Paleo vs belly fat

by (15) Updated June 21, 2012 at 8:15 AM Created November 26, 2011 at 10:59 PM

I've been eating a paleo diet for the last 5 months. For the last month I have been 100% paleo. I do crossfit about 4-5 times a week. I'm 5'3 112 lbs. Although I don't need to lose weight, I have a stubborn belly fat that just won't seem to budge. It seems to more isolated around the belly button area. Help!!


  1. I usually have a small meal before xfit. Maybe an apple and some almonds. Oh and black coffee. Is it better not to eat? I will look into leangains and IF.

  2. My weight has been the same since I had kids. I have lost inches and gained muscle yet my weight has stayed the same. So if this seems to be a cortisol issue, how do I fix it? I have not heard of IF, but interested in hearing about it.

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16 Replies

12048 · November 26, 2011 at 11:07 PM

if you're doing xfit 4-5x a week, it may be a cortisol issue.:)) that will be the stock answer with the info you've given.

11664 · November 26, 2011 at 11:45 PM

I am an apple shape, so I tend to store fat around my belly too. In order for me to get rid of it, in the past I starved the rest of my body to an unhealthy, emaciated level. Great abs but my boobs looked like deflated ballons. My goal now is just to build the abs underneath, so the fat has a nice shape to cling to, and try to accept myself.

I do sense a tendency on this forum for people to address fat as a problem that needs hacking. Women have more fat on them than men do, that's something we need to accept. We are not all gonna have washboard abs. I mean, maybe I could, if I became a full-on athlete, but I guess I don't see that happening any time soon.

568 · November 27, 2011 at 6:41 PM

As others have said, lower ab fat is the "last to go"- so you'll need to keep losing fat on a systemic basis.

Everyone's bodies are different, so you'll need to experiment. Here are some methods I've found anecdotally effective and logically compelling. IMO, choose between 1 and 2, and incorporate 3-5 as much as you can. 6 is just an FYI.

These strategies are obviously within the context of a high quality paleo diet- I feel that processed foods promote body fat storage independent of their caloric value via their inflammatory (see Jaminet) and food reward (see Guyenet) effects.

Personally, I've found 2-4 to be most effective if already <15% BF, 1 and 3-4 is best if you're >15%*.

*Lifting: Also note, the points about cortisol and overtraining are valid. I've found 2-3 lifting sessions to be optimal for fat loss. 4+ precludes sufficient recovery.

1. Quilt's "Big Ass Breakfast" - 50+ protein for breakfast kills the appetite and amino acids rarely become fat. Tim Ferriss has also shown anecdotal support for this. Don't get too caught up in Quilt's theories on circadian rhythm, but feel free to geek out on it if you want.

2.Martin Berkhan's lean gains protocol. I've found fasting to be effective for fat loss only in the context of fasted lifting and its effects on MTor signalling. Fasting without lifting only seems to slow down my metabolism (less cal in, lass cal out, zero delta).

3.Maximizing NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) Stand and walk as much as possible during the day. Travis Culp has some good answers on this, and Quilt mentioned it in his most recent post. Seems to work even better fasted (search Culp's answers for why).

4. Carb/Fat cycling. Advocated by Jay Robb of protein powder fame (he's not paleo but the concept still holds). Berkhan also. I go mostly eggs, coconut and salmon on my fat days (dairy and nuts seem to be fat loss headwinds as discussed here often). Carb days I go sweet potato, eggs, steak/chicken, sometimes rice/plantains/white potato.

5.Coffee/Tea. Not a huge fan myself, but obviously a popular adjunct.

6.Water retention. People confuse fat with water quite often. Recognize that as carbs/sodium go up, water will be retained in concert. This isn't bad, but can dishearten if not recognized as such.

37013 · November 26, 2011 at 11:09 PM

The area around the navel is definitely the area that holds onto fat tenaciously. For females, of course, a little fat around the navel indicates fertility.

I'm assuming this is subcutaneous fat, rather than visceral, so it's more of a visual annoyance than a health concern. You're seeking the ideal which is much harder to achieve than just a "normal" weight.

As luckbastard said, this could be cortisol; it could also be that your system needs more time to adjust to this weight and give up more of your abdominal fat.

What helped me lose a bunch of waist-inches is IF--have you tried that yet?

20762 · November 27, 2011 at 1:36 AM

Crossfit 4-5 times a week is crazy high volume. Especially if it's main site like WODs. That much volume will not only cause cortisol issues but also will cause hepatic glycogen release and subsequent rises in insulin.

Try lowering the volume to 2 or maybe 3 times a week (3 if they're short; less than 10 min) and add some low volume, low intensity, heavy weight days. I bet in 4-6 weeks you'll notice a huge difference.

8848 · November 27, 2011 at 8:43 PM

5 months in is nothing. I'm not one to tell you to reduce your workout intensity. Experimenting with IF'ing is a great idea, in my opinion. If you're still doing Crossfit (even at a reduced frequency) and eating paleo two years from now, I suspect you will have made great strides.

4348 · November 27, 2011 at 5:34 AM

I agree with the cortisol comments & belly fat.
I have also read that high/excess estrogen can result in belly fat? or may be a high estrogen/progesterone ratio?

anyway you could experiment by limiting or avoiding estrogenic foods, common ones are (double check for yourself);
Soy-based foods, foods that are fried in or made with soybean oil, Beer (or hops in anything else), Licorice, Avoid foods highly laden with pesticides, Milk (i think?),

Tho, i'm guessing you're probably avoiding some/all of these already. Anyway google estrogenic foods for more info.

3621 · November 28, 2011 at 2:04 AM

I'm going with cortisol too. I lost nearly 3 inches around my waist, over about 4 months - without working-out or losing weight - by focusing on sleep quality. Only my waist (<<--@Daniel Kirsner).

I could be wrong about the reason it happened, but i reckon trying to reduce cortisol can only be beneficial, right? I've never been a big work-out person, but you might heed others' advice re cutting back there. I reduced caffeine, and forced myself to sleep at least 8hrs in complete darkness w/ white noise (fan). I don't have kids though...
Also, do you drink much? I tend to think drinking causes belly-fat, even w/o a calorie excess, b/c it messes with sleep.

0 · June 21, 2012 at 8:15 AM

Cinnamon and Magnolia both reduce cortisol, so does milk. I have used a supplement called Corticept (Magnolia and Banaba leaf) post-workout which seems to chill everything right out nicely. Coffee does NOT help cortisol levels and sleep loss is disastrous for it.

1371 · November 28, 2011 at 4:28 PM

dont concentrate on your belly, or losing 'belly fat'...it is impossible. you lose belly fat and bring out a six pack by enhancing other areas. work on building up your shoulders/chest and quads/ass...overtime it comes into place. and...youre a chick, slow down on the crossfit. i say dont do it at all but to each their own.

also agree with logically illogical. get your fat from salmon/avocados/eggs on rest days and consider cycling carbs.

and sleep.....a lot, make your rest days REAL rest days

15 · November 27, 2011 at 12:02 AM

I usually have a small meal before xfit. Maybe an apple and some almonds. Oh and black coffee. Is it better not to eat? I will look into leangains and IF. Thanks guys!

1111 · November 26, 2011 at 11:44 PM

1) Check out leangains.com for some different perspective that what is most commonly spread around here. Perspective is always good.

2) Do you do crossfit before the first meal of the day? It might skyrocket cortisol levels, like someone mentioned earlier, causing a weight gain /reduced weight loss.

3) Kcal does matter like Matt says, but does not show the whole picture like White Dolemite comments on. Leangains is very strict on the kcal, and the clients he has worked with are crazy lean. It can be worth a thought.

15 · November 26, 2011 at 11:27 PM

My weight has been the same since I had kids. I have lost inches and gained muscle yet my weight has stayed the same. So if this seems to be a cortisol issue, how do I fix it? I have not heard of IF, but interested in hearing about it.

1090 · November 28, 2011 at 12:14 AM

Reward Theory. By Stephan Guyenet. Read it and Do It. I think it'll work big time if you're motivated, no counting calories. keep up the hard work and exercise, focus on food as fuel not gourmet entertainment.

40652 · November 26, 2011 at 11:23 PM

Too high bodyfat? Then you're eating too much and not expending enough calories daily. If you really want to lean out, look to what bodybuilders do. Cut calories, increase protein intake, get more activity in.

-4 · November 27, 2011 at 12:25 AM

Before you lose belly fat you must reduce your overall body percentage to get you a flat stomach then perform ab workouts to tone up your abdominals. You diet should include 30 percent of carbs, 30 percent of protein and 40 percent of fats. Try this and see how it helps you.

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