Are you seriously struggling with belly fat and looking for a real solution? Are you finding it especially difficult to flatten your tummy in spite of all your exercise efforts? While I’ll be the first to tell you that regular exercise is of the upmost importance for weight loss and long-term weight management, when it comes to reducing the presence of belly fat, exercise alone just won’t cut it.

Belly fat is a complex problem that’s linked to a variety of uncontrollable factors (genetics, gender, and stress) but what and how much you eat is by far one of the largest determinants. That said, in order to successfully lose belly fat, you first need to understand what exactly it is.

The Nitty-Gritty on Belly Fat

What’s generally referred to as “belly fat” is actually a mixture of two types of fat tissue housed in the abdominal region. The first type, known as subcutaneous fat, is situated just underneath the skin and directly in front of the abdominal muscles. Excess accumulation of subcutaneous fat typically manifests as unsightly folds of loose skin around the midsection (“muffin top”).

Now, I should point out that subcutaneous fat accumulation isn’t at all unique to the midsection, as this type of fat is widely distributed throughout the body and most often results from a lack of consistent cardiovascular (cardio) and resistance exercise.

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The second type is visceral fat, which is located behind the abdominal muscles where it surrounds the body’s internal organs. Unlike the subcutaneous kind, visceral fat is unique to the abdominal region and therefore accurately represents true “belly fat”. When visceral fat accumulates in excessive amounts the abdominal muscles tend to protrude or bulge, which manifests as a “beer belly” or “gut”.

Moreover, vanity aside, it is an excess of visceral fat that’s linked to many of the health problems commonly associated with obesity including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes making this fat an important target for weight loss.

The Role of Exercise in Reducing Belly Fat

Unbeknownst to many, exercise plays a minor role in the overall presence of visceral fat, the “real” belly fat. While it might sound unbelievable, it’s true. This doesn’t mean that exercise isn’t effective at burning fat, as regularly performing cardio with resistance training or high-intensity intervals will surely lead to weight loss and, ultimately, a slimmer waistline.

The issue is that exercise alone generally targets subcutaneous fat distributed throughout the entire body with little focus on the bulging protrusion associated with visceral fat accumulation.

If you’re like many folks, you may think that centering your workouts on abdominal activity will help. Not true at all as it isn’t possible to spot-reduce fat in one area. Plus, given that belly fat is actually “fat”, choosing to perform 100-plus crunches a day or invest in ‘ab lounges’, ‘ab rowers’, and ‘ab rockers’, in order to develop muscles sandwiched between layers and layers of fat tissue is truly an utter waste of time.

While a well-rounded exercise program complete with cardio and resistance training is critical for fat loss, it’s less than half the battle when it comes to successfully losing the pooch.

The Net-Net

Given the predominance of visceral fat in the belly fat dilemma, it’s important that your exercise efforts, targeted at subcutaneous fat, are always coupled with healthy and strategic eating habits. Without both your ambitions for a flat tummy will continue to elude you. Although it’s not possible to spot reduce fat in one area, certain foods effectively inhibit visceral fat accumulation in the midsection while others help to increase the rate at which previously stored visceral fat is mobilized and used for energy.