6 Non-Diet Reasons You Have Belly Fat

It doesn't take a medical degree to know that your diet might have something to do with your belly fat. Trainers and fitness buddies like to repeat the phrase, "Abs are made in the kitchen" just to drive home the point that you can't do 100 crunches a day and expect Thor's six-pack. Besides what you're eating, though, there are a few other factors that could be the reason you can't lose weight in your middle.

No matter how strict your diet and how dedicated you are to your fitness routine, if your sleep schedule is out of whack, your stress level is constantly through the roof and you're approaching middle age, you're going to have a tougher time getting a flat belly.

Here, Taz Bhatia, M.D., an integrative medicine doctor and author of "Super Woman RX," details some of the reasons why you can't seem to get rid of your belly fat.

You're Not Sleeping Enough

Sleep influences your metabolic rate, says Dr. Bhatia. Sleeping at least seven to eight hours per night helps to balance the hormones involved in appetite regulation and keeps insulin, the master hormone of metabolism, regulated.  "Without consistent sleep, this delicate hormone balance is disrupted and metabolism slows down," Dr. Bhatia explains.

A long-term study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology included nearly 70,000 women and examined how women who slept five hours or less a night were 32 percent more likely to gain roughly 30 pounds over the 16-year study than the women who slept seven hours or more.

If this sounds like your sleep schedule or duration, aim for seven hours or more when your schedule allows and see if it has an impact on your waistline.

You're Under Constant Stress

Following your diet plan and exercise regimen "to a T" but still have belly pooch hanging over your jeans? If you're surrounded by stress and not dealing with it in a healthy way, your body will be resistant to even your best efforts to reduce overall fat.

"Extreme stress disrupts cortisol, the stress hormone which then affects insulin, a key hormone for weight loss," said Dr. Bhatia.

Devote at least 20 minutes per day to calming your nervous system down using meditation, journaling, drawing or just laughing, she suggested. Having a supportive community of people around in hard or stressful times can also be instrumental in quieting the mind.

You're Getting Older

You may have noticed that it's a bit harder to drop excess weight as you've aged and that the "over 40" belly arrived out of nowhere.

Aging results in an overall slowing of your metabolic rate and your digestion—and the two are linked, said Dr. Bhatia.

"As we age, we need less food, and we need to support the digestive system, often with digestive enzymes and the supplement HCL (Hydrochloride), that help us metabolize our foods," she said. "Women have a tough time as they enter menopause, storing any remaining estrogen, which triggers further insulin resistance, or belly fat storage." The liver also becomes a clogged laundry bag that doesn't move toxins and metabolism hormones as effectively, she said.<pagebreak>

Your Digestion is Weak

An expanding belly is a sign of poor digestion and insulin resistance, said Dr. Bhatia.  Burn this fat by increasing your movement throughout the day. She suggests 20-minute bursts of activity three times per day.

"[Breaking it up like this] can be better than the hour-and-a-half workout, which can leave you exhausted and wanting more food," she said.

You can also balance your digestive system and eat probiotic foods like bone broth, kefir, and yogurt, Dr. Bhatia suggests.

Your Workouts Don't Challenge You

If you've been doing a leisurely 30-minute stroll around the neighborhood for two years and haven't added time, intensity or another exercise, you're likely not challenging your body enough to lose extra fat in the abdominal area.
While steady-state workouts are great for beginners and for stress relief, seasoned exercisers who are looking to make changes in their body might need to turn to something new to see something new in this trouble spot. According to Dr. Bhatia, in order to stay in a fat-burning mode for longer, you have to have heart-rate variability and increased muscle mass to stay in a fat-burning mode.

A small study on obese women with metabolic syndrome who did high-intensity exercise training (HIET) three times a week found that this training significantly reduced total abdominal fat and subcutaneous abdominal fat more than the women who did lower intensity exercises. If high-intensity or interval workouts sound intimidating, remember that anyone can do HIIT workouts with the right modifications and safety precautions.

You're Not Doing Strength Training Exercises

Not only do you need to increase the intensity of your cardio, but adding lean muscle mass to your frame will help you burn more calories and fat at rest, as well. Strength training is an essential component in building strong muscles that burn for you.

One study found that aerobic exercises with resistance training could help reduce visceral fat in overweight teenagers. Another study discovered that visceral fat loss (that deep, dangerous belly fat) was highest in the group of subjects who did high-resistance-moderate-endurance training three days a week for one year.

The weight room can be intimidating for the unfamiliar, so consider setting up an introductory lesson with a personal trainer to feel more comfortable and pick up some workout tips or try recruiting a fitness buddy to dive into the unknown world of dumbbells and deadlifts. Not only will strength training help you with your belly goals, but it also comes with a long list of health benefits, including increased bone density, lowering blood pressure, reducing sleep difficulties and so much more.

If belly fat bothers you, you can speak to a professional about finding ways to counteract some of these potential factors. Keep in mind, though, that every body is built differently and reacts differently to diet and exercise. Plus, six-pack abs are incredibly difficult to achieve and maintain. If you're living a healthy lifestyle overall, that little bit of belly fat shouldn't get to your head.