You’ve set your weight loss goal. You’ve done your exercise. You’ve changed your eating lifestyle. And yet those last few pounds still won’t come off. You’ve slimmed and trimmed everywhere you can in every way you can, but there’s still more to your hips, rear end, and thighs than you’d like to see when you look in the mirror. You’ve got the “stubborn fat won’t come off” blues.
There are perfectly good physiological reasons for your troubles. Stubborn fat is stubborn because it isn’t like other fat in your body. That’s right—stubborn fat is physiologically different from the rest of the fat in your body. Let’s explore a bit about what makes stubborn fat so tricky.
Note: Please review this information carefully and talk to your doctor before making any serious diet or exercise changes.
Fat Cell Receptors
All cells have receptors. You can think of receptors like locks. These cellular locks can only be opened by certain hormones and neurotransmitters, which act like keys. When a key fits a lock, a certain action happens within the cell.
Fat cells have receptors that tell the cell to either 1) store or 2) burn the fat. There are two types of receptors involved in this reaction—alpha-2 and beta-2 receptors.
- Alpha-2 receptors hinder fat burning. They tell the cell to store the fat inside for future use. This can be good when you need to stock up for a coming food shortage, pregnancy, or other times your body is going to need some extra energy. However, in the case of the stubborn fat blues, this makes alpha-2 receptors the bad guys.
- Beta-2 receptors are the good guys in our song. They tell the cell to release the fat inside and send it on its way out through the blood stream and the body’s natural waste treatment system.
Now, the fat cells in our stubborn fat deposits (for women, this is the hips, thighs, and rear) actually have more alpha-2 receptors than beta-2. The hips, thighs, and rear naturally have more alpha-2 receptors in women because this fat is meant to supply us with the energy we need to bear children. Having some stubborn fat in these areas is actually a sign of good health for a woman. So when you want to lose this stubborn fat, it’s challenging because it’s set up biologically to stay there.
How to Trick Biology
Part of what makes this tricky is that both receptors accept the same key. Catecholamines, which are fight-or-flight hormones, are released during times of stress—whether it’s a stressful job or a hard workout.
In order to burn stubborn fat, you need to produce lots of catecholamines, but you also need to try to inhibit alpha-2 receptors while keeping the beta-2 receptors open. But how do you do this?
1. Maintain low insulin levels to trigger beta-2 receptors.
How to maintain low insulin? Low carb diets and intermittent fasting have both been proven to lower your insulin. Lower insulin levels trigger the beta-2 receptors instead of the alpha-2 receptors. Your low carb diet needs to ensure that your carbs are less than 20% of your total daily calories for at least 4 days before this occurs. Intermittent fasting of 12 to 18 hours will do the same thing. Important notes:
- You need to carefully consider your body type and fitness goals to decide what your daily calorie intake and macronutrient ratios should be. While a low-carb diet is ideal for fat loss, 20% might not be the ideal ratio for you on a consistent basis.
- Know your body and educate yourself if you plan to try fasting.
2. Produce lots of catecholamines through high-intensity exercise.
With lowered insulin levels and inhibited alpha-2 receptors, your beta-2 receptors are ready to be unlocked by their catecholamine keys. Any amount of exercise releases catecholamines, but high-intensity exercise, like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) produces the most and helps you burn the most fat. Check out #2 on our list of fitness trends for 2015 for some HIIT tips. Important note:
- HIIT might not be right for you based on your current fitness levels. Remember, though, that any kind of exercise produces catecholamines.
You can beat the stubborn fat blues. Even though it seems like exercise and diet aren’t doing a thing, remember how big of a difference small tweaks in your exercise and diet can make physiologically. By lowering your insulin levels through a low-carb diet and intermittent fasting, you keep beta-2 receptors active (while inhibiting alpha-2 receptors), and by producing lots of catecholamines through exercise (high-intensity in particular), you burn more fat.