Drop that Stubborn Fat: 3 Steps to Freedom from Flab

Posted in: Diet & Nutrition · Exercise
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Susan Ohtake, CPT

Stubborn fat is a problem we are all familiar with. This is the fat that sticks around on our bodies even after the rest of the fat has fallen away.

It’s frustrating because, even after our healthy lifestyle changes begin to show positive results, we still have this leftover flab. It can really get you down. I know, I’ve dealt with it myself.

So, what is this stubborn fat and how can you fight it?

What is Stubborn Fat?

Stubborn fat isn’t just a descriptive term. It’s a real thing! It refers to fat that collects in what we usually think of as “problem areas.” For women, that’s the butt, hips, and thighs. For men, the problem areas tend to be in the lower stomach and lower back areas.

How is Stubborn Fat Different?

Stubborn fat is made up of 3 distinctive elements that make it so hard to get rid of.

Hormones and Hormone Receptors

Fat deposits can contain different hormone receptors, depending on where they are located on your body. That’s because our body adapts fat to different areas, according to what it needs to keep us healthy. Sometimes, though, in trying to keep you healthy, your body creates stubborn fat.

To insulate our bodies during long, hard winters, we adapted the ability to store fats. It kept us alive in the Stone Age, but now that we are in the Information Age, it can just be an annoyance.

The hormone that is most important to fat storage is insulin. Its whole purpose is to store our fat for us, just in case we need it.

That means that the higher your insulin is, the more likely you will be to store fat. But, even on a low carb diet that decreases the amount of insulin in your blood, this stubborn fat can stick around.

Why? Because stubborn fat has a higher sensitivity to insulin. That means that even if you lower your insulin, the stubborn fat can still get the hormones it needs to stick around.


Adrenergic receptors (adrenoceptors) control how much blood flow our blood vessels allow through. The more blood that is allowed through our adrenoceptors, the faster our fat burns off. Lower blood flow means slower fat burning.

There are two types of adrenoceptors in fats—alpha and beta receptors. The alpha receptor slows down blood flow. Slower blood flow makes the fat harder to burn.

Beta receptors allow for a faster blood flow. The faster blood flow enables you to burn through fat faster.

The stubborn fat deposits on our problem areas are full of alpha receptors—making the fat harder to burn—and have fewer beta receptors. This means it is much more difficult to fight the fat in these areas than others.

Lack of Blood Flow

In addition to the adrenoceptors that regulate our blood vessels’ flow, the stubborn fat areas of our body also suffer from poor circulation. That means there are fewer blood vessels running throughout. Without these blood vessel networks, it’s hard for our bodies to burn off and carry away that extra fat.

So, now that you know WHY the fat is so stubborn, you can understand how to FIX IT.

3 Step Stubborn-Fat Solution

1 - Actually Eat

For a lot of people, the idea that cutting calories is the best way to lose weight has been ingrained in our minds. After decades of low-calorie diet fads and trends, it’s time to rethink our attitude toward calories.

When we reduce the number of calories we consume, our bodies start holding onto that stubborn fat. It thinks it is winter and food stores are low, so it wants to save up that stubborn fat for an emergency.

Just because we live in a modern world doesn’t mean that our bodies know it. They’re designed to keep us alive. So, when our calorie intake goes down, it goes into survival mode and hangs onto that fat for dear life.

This is why our metabolism actually SLOWS when we cut calories. When we cut calories and exercise, it can slow down even more.

You need to actually eat - not starve yourself.

2 - Lower Carb Intake

Eating a low carb diet is the best way to burn through that stubborn body fat while still getting all the calories you need to keep from going into starvation mode. You can stay full and still lose weight if you opt for healthy, low-carb meals.

In addition to giving you those calories you need, low-carb diets are low in insulin. Insulin is that hormone that makes our stubborn fat stick around.

Carbs are converted into sugars, which spikes insulin. So, keep the carbs low and starve that stubborn fat of the hormones it needs.

That doesn’t mean you need to go into full keto or elimination diet mode. Just try to adjust your diet to a lower-carb net intake. I recommend around 50-100g a day. It’s totally a sustainable level and you will see results in no time—without starving yourself.

3 - The Right Type of Exercise.

In order to get that fat moving off your problem areas, you need to burn it! The only way to do that is through exercise.

Short, high-intensity exercise is the best way to fight stubborn fat. It not only stimulates the fat you need to burn—it can also permanently change the makeup of your stubborn fat.

Studies have shown that high-intensity exercise can even shift your alpha receptors to beta receptors, making the flow of blood more efficient and making it easier for you to lose weight in the future.

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