Can’t lose body fat? – finding your happy place could be the answer

A very common theme we hear at Beyond so here’s hoping this insight can help you understand a little more about losing body fat.

So you participate in fitness classes at least three days per week, keep active on the other days, and think you’ve got your nutrition ‘on point’, yet you can’t seem to shift that excess body fat (or it’s happening all too slowly).  While calories in vs calories out may be an adequate model for some of us, there are other factors that come in to play when signaling our bodies to burn fat and these may need to be addressed if all the ‘right’ things don’t seem to be getting the results you expected.

Do you need to consider the following three factors that could be the answer to all your questions?

1. Stress

The link between stress and fat gain/retention is being increasingly confirmed in scientific research and it’s now identified to be one of the main reasons people can’t lose fat.  Whether the cause is a demanding job, stressful home life or over-training, when the body is in a state of stress it will start pumping out the stress-hormone adrenalin.  When adrenalin is high, our blood supply is diverted away from processes such as digestion to the muscles and causes the body to use glucose instead of body fat for fuel.  If the stress is prolonged the body starts to produce a second stress hormone, cortisol, which breaks down lean muscle and subsequently slows down your metabolism (Weaver, 2016).


Tips: Don’t let it be your excuse! Identify the stressor and address the root cause of the stress.  It may be learning to say ‘No’ to additional work, making time for those things you enjoy and de-stress you, or switching to a lower intensity Pilates/Yoga class into your weekly workout schedule which can help you relax.  Something really important to know is if your body is already in a highly stressed state, adding more high-intensity exercise in an attempt to shift that stubborn fat may be more detrimental than beneficial by elevating adrenalin and cortisol further, so balance is the key! Diaphragmatic breathing (deep into the belly) is also a great way to lower stress levels throughout the day or at night before you head to sleep. Try inhaling (belly expanding) for 4 seconds and exhaling (belly deflating) for 8 seconds.


2. Sex Hormones

Sex hormone imbalances are a common cause of stubborn fat.  Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are the main culprits here.  Estrogen dominance causes weight gain and retention in both males and females though it is more commonly associated with females due to females having much higher levels in their bodies.


Estrogen peaks for females right before their period, this leads to fluid retention (which explains that extra 3kg on the scale around THAT time). For females, progesterone is the golden goose hormone that acts as an anti-anxiety, anti-depressing agent, is a diuretic (allowing us to eliminate excess fluid) and allows us to burn body fat as an energy source.  This hormone is produced by the adrenal glands which also produces the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol.  With the stressful pace of life many of us have, the fine balance between estrogen and progesterone can become easily disturbed.  This causes PMS in females – bloating, fluid retention, sore and swollen breasts, skin break-outs and mood swings are all symptoms associated with estrogen dominance (Libby, 2016).


In men, excess estrogen can cause loss of body hair, a “beer belly” and “man boobs”.  Low testosterone can accelerate aging in men, causing them to gain muscle and lose fat, lower sex drive, bring on fatigue and mental fogginess, and create bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis (Hyman, 2016).  Lack of exercise, alcohol, stress, environmental toxins or pituitary problems can lower testosterone.


Tips: Eat a hormone balancing diet.  General principles here are low sugar, high fiber (helps balance hormones by reducing Cortisol levels and eliminating excess estrogens).  Buying and eating foods as close to their natural state as possible with minimal processing means less added artificial nasties that contribute to estrogen dominance and hormone imbalance.  Hydration is another key factor to maintaining hormone balance as it assists the kidneys and urinary in working optimally to carry out their blood filtration and detoxification work (Weaver, 2013).


3. Emotions and motivation levels

Maybe your fitness and nutrition journey looks like a bit of a rollercoaster track. Here is an example: you progress nicely for a while following your exercise and wellness programme to a tee, you know your ‘Why’ for doing it and you are going hard to achieve that goal.  You may even be seeing great results initially which is keeping the motivation levels high.  Then you have a hectic week at work; after work meetings cause you to cancel your usual evening classes, you get home late buying take-out and pair it with a glass of wine to de-stress.  Afterwards, you find yourself feeling like a failure for “slipping up”, you go to bed late and sleep in the next morning missing the usual morning run.  This turns into a cycle for a few days of negative self-talk and low self-esteem causing you to further indulge in the contents of the fridge to numb the negative feelings.  From here one of two things happen, you either let the cycle continue or once circumstances settle you get back to making nourishing choices until the next curve-ball hits and the negative cycle starts again if you haven’t identified how to manage your emotions differently.


Tips: No matter your best intentions and motivation levels, there will be times when life throws you curve-balls to your planned routines and you’ll find yourself making choices that aren’t the most beneficial for your body.  The key thing to remember here is not to beat yourself up about it.  Be kind to yourself and don’t dwell on what you consider to be your mistakes, you haven’t compromised everything by having a few days, or even a week off.  Refocus on your goal and what needs to be done going forward to get there.  If you do find yourself regularly turning to the fridge for comfort then it could be beneficial to try mindfulness practices to help you identify those feelings, acknowledge that in themselves they can’t hurt you and will eventually go away, but binging on food can if it continues by inhibiting your fat loss efforts (Weaver, 2016).



Hyman, M. (2016).  How to fix your hormones and lose weight. Retrieved from:

Weaver, L. (2016).  Five reasons you’re not losing weight. Retrieved from:

Weaver, L.  (2013).  A holistic approach to hormones by Dr Libby. Retrieved from: