How Do I Get Rid of That Lower Belly Pooch Around My Abs?

Woman doing a crunch
Getty Images/JGI/Tom Grill

While we all have different body types and different areas where we store excess fat, there's one area that most women struggle with: The lower belly.

That lower belly pooch is one of the most stubborn areas of the body and many women find that, no matter how much they exercise, they just can't get rid of it.

It may be frustrating to experience that fat storage, but there are some very good reasons why women store excess fat there.

Knowing what's going on with your body will help you accept the things you can't change and move on to more reachable goals.

Why Do Women Store Fat in the Lower Belly?

One of the main reasons women tend to store that extra layer of fat in the lower belly has to do with genetics, body type, age, and hormones. Your genes determine your body type and that ends up controlling how your body fat is distributed. 

For example, an apple-shaped body tends to store more fat around the belly, while a pear-shaped body will tend to store more fat in the hips and thighs.

As women approach menopause, they'll also notice an increase in abdominal fat. As estrogen decreases, the body responds by redistributing fat to not-so-fun places.

And don't forget, diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management all contributed to how and where our bodies store fat. The more stressed you are, the more likely your body is to store fat in the belly

What You Need to Do To Lose Belly Fat

Many of us have probably done any number of ab exercises in the hopes of getting a flat belly. Unfortunately, spot reduction just doesn't work.

It isn't possible to do a certain exercise for a certain area of the body in the hopes of losing fat there. The body actually draws energy from the entire body during exercise, not just from the part you're working.

So, if ab exercises don't do it, what does? The short answer is that, to lose belly fat, you have to lose fat overall. And, even if you do that, there's no guarantee that it will come off your belly. As mentioned, our genes are often responsible for where and how we store fat.

To lose overall body fat you need to do a few very important things: 

  • Regular cardio exercise in your target heart rate zone. Beginners might start with 2-3 days of cardio (such as walking) for as long as you can or up to about 30 minutes, increasing your time gradually each week. For intermediate or advanced exercisers, you should shoot for some type of activity most days of the week for 30-90 minutes at a variety of intensities.  Doing at least one HIIT workout a week can help target belly fat.
  • Strength training for your entire body 1-3 non-consecutive days a week. Lifting weights helps you build lean muscle tissue which can help increase your metabolism and lose more body fat. If you're a beginner, try Strength Training for Beginners to start and gradually increase your intensity over time. This 12-Week Weight Loss Program includes both cardio and strength training workouts over the course of 3 months and is a great place to get started.
  • A healthy low-calorie diet. This is by far the most crucial part of your program. If you really want to make this work, there are some tricks you can use: 
    • Keep a food log in which you write down everything you eat or drink.
    • Use a food calculator to determine about how many calories you eat each day.
    • Begin changing bad habits by replacing them, one by one, with healthier choices (fruits and veggies will fill you up and give you nutrients and fiber).
    • Keep an eye on your portion sizes.
    • Make small changes every day instead of changing everything at once.
    • For more guidance, try using a meal plan that calculates your calories for you. 

    Those are important but don't forget that managing your stress and getting quality sleep can also help you with belly fat.

    The Bottom Line

    Even if you lose fat, there's no guarantee you'll lose it from your abs. Your body decides when, where and how much fat you'll lose.

    Some of us will never get rid of all the fat over the abs without taking the body fat to unhealthy levels. It's always best to focus on what you can control--what you eat, how much exercise you get and how healthy your lifestyle is.

    Be consistent with your workouts and your diet and let your body respond to that. Your body loses fat in a certain order and it's those stubborn areas where it comes off last. 

    It's not because you're doing anything wrong, it's just how the body works. Most of us won't get flat abs no matter how hard we try. It's just the way our bodies are built.

    Sources:

    Mori MA, Thomou T, Boucher J, et al. Altered miRNA processing disrupts brown/white adipocyte determination and associates with lipodystrophy. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2014;124(8):3339-3351. doi:10.1172/jci73468.

    Patel P, Abate N. Body Fat Distribution and Insulin Resistance. Nutrients. 2013;5(6):2019-2027. doi:10.3390/nu5062019.

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