I remember the first time this happened to me. ‘Look at your beautiful baby bump!’ I felt so awkward as I stumbled a ‘oh i’m not pregnant’ reply. I don’t know who was more embarrassed!
I justified it with ‘well, I do have a slight lordosis’ (also known as swayback). For this reason, my belly has always stuck out slightly. But then it happened again a few months later. I was in a room at work with a pregnant colleague and someone walked in and said ‘Oh, I won’t sit down, I don’t want to catch being pregnant too’. Then it happened a third time, my childs swimming teacher offered her ‘congratulations’ as I climbed into the pool. I was at my rawest here, in my swimmers, clearly understanding that there was no oversized shirt or something that she was assuming was covering a bump. It was even more embarrassing as she tried to dig her way out of the awkward situation by saying she had been watching my belly grow over the last few weeks and assumed I was pregnant. No, that was just a mixture of hormones, inflammation, stress and probably the fact that I have to scoff down my breakfast right before swim lessons!
Why do we hold more weight in our bellies after we have a baby?
I exercise frequently, in fact in that photo above I was midway through training for a 1/2 marathon, but that weight around my stomach was quite stubborn in leaving my body. Why wasn’t that weight leaving? Turns out there were many reasons why this may be so.
Firstly, unlike other areas of your body, your tummy actually has two layers of fat (this is likely why your legs and arms appear to slim down and tone faster than your tummy). The top layer is called the subcutaneous fat and this sits on top.Subcutaneous fat stores unused calories around your waistline similiar to how your body stores fat elsewhere in your body. Your body does this in case you ever enter starvation mode and it needs to call on your fat stores to maintain life! The underlying fat is visceral fat and this surrounds your vital organs. This is the ‘more concerning’ fat as it can cause health implications such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. It can play havoc with your insulin resistance levels and can lead to more complicated health issues. It can be one of the harder lots of fat stores to lose.
6 reasons why you are having trouble shifting excess belly fat:
Inflammation – belly fat can be associated with inflammation from eating to many processed food or foods that don’t agree with your body (think gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance etc). You may also have an unhappy digestive system – excess wind, cramps and bowel trouble can cause inflammation/bloating.
Hormones – ever find your tummy bloats up right before your period? Hormones are one of the biggest factors in our bodies changes and hormonal disruption (such as peaks and lows of estrogen) can affect fat distribution. In some cases it could also be testosterone levels. Ladies with PCOS sometimes have trouble losing belly weight because their testosterone levels are high.
Stress – Having too much makes it harder to lose weight, especially around your tummy. This links back to hormones, because stress creates a hormone called Cortisol. Sometimes Cortisol increases the amount of fat your body clings to and enlarges your fat cells. Some studies have found that high levels of cortisol are linked to more visceral fat. Ironically, physical stresses such as overexercising and endurance exercise can also upset cortisol balance.
Sleep – lack of sleep creates excess stress in your body (see info above). As a mum, this is the hardest bit to hear but could also be why so many mums have difficulty shifting tummy weight when they have young children.
Exercise – You need to do a combination of weights and cardiovascular training. There used to be an old myth that cardio training (like running) was the bees knees in terms of weight loss. Studies now show that strength training increases muscle mass. Basically muscle burns more calories than fat, and therefore you naturally burn more calories throughout the day by having more muscle. This is why HIIT workouts are really popular – it’s a combination of cardio and strength at a high intensity which creates a perfect storm of fat burning.
Lastly, and not one we can do much about;
Genetics – Some people are naturally predisposed to carry more fat in the belly region than others. 😞
Now there are some things I’ve listed here that we can’t do too much about, genetics and hormones for example. But there are things that we can take action on such as Inflammation, stress and exercise. For me personally, it took a bit of trial and error to work out what my triggers were for gaining excess weight around my belly.
As you can see from those two photos, it took a bit of trial and error but I found out what my triggers are for retaining excess baby weight. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days (like the week before my period) where I feel all those pregnancy comments are headed my way, but now I have a much better understanding of why.
Ultimately though, I believe it is really important for you to know that you are not alone in your struggles to lose belly weight. Sometimes it may seem like you are the only person not lifting their top to take a washboard abs shot to post on social media, but seriously, you are not alone. And yes, it is embarrassing and awkward when someone comments on your belly (readers note: never assume someone is pregnant!), however I am hoping that armed with the information I have shared, you can now understand why your belly is holding excess weight, which will ultimately help you on your health and fitness journey.
Yours in health and fitness
PS: Want to get on top of your exercise and start to reduce some inflammation through nutritious meal plans?
My 28 Day Body Blitz program will soon be opening for registrations. It consists of workouts everyday (including 16 HIIT workouts) delivered in an ebook and via follow along videos and instructions in an app, meal plans (to help reduce inflammation), shopping lists and importantly; I am there throughout the 28 days to provide support and accountability. If you are keen to jump on board the 28 Day Body Blitz, you can find out more info HERE.