Joe Dowdell answers the million-dollar question in two parts.

By Joe Dowdell, CSCS, CPT
February 24, 2012
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

Q. What's the best way to burn belly fat and get rid of this pouch?

A. Since this is one of the most common questions I get, I'm going to split my answer into two parts. First, I'll focus on the underlying mechanism behind this problem, and then I'll offer you some solutions in part two (next week's column).

Unfortunately there's no magic bullet strategy for burning off unwanted belly fat. Research and my experience show that a combination of proper nutrition, total-body resistance training, high-intensity intervals, and sound recovery strategies (which I dedicate an entire chapter to in my book, Ultimate You) are the keys to long-term success. So forget all the fads and gimmicks for sculpting a six-pack because in the end, they don't work.

What does work? One of the biggest secrets to burning belly fat is the ability to manage cortisol, the hormone released by your body in response to any stress, including: cold, fasting/starvation, loss of blood, infection, pain, inflammation, lack of sleep, emotional trauma, and intense exercise. When you don't manage cortisol well, you start storing more fat around your midsection and less in the extremities. But cortisol isn't the only problem. Its partner in crime: insulin.

The combination of cortisol and insulin is what truly fattens up your midsection. Here's why: When blood sugar rises as a result of what you've eaten or because you're stressed (wherein cortisol raises your blood sugar), you have a subsequent rise in insulin. Insulin is the storage hormone, and unfortunately it's usually storing fat.

If your body releases more cortisol (and subsequently more insulin) in a day than it releases lean hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone, and even progesterone to some extent, you will be in a relatively high cortisol state. The best way to lower your cortisol level is to manage it through proper dietary habits, exercise, and better lifestyle choices. Do your best to keep your stress levels in check, ask for support when you need it, and make it a priority to include healthy, whole foods in your diet. Soon enough, you'll start to see the body fat melt away from your midsection.

Remember to check back next week for more on the best strategies for burning belly fat.

Personal trainer and strength coach Joe Dowdell has helped transform a clientele that includes stars of television and film, musicians, pro athletes, CEO's, and top fashion models. To learn more, check out You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter @joedowdellnyc.