Stubborn Fat What Causes it And What You Can Do About It?

Nobody sees your body in quite the same way as you do. Sure, with diet and exercise, we may get a well-deserved compliment like,” great job!” or, “have you lost weight?” While these are good to hear, it’s hard to forget the pockets of stubborn fat that we hide with our clothing. 

In reality, nobody’s perfect, and no one’s body is perfect. You could even be an Olympic athlete and still struggle with fat somewhere. Others diet to the brink of starvation only to find unwanted fatty pockets like their belly, their love handles, or their thighs, still hanging around like a lost puppy. Is stubborn fat a curse we all must endure?

While there are plenty of articles that offer simple-sounding fat loss solutions, the reality is that there’s no one right solution for everyone. To determine what may work for you to get you the body you want, you need first to learn the causes of stubborn body fat. Some of them are obvious; some are not. 

Let’s take a look at several causes of stubborn fat.  Then we will examine lifestyle changes you can make, and finish off with surgical options, like liposuction and the tummy tuck.

Irregular Meal Timing / Large Meals

Do you find yourself eating late at night? Large meals before bed or long stretches of inactivity limit your body’s ability to burn calories. It’s like stocking up a fridge for the weekend. Your body has no way to use the calories, so it stores them as fat. 

Plus, two closely-timed large meals of any kind cause the body to store what it cannot digest instinctively. Think of it as a remnant from the days when our ancestors only could eat what they hunted.  Their bodies needed to store fat in preparation for days of fasting until the next successful hunt.

Another problem some experience is not eating all day, only to gorge at dinner. The hungrier you are, the fattier and more carbohydrate-rich foods you’ll eat. Extreme hunger makes it more likely that you’ll choose donuts over carrots.

Processed Foods and Alcohol

Sure, they taste good, but junk food and alcohol come with a price – and it’s not just to your wallet. The extra calories from the sweets you love or the happy hour drink after work are called “empty” for a reason. They don’t deliver any valuable nutrients to the body as other foods do.

Sorry, alcohol and junk food don’t nourish your muscles or your brain. Instead, these foods spike and crash your blood sugar. The net effect? Not long after you eat them, you become either tired or hungry once again.

By packing on the extra calories from these foods, you tell your body to store energy in the form of fat. And where does your body love to store fat?  In those stubborn areas that you work so hard to shrink.

Poor Sleep Habits and Sedentary Lifestyle

What does sleep have to do with fat? It’s all about your hunger levels and cravings for food. When our body doesn’t get a good night’s sleep, it lacks the hormones needed to control food cravings properly. No wonder junk food tastes so good the morning after a long night out!

Fatigue also puts a strain on our digestive systems. It robs us of the energy needed to burn calories and fat. After a bad night’s sleep, your day’s activity level is likely to be lower and you probably won’t burn the calories you otherwise would have.

Conversely, even with a good night’s sleep, your body won’t burn fat if consume more calories than you burn. Many of us are guilty of taking in way more calories than we can realistically expend in one day. And again, extra calories are stored as fat.


Some of us respond to stress by eating less, others by eating more. Either way, feeling anxious puts your body at a disadvantage. The net result can be the random meal times and other habits which we’ve discussed as unsuitable for weight loss and getting rid of unwanted fat. 

However, stress does more than throw off meal timing. It also forces our bodies to produce a hormone called cortisol. It’s the same hormone that caused our ancestors to run when they saw a lion in the jungle. It supports the phenomenon known as “fight or flight” reaction.

What happens is that our brain focuses on only the task at hand and slows or stops digestion. This process gives us the maximum amount of energy to use for survival. But, we aren’t fighting off lions in this day and age. The net result is a crash that results in a feeling of tiredness, which for many of us means consuming more poor-quality, calorie-rich foods.

Estrogen Levels and Genetic Predisposition

It’s no surprise that nature can be downright cruel to the ladies. Elevated levels of estrogen cause a woman’s body to store more fat. It’s nature’s way of preparing the female body in case of pregnancy. We know that it’s no fair, but this means that women are cyclically prone to store extra fat.

And for men and women alike, genetics are always a factor. It’s not a secret that we’re born with differently-shaped bodies. Some of us are blessed to look like models. The rest of us look average, but the vast majority of us harbor stubborn fat somewhere on our bodies. 

And it’s not simple enough to say that all men gain fat in their bellies and women, in their hips. Some of us carry back or chin fat. For others, it’s in their arms. Some of us have the burden of thyroid conditions that can cause our metabolisms to slow down. Unfortunately, in all of these cases, excess fat can make us feel flawed and unattractive.

Your Muscle to Fat Ratio

When muscles contract, calories are burned. If you were to take two people of similar weight, one with mostly muscle and the other with mostly fat, the muscle-bound person would burn more calories without doing any additional work. If you add the fact that most muscular people lift weights regularly, they burn even more calories because their body is often working to recover from workouts. Not only do weight-lifting sessions burn energy in the moment, but the calorie-burning benefits of recovery can last many hours afterwards.

An easy way to understand the relationship of your muscles to your fat is to think of your body as a car.  Stronger, more powerful cars, like muscular bodies, burn more fuel. Weaker cars, like weaker bodies, burn less fuel.  If you think of your body’s fuel as calories, it makes sense that you’d want to burn more of them with a more muscular body.

The Battle Against Fat – Initial Steps to Take

While there’s no miracle cure for fat loss, there are steps you can take maximize your body sculpting efforts. While you may have tried many of the options on this list, there may be one or two that are new.  No matter what you decide, keep in mind that your body wants to retain its fat stores, so you’ll have an uphill battle. 

  1. Establish regular meal times, and eliminate large meals. Starving yourself will cause you to overcompensate. Your body has a much easier time burning frequent, evenly-spaced smaller meals.
  2. Limit processed foods and alcohol. Ok, we’re all human, and we’re all entitled to splurge once in a while. Make sure you keep these special occasions infrequent.
  3. Get a better night’s sleep. Go to be and eat around the same time every day if possible. That way, your hormones will stay in balance and you will have less temptation to overeat
  4. Get active. Exercise, walk, stand, do whatever it takes to move more than you already do. Your body will get the message that it needs to burn more calories and turn less into fat.
  5. Do both cardio and weight training. Not all marathon runners are rail-thin. It’s essential to take advantage of the calorie burn from both endurance and weight-based workouts.
  6. Lower your stress level. You can do this with anything from simple 5-minute mediation to seeing a therapist or quitting your job. Stress not only makes you fatter, but it also puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
  7. See your doctor about your metabolic or hormonal issues. There are medicines to address both thyroid and estrogen-related issues. One of them may be the right course for you.

What if You’ve Done All of These Things? Consider Liposuction

For patients who’ve made every reasonable effort to lose weight and still struggle with unwanted fat, liposuction may be an ideal option. In this widely-used procedure, your plastic surgeon suctions fat cells right out of your trouble areas. After a full recovery of two to four weeks, patients see a noticeable difference. 

Patients are sometimes surprised to learn that liposuction is not for obese people. Instead, the ideal patient is someone who’s made all the lifestyle changes they can. It’s also vital that your skin be elastic so that it can shrink to accommodate your new, smaller form. Therefore, to receive liposuction, you must also be willing to quit smoking for several weeks before and after the procedure.

What About Other Fat Removal Techniques?

Despite doctors using newer techniques like fat burning or freezing, liposuction is still the gold standard for fat removal. Why? Other methods, although non-invasive, are limited in the amount of fat they can remove and rely on your body to process it out of your system. Therefore, they can take up four weeks to work and show results that may be less transformative than a liposuction procedure.

Tummy Tuck – Fat Removal and Much More

Although not purely a fat removal technique, the tummy tuck procedure often help women, and moms in particular, reshape their sagging bellies. It entails both the removal of excess fat (via liposuction) and skin from the midsection, along with the tightening of the internal stomach muscles. And although it’s no minor procedure, patients are consistently happy with their results and the vast majority say that it was worth it. 

Like liposuction, ideal candidates for the tummy tuck are healthy patients. They also need to plan on a three to four week recovery period in which they cannot overly exert themselves.

You’ve Come This Far, Why Not Take the Next Step?

Does it make sense to get so close to the look you want and give up?  Liposuction by itself, or with a tummy tuck, can be the last piece of the puzzle you’ve been trying to solve.

Assuming you’ve done your best to get in shape, isn’t it time to get the help of a medical professional? Dr. Chris Livingston is a board-certified plastic surgeon, experienced in both liposuction and tummy tuck. Contact his Houston, TX office today at (281) 501-1812 to schedule your consultation!