7 Sneaky Reasons Your Body is Holding on to Fat

Sometimes - through no fault of your own - the pudge just won't budge. These surprising culprits may be to blame. By Holly Corbett, REDBOOK.

Your thyroid is out of whack.
If the scale is creeping up, but your eating and exercise routine hasn't changed, it's a good idea to ask your doc for a TSH (or thyroid-stimulating hormone) test. Your thyroid hormones help regulate your metabolism, and in those with hypothyroidism, the body produces too little of them. Other symptoms include being tired all the time and hair loss. The good news is that you can work with your doctor to help get your thyroid - and metabolism - back on track, or begin taking a pill such as Synthroid.

You're feeling "blah."
Smile! Happiness may be a surprising weight-loss wonder. Worms given a boost of serotonin, a chemical linked to improved mood, cut their fat levels by up to 50 percent, finds a study in Cell Metabolism. "Serotonin signals the brain to speed up metabolism, which hinders fat storage in both worms and humans," says study author Kaveh Ashrafi, Ph.D., of the University California, San Francisco. Though there aren't any studies proving that serotonin alone can blast a significant amount of fat in humans, recent research indicates that stress triggers changes in metabolism that increases one's odds of obesity. A simple deep breath could do your body good.

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You eat carbs before you exercise.
If you work out regularly, but aren't seeing results, you may be using your sweat sessions to rationalize indulging in extra calories. (Think: I jogged for three miles so I can eat that brownie sundae). Or, you may be having the wrong kind of pre-workout snack - such as carb-heavy crackers. To improve exercise-induced fat loss, skip carbs two hours before a workout, says Dan Goldberg, a certified personal trainer at Fitness Forum Health Club in Fayetteville, NY. Those who did so before a 30-minute bike ride burned more fat than those who had a carb-rich snack, report researchers from the Technical University of Munich. Protein-rich foods with dairy, such as low-fat yogurt or a half-cup of chocolate milk, are better pre-exercise options.

You do extreme diets or fasts.
If you're fasting to try to melt fat faster, it could backfire by sending your body into starvation mode and slowing down your metabolism. "You're going to lose lots of water weight by fasting or doing a liquid-only diet, but you'll also lose muscle because you're depriving your body of essential nutrients such as protein," says Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, CSSD, also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That makes it harder to lose later because it leaves you with less muscle to burn extra calories and boost metabolism.

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You only do cardio.
Studies show that resistance training, such as lifting free weights, followed by a cardio session burns more fat than cardio alone. "For the average person, it's best to do cardio after weight-training because your muscles need fuel to for maximum lifting performance," says Goldberg. "If you deplete that fuel with aerobic exercise, you won't get as many fat-burning benefits from weight-training."

You wait too long to eat breakfast.
You may be in a mad rush to get out the door in the morning, but putting breakfast until 10 a.m. when you wake up at 7 only starts you off low on energy - and slows your metabolism. "The simple act of eating could raise your metabolic rate by as much as 10 percent," says Susan Kleiner, R.D., co-author of The Good Mood Diet and The Power Food Nutrition Plan. "You'll actually burn more calories by having breakfast first thing." To save time, make breakfasts that you can grab-and-go the night before: Try hard-boiling protein-packed eggs, or making smoothies to store in the fridge by blending a cup skim milk, 3 ice cubes, and 1 1/4 cup frozen strawberries or blackberries.

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You skimp on fish.
To lose that stubborn muffin top, try putting more fish on your dish. Astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant that gives salmon, shrimp, and other seafood its pink color, may boost fat burning and exercise endurance. In fact, mice who ran on a treadmill lasted 20 percent longer and burned about 7 percent more fat when taking an astaxanthin supplement compared to those who didn't, discovered researchers at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine in Japan. Experts speculate that it wards off oxidation in cells to increase endurance and fat burning. Aim to eat six ounces of wild salmon at least three times a week.

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