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What is the most stubborn fat?

Losing weight can be a frustrating process, especially when certain areas of fat seem impossible to get rid of. We all have our own personal “problem areas” where fat stubbornly sticks around. But what exactly causes fat to accumulate more in certain spots? And is there anything you can do to target stubborn fat deposits?

What Causes Stubborn Fat?

Fat distribution is influenced by several factors:

  • Genetics – Your genes play a big role in where your body stores fat. You inherit your body shape and fat distribution pattern from your parents.
  • Hormones – Hormones like estrogen, testosterone, insulin, and cortisol impact where fat gets deposited.
  • Gender – Women tend to store more fat around the hips and thighs, while men store it around the belly.
  • Age – As you get older, you tend to gain fat around the middle section.
  • Lifestyle – Diet, exercise, stress levels and sleep can all affect fat storage.

But what makes fat “stubborn” in certain areas? It comes down to fat cell biology. Your body has two types of fat cells:

  1. White fat cells – Stores energy as triglycerides. Found all over the body, under the skin (subcutaneous fat) and around organs (visceral fat).
  2. Brown fat cells – Burns energy and generates heat. Mainly found in the neck and upper back region.

Brown fat cells are more metabolically active and burn energy more readily than white fat cells. The distribution of these cell types varies in different parts of the body.

Areas with a high density of white fat cells and low brown fat cell activity tend to accumulate and retain fat more easily. This includes the thighs, hips, butt, belly, and back of the arms.

Regions with more brown fat cell activity, like the upper back and neck, tend to be more resistant to fat storage.

Common Stubborn Fat Areas

Here are some of the most notorious stubborn fat zones of the body:

Abdominal Fat

Belly fat is a common trouble spot, especially for men. Factors like diet, exercise, age, genetics and hormones (like cortisol and insulin) promote visceral fat storage around the organs and belly.

Hip & Thigh Fat

Women tend to store excess fat in the lower body – around the butt, hips and thighs. Estrogen promotes subcutaneous fat storage in these areas.

Back Fat

The upper back area and bra line is prone to fat accumulation, especially in women. Genetics, posture, inactivity and weight gain contribute to back fat.

Underarm Flab

Excess fat can deposit in the underarm area, caused by genetics, hormones, overall weight gain and aging. Underarm fat can be stubborn to lose.

Arm Fat

The upper arms and back of the arms are common trouble spots, especially in women. Excess fat in the arms is challenging to get rid of with diet and exercise alone.

Man Boobs

Man boobs or enlarged breast tissue is medically known as gynecomastia. It’s usually caused by excess fatty tissue, not breast gland tissue. Man boobs are a stubborn fat zone for many men.

Why Is Stubborn Fat Difficult to Lose?

It’s not entirely clear why some fat deposits are more resistant to weight loss methods than others. But here are some theories as to why stubborn fat is hard to lose:

  • Hormone sensitivity – Stubborn fat cells have more receptors for hormones like cortisol, insulin and estrogen. This can promote increased fat storage.
  • Poor blood flow – Stubborn fat areas may have lesser blood flow compared to other fat regions. This restricts delivery of hormones, nutrients and oxygen needed for fat mobilization.
  • More alpha receptors – Alpha adrenoreceptors inhibit fat breakdown. Stubborn fat areas have more alpha receptors compared to beta receptors, which promote fat loss.
  • Poorer fat mobilization – The enzymes needed to break down fat may be lower in stubborn fat zones. This makes it harder to tap into stored fat for energy needs.

Due to these biological characteristics, stubborn fat cells hold onto fat more tenaciously and are slower to shrink in response to diet, exercise and other fat loss strategies.

Can You Spot Reduce Stubborn Fat?

Spot reduction or spot training refers to trying to lose fat from a specific part of the body by exercising that body part. For example, doing endless crunches in hopes of slimming your belly or leg lifts to tone your thighs. Unfortunately, spot training does not work for stubborn fat loss. Here’s why it’s ineffective:

  • You cannot “target” fat loss to an isolated body region.
  • When you burn fat, it pulls from all the fat cells in your body – not just the area being exercised.
  • Problem areas often have poor blood flow, making it harder to mobilize fat during exercise.
  • Genetically-programmed fat patterns determine where fat is gained and lost.

For the most part, your body decides where fat comes off first based on your unique fat cell distribution. So you cannot dictate where you’ll slim down by exercising a stubborn fat zone.

Strategies to Lose Stubborn Fat

While you can’t spot reduce fat, you can take a targeted approach to losing stubborn fat deposits. Here are some strategies to make stubborn fat areas respond better to your weight loss efforts:

Follow an Overall Fat Loss Diet

To shrink stubborn fat, you need to reduce your overall body fat percentage through diet. Focus on creating a moderate calorie deficit of 500-1000 calories daily to lose 1-2 pounds per week. Follow a balanced diet low in refined carbs and rich in lean protein, fiber and healthy fats.

Increase Cardio Exercise

Aerobic activities like brisk walking, cycling, swimming and jogging burn calories and help create an energy deficit needed for fat loss. Aim for 150-300 minutes of moderate cardio exercise per week to aid stubborn fat loss.

Lift Weights 2-3 Times Per Week

Weight training builds metabolism-boosting lean muscle. Lifting weights also helps improve body composition by reducing fat mass. Choose a mix of multi-joint exercises like squats, lunges, rows and presses.

Reduce Stress

Chronic stress causes elevated cortisol levels, which can increase belly fat storage and make fat loss harder. Try stress management techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing and journaling.

Get More Sleep

Lack of sleep is linked to weight gain and slowed fat loss. Try to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to support your fat loss efforts. Develop good sleep habits for better rest.

Consider Stubborn Fat Removal Procedures

If diet and exercise don’t sufficiently slim stubborn areas, there are non-surgical body contouring treatments that can eliminate stubborn fat:

  • CoolSculpting – Uses cryolipolysis to freeze and destroy fat cells.
  • Laser lipolysis – Laser energy helps break down and liquefy fat cells.
  • Ultrasound cavitation – Sound waves rupture fat cell membranes to drain liquid fat content.
  • Radiofrequency – Heats tissue to destroy fat cells and tighten skin.
  • Injectable lipolysis – Fat-dissolving compounds like deoxycholic acid are injected to eliminate fat.

However, these procedures do not address the root causes of weight gain. Lifestyle habits must be improved as well.

The Takeaway

Stubborn fat in areas like the stomach, hips, thighs and arms is often resistant to diet and exercise. This is due to genetic, hormonal and lifestyle factors influencing fat cell biology in these regions. While you can’t spot train to lose stubborn fat, a combination of calorie deficit, cardio exercise, strength training, and stress relief can help. In some cases, body contouring procedures may be beneficial to remove stubborn fat deposits. Be patient and persistent with healthy habits and you can eventually conquer your stubborn fat trouble spots.