese.
One obese parent brings the odds to 40-50%
Please don’t fixate on these percentages; it’s doubtful that they are carved in stone, and I merely use them to illustrate how our body composition has a firm hold on us before we even choose to make it a priority.
The changing shape and size of society is going to cripple the health of future generations, and the cost will be astronomical. I like to think that I am full of good advice, but I am at a loss as to how to reverse it all. Heavy kids make for heavy adults, and heavy adults make for heavy kids, The mathematical certainty of it all is quite daunting and makes me grateful for being a child of the 70’s.
* (Dynamics of fat turnover in humans. Nature DOI 10-1038/nature 060902)