Q: How can I get rid of love handles?
A: There isn't just one secret to losing love handles—it's a combination of factors. It's true that the typical answer of total-body strength training, high-intensity cardio intervals, proper nutrition, and sound recovery strategies are the keys to long-term success, but there are more secret strategies for burning belly fat.
You've probably heard that cortisol, the "stress hormone," is responsible for excess abdominal fat, but that's only part of the story. Your body produces cortisol in response to stress—physical, mental, or emotional. This may include extremely low-calorie diets (fasting or starvation), infection, lack of quality sleep, emotional trauma, or intense exercise, as well as daily stressors such as job pressure or relationship trouble.
Stress and cortisol alone do not make you fat, but research has linked high cortisol levels with storage of body fat, particularly visceral belly fat. Visceral fat is packed deeper in the abdominal cavity and around the internal organs, whereas "regular" fat is stored below the skin (known as subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat is particularly unhealthy because it is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. Therefore, the key to avoid storing excess fat around your middle is controlling your cortisol response, or the amount of stress on your body.
1. Eat regularly. Missing meals will increase cortisol levels, so aim to eat three to four meals spread as evenly as possible throughout the day. I typically to tell people to eat every 3.5 to 4 hours to avoid spiking insulin. This also lets you take advantage of other hormonal actions beneficial to fat loss by not eating too often.
2. Do NOT skip breakfast. Skipping breakfast will force your body to create more stress hormones. Make a habit of eating something first thing in the morning. After all, you've just been fasting for 6-8 hours!
3. Get enough quality sleep. Ever noticed that when you're exhausted, the carbs and sweets seem to call your name? High cortisol will increase your cravings for fatty and sugary foods, making it much harder to stay on track.
4. Reduce alcohol intake. More than empty calories from sugary foods, drinking alcohol kicks fat storing into high gear. This happens because alcohol releases cortisol that suppresses the production of testosterone (yes, women produce testosterone too). Alcohol also causes blood sugar swings, which is why you may experience restless sleep after drinking (Your blood sugar dips so your body secretes stress hormones to get it back up, and those stress hormones wake you). Blood sugar swings are another stressor that can contribute to belly-fat storage. Ideally, having one to two drinks once or twice a week is the max for fat loss.
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