Targeting stubborn fat and ‘problem areas’

You’re following all the weight loss rules, your diet is cleaner than an operating table and you jump into your workouts with zeal. But when you take a look in the mirror, you still see that ‘problem area’ – the one that resists all your weight loss efforts, no matter how hard you try.

If this sounds familiar, then you’re not alone. While men often struggle to reveal a rippling six-pack, most women find it nearly impossible to attain lean hips and thighs.

Stubborn fat is a complex topic. Even though entire books have been written on it, the main difference between normal and stubborn fat is the ratio between alpha-2 receptors and beta-2 receptors. This ratio determines how easily fat can be burned off.

Fat tissues high in beta-2 receptors are relatively easy to get rid of: they are more prone to chemicals called catecholamines, which stimulate fat loss. In addition, they are less affected by elevated insulin levels, which block fat loss. On the other hand, fat tissues high in alpha-2 receptors are relatively hard to lose: they are less prone to the fat-burning catecholamines and are more affected by elevated insulin levels. The ratio between alpha-2 and beta-2 receptors varies throughout your body. That’s why it is easier to lose fat in certain areas and quite the challenge in others.

In females, the ‘problem area’ is usually the hips and thighs because it has around nine times as many alpha-2 receptors as other fat tissues. But fear not, there are solutions. If you’re a woman with more than 20 per cent body fat, don’t obsess over stubborn fat. Think of it this way: you still have plenty of ‘easy fat’ to lose.

If you sport a body fat percentage below 20 per cent, you’ll find that it becomes harder and harder to drop fat the leaner you become. This is especially true for the area around your hips and thighs. The reason is that the fat left to fight is more stubborn – it is high in alpha-2 receptors.

The regular weight loss basics such as eating fewer calories than you burn obviously apply. But if you want to optimise fat loss in stubborn areas, there are two things you have to do:

1. You have to increase the levels of catecholamines that float through your veins: this aids the release of fat from your fat cells. One effective way to do this is by increasing your consumption of caffeine. You can do this either by drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee or taking a caffeine supplement.

2. You have to keep your insulin levels under control: while elevated insulin doesn’t inhibit the release of normal fat, it does blunt the release of stubborn fat from your fat cells. An excellent way to manage your insulin levels is by decreasing your carbohydrates consumption: in particular, you need to cut down on carbs that have a high glycemic index, typical examples being bread, potatoes and white rice. This does not mean reducing calorie intake – you should look to increase fats and proteins to make up reduced carbohydrate calories.

Alternatively, you can speed up the stubborn fat loss by doing your workouts in a fasted state – so do your training before you have breakfast. The fact that you haven’t eaten yet benefits you in two ways: your insulin levels are lower and the secretion of catecholamines is higher. This, in turn, improves your chances of shedding those hard-to-lose fats.

NEXT: Challenge yourself with this fat burning workout.