You are not prioritizing protein in your meals
Did you know that your body requires the most energy to break down protein compared to the carbohydrates and fats? Basically, your body will use a whopping 20-30% of the calories found in protein sources JUST to metabolize it. For example, if you eat 100 calories worth of a chicken breast, your body will use up to 30 calories just to digest the protein found in it! I don’t know about you, but if no extra exercise is required to burn these calories, I’ll take the freebie!
In comparison, carbs only use up 5-10% of the energy found in the food for digestion, and fats require a measly 3% of the energy found in the food for digestion. This is super important as I’m sure you would rather the calories you eat go towards important process, like digestion, instead of ending up in excess on places like your thighs or lower belly! This concept is called the “thermic effect of food”, and is really important to consider when making food choices. Bottom line – all calories are not created equal (i.e. don’t eat a “low calorie” diet full of processed carbs/garbage and expect good results)! You’ll get more bang for your buck if you choose high protein foods more often. It’s also important to note that protein is the most satiating macronutrient, especially when combined with healthy fats and fiber. Next time you’re deciding on a meal, try choosing something like a chicken salad with avocado instead of a pasta dish.
You are over-stressed
Stress and belly fat is definitely a thing. Long term stress causes a variety of issues, one of which is your body being in a constant state of “fight of flight”. In this situation, cortisol levels peak, triggering an increase in blood sugar so that you have the energy and fuel to either 1) lay the smack down on your enemy, OR 2) get your ass out of the situation (my personal preference lol). However, over the long term, these elevated blood sugars over accumulate and ultimately store as fat – particularly on your gut (how lovely). Unfortunately, the most common stressors we face in this day and age do not force us to burn off extra sugars through actually running or fighting. Sadly, having a meltdown on the bathroom floor at your workplace does not burn many calories 🙁 It’s our body’s cruel way of adding insult to injury… *sigh*
Another hormone that comes into play is ghrelin, our “hunger” hormone. Remember that famous line from Austin Powers, so eloquently spoken by Fat Bastard: “I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat”. It is actually a real issue! High stress levels and negative emotions can lead to spikes in ghrelin, which send additional hunger signals to our brain and ultimately cause us to stuff our faces. I know it’s not easy, but finding ways to reduce your stress load is crucial. Try meditation, going for a walk, OR, addressing the next point…
You are not getting enough sleep
Get some sleep! Studies show that even dipping only thirty minutes below your sleep requirement in a night can increase your risk of weight gain and diabetes. One of the main culprits is the impact of sleep deprivation on our hormone levels. It’s pretty simple. When you’re tired, hunger hormones skyrocket, satiety hormones plummet, and your willpower goes down the toilet. I don’t know about you, but that is the perfect recipe for me to make some very bad food choices. Ultimately, sleep deprivation easily leads to overeating, sloth-like behaviour, and skipped workouts. Not to mention that fact that if you DO make it to the gym, you’re more likely to get injured since sleep is absolutely crucial to your body’s repair and recovery process.
You don’t have the body fat to lose!
Despite what you may see on TV and social media, women NEED some body fat! Generally speaking, a “healthy” and acceptable range for women is between 25-32% body fat, and “fit” women sit at about 21-24%. That being said, for many people, the coveted four pack and “thigh gaps” often don’t start showing until well below that 20% mark. For a lot of women, this is well below the healthy body fat range that their body needs to be functioning at its best. It is definitely true that some lucky people sit below “healthy” body fat ranges and naturally look ripped with seemingly no effort at all, but this is a small percentage of the population. For most people, insanely low body fat levels are NOT a priority for your body as it is more concerned with keeping you alive. Just like it is smart to have emergency funds for a rainy day, the extra meat on your butt and thighs is your body’s reserve fund. So be kind to your reserve fund, and allow for at least a bit of cushion for a rainy day 😉