Can Low Carb Get Rid of Belly Fat?

2 Women Sitting on the Sand at the Beach Looking at the Waves
Need to get back into your bathing suit
or trim down before the holidays?
Here's what you need to know about belly fat.

Are you trying to use a low-carb diet to get rid of your last little bit of belly fat?

If so, you might be disappointed in the results.

Low carb works best for those who are insulin resistant, so in this post, I'm going to share the truth about belly fat and offer 5 steps to help you bust through your weight-loss stall.

I've been getting a lot of emails and blog comments lately from people who are trying to use a low-carb diet to get rid of belly fat.

Some of these individuals have 30 to 50 pounds to lose, but most of them are only 10 to 15 pounds overweight.

A few are normal weight or even underweight for their age and height but are still trying to use carbohydrate deprivation to shed stubborn fat pockets.

The alternative metabolic pathway uses fatty acids and ketones for fuel, with only a minimal amount of glucose, so you might think that reducing carbs will immediately cause your belly fat to dissolve.

Dissolving fat is what a low-carb diet was designed for, right?

And as such, it would be just as quick and easy to shed belly fat on low carb as it is to trim down your waist and hips.

If you've been listening to the testimonies of other low-carb dieters about the amount of weight they lost the first month, you might wonder if Atkins can get rid of that awful belly fat you have.

While it was Atkins dream to convert the world to the benefits of a low-carb diet and, thereby, reverse the obesity epidemic, low-carb diets come with specific limitations that are rarely discussed within low-carb circles.

Let me explain:

Pinterest Image: Woman Standing in a Snow Tunnel

What was a Low-Carb Diet Originally Designed to Do?

Dr. Atkins was deathly afraid of hunger.

He also had no willpower.

If he was waiting to eat in a restaurant where service was slow, he almost always asked for something to eat while he waited. He had no tolerance for hunger and was afraid of the discomfort that low-calorie dieting always demanded of him.

Hands Holding Up a Creative Heart in the Sunlight
Dr. Atkins was a cardiologist determined
to find a weight-loss diet that was healthy.

When he first started looking into the scientific dietary research available to him in the 60s, he had only one goal in mind:

Find a weight-loss diet that would allow him to shed his triple chin without going hungry or feeling deprived.

As a cardiologist, losing weight wasn't just about vanity, pleasing others, or improving the body image he had of himself. For Dr. Atkins, weight loss was about health and fitness.

He wanted to improve his quality of life, so he spent most of his free time searching the medical literature for a weight-loss diet that curbed hunger and was easy to stick to.

Since he wasn't trained in nutrition or metabolic science, he was open to new approaches, which allowed him to travel down odd metabolic paths that others didn't dare to go.

For example, Dr. Alfred W. Pennington believed that overweight was often caused by a metabolic defect that could be side-stepped by using a low-carb diet.

The metabolic defect idea didn't come from Dr. Atkins.

Prior studies on fasting had shown that hunger was eliminated after 48 hours, and the tests that Pennington ran on carbohydrate restriction resulted in the same freedom from hunger.

Even at 3,000 calories a day, participants in Pennington's test lost an average of 22 pounds in 3-1/2 months.

Skillet of Bacon and Fried Eggs
Dr. Walter Bloom's Bacon-and-Egg Diet
was the inspiration for Atkins Induction

However, it was the ketogenic diet created by Dr. Walter Lyons that really attracted Dr. Atkins.

This study was designed to observe the metabolic changes that occur on a zero-carb diet, and since Dr. Atkins was seeking for a method that eliminated hunger, he grew infatuated with Dr. Bloom's papers.

Bacon and eggs for breakfast with meat and salad for lunch and dinner was something Dr. Atkins thought he could do himself. And it worked very well.

Through personal experimentation, Atkins found he could snack on:
  • cheese
  • cold cuts
  • cold shrimp
  • cottage cheese
And have a filling salad with each meal. He also had ricotta cheese for dessert, doctored with sugar substitutes and a variety of flavorings.

With a zero-carb start, Dr. Atkins discovered that he could eat up to 40 carbs a day and still lose weight without being hungry, provided he added them very gradually. That meant he could have:
  • steamed vegetables
  • a few melon balls
  • whole strawberries smothered in whipped cream
  • or an occasional Scotch and water before dinner
None of these foods triggered his hunger. In fact, he purposely overate a bit because he was afraid of getting hungry.

Pat of Butter Sitting on Top of a Grilled Steak
Dr. Atkins was deathly afraid of getting hungry,
so he purposely overate throughout the day.

At the end of 6 weeks, Dr. Atkins had lost 28 pounds eating several small meals a day and stopped believing that a low-calorie diet was the only way to lose weight.

All of the additional benefits of moving to a low-carb lifestyle were discovered later on as Dr. Atkins monitored his patients' responses to this new diet plan.

While his was not the only low-carb diet to come forth at the time, Dr. Atkins plan was the only plan that purposely put you into ketosis and kept you there.

Other plans recommended 60 grams of carbohydrates per day, which Dr. Atkins believed would prevent you from going into ketosis. This is because at 60 carbs, only a few individuals will show ketones in the urine.

If you have high basal insulin levels, going very low carb (less than 50 grams a day) is the quickest way to correct that metabolic abnormality, but 60-gram diets do put you in ketosis and if you're not severely insulin resistant, will work to help you shed a lot of excess weight.

So What About Belly Fat?

In its basic form, a low-carb diet takes advantage of the alternative metabolic pathway.

A starvation response is triggered when your glycogen stores get too low. Since glycogen is used to keep your blood glucose level steady, the mind and body doesn't like it when there isn't plenty of stored carbohydrates to depend on.

At the same time, it's also highly protective of any fat reserves you might have.

For short-term carbohydrate shortages, the body turns to burning certain amino acids directly as fuel. It doesn't have to first convert them into glucose. It can burn them through oxidation or store them as glycogen.

If you aren't eating enough protein to cover that oxidation, the body will break down junk proteins and then move onto muscle tissue to get what it needs. If you are eating plenty of protein, the body will use the glucogenic amino acids to cover its glucose needs.

As carbohydrate shortages continue, the body won't want to keep burning muscle tissue to fuel the entire body, or you'd die within a few short weeks, so protein burning slows down and the body turns to its fat stores instead.

This process enables the formation of ketones to fuel the body, which can be excessive in the initial stages of a low-carb diet. But that depends on how much body fat you have stored.

If you're only trying to lose 10 or 15 pounds of belly fat, instead of 40 or 50 or even 100 pounds of whole-body fat, the fat burning will be much more conservative, even in the beginning.

Since there's no room for error at close-to-normal body-fat percentages, metabolic slowdown and shutting down of non-essential body systems will occur faster for you than for others.

In addition, amino acid oxidation will continue at a higher rate than for those with lots of body fat to spare, so your protein needs will be higher.

As the diet continues, muscles become insulin resistant.

Since they are no longer pulling glucose from the bloodstream, what little glucose is available on a low-carb diet can be saved for the parts of the brain that can only use glucose. At this point, the muscles begin to use fatty acids for their needs, instead of ketones, saving ketones for the brain.

Some experts believe that the last fat stored is the first fat to be used during a calorie deficit, and in my own personal experience, I've certainly found this to be true.

Even when I did a few weeks of HCG, a low-calorie, very low-fat, low-carb diet, my belly fat was saved for the very last. On HCG:
  • metabolism slowed way down
  • energy tanked
  • hair fell out
  • hunger went sky high
And at 8 weeks into the program, I had lost very little belly fat. Instead, the body took the fat it needed to survive from everywhere else first:
  • my face
  • across my back
  • my feet and ankles
  • my hands and wrists
Everywhere but my belly. Even after 8 weeks, although I'd gone from a size 14 to a size 12, I still looked like I was pregnant.

Here's the Hard Truth About Belly Fat

You can't target belly fat with diet or exercise!

The only way to trim your belly is to reduce your total body fat percentage, and if you only have a small amount of fat to lose, it doesn't matter which diet you choose to do the trimming.

There are no specific foods to eat or avoid that will speed up the process of getting rid of belly fat.

The name of the game is creating an energy deficit, and while most people think of energy deficits in terms of calories and exercise, the body has lots of ways to slow things down and make that deficit you create smaller than you think it is.

Losing belly fat is far more complex than just eating less and exercising more because the body can adapt to what you're doing at the cellular level, especially if it thinks you're starving.

Two BBQ Chicken Thighs and a Pile of Fresh Asparagus
The Closer You are to Goal Weight
The More Protein You Need While Dieting

Since the aim is to lose body fat, you have to make sure you're eating enough protein.

And the closer to goal you are, the more protein your body requires while dieting.

The body has many safe methods of getting the glucose it needs, but it doesn't have any safe options for getting essential amino acids.

If you don't feed your body what it needs to repair itself, your body will take active measures to protect your life, and that includes slowing down your metabolism and stuffing water into your fat cells to make it look like your low-carb diet isn't working.

If protein deficiency goes on long enough:
  • your hair will fade and fall out
  • wounds won't heal very quickly
  • immune system won't work correctly
  • antibodies can't be generously supplied
  • hormones can't be made
  • enzyme production will go down
  • lining of your gut will be stripped
  • fingernails won't grow
  • red blood cells will diminish
  • you'll lose a lot of strength
  • you'll experience pain in your neck, muscles, joints
You'll also suffer with anxiety, headaches, and water retention. If the body decides to strip your organs for protein, rather than your arms or legs, trying to get rid of that last little bit of belly fat can even be fatal.

This is the main reason why a PSMF Diet is predominantly protein foods and little else. The body can make do with fewer vegetables and no starches, but it cannot get along without enough essential fatty acids and essential amino acids, except on a very limited basis.

Rebuilding protein structures takes much longer than tearing them down, so if you continuously rob the body of the protein it needs for optimal performance, you're going to suffer in some form.

In fact, this is the whole basis behind aging.

On days when breakdown occurs faster than structures can be rebuilt, we age.

On the other hand, the most common way that stress manifests in the body is belly fat!

This is due to the release of cortisol and other stress hormones that initiate fat storage, so glycogen can be dumped into the bloodstream for quick energy. Fats floating around in the bloodstream, once cortisol goes up, are deposited in the belly section of the body.

If your life is one big stress party, with one stress overlapping another, your body will never have time to pull the fat back out of your belly and use it. This keeps the abdominal area inflamed and sets the stage for metabolic irregularities, especially if you have an apple-shape.

According to Harvard University, belly fat is largely visceral fat. Visceral fat affects your sensitivity to insulin, which means that strength training and weight lifting can be much more beneficial to belly fat removal than aerobics or cardio.

But improving insulin sensitivity by way of cutting down on carbs can also be helpful.

The bad news is that there is no way to rush the process.

The caloric deficit needed to carve off the last 10 pounds of belly fat can drive your calorie level down lower than what a typical low-carb dieter believes they need.

This often requires medical supervision, especially if you're short like me and need a diet with less than 1,000 calories a day to make it happen.

Two Men Cartoons Playing Chess
Losing Belly Fat is Like Playing Chess
Body Will Counteract Everything
You Do to Lose Weight

Even in the face of super-low calories, it can still take weeks or months to ditch the belly fat because the body is going to fight you every step of the way.

Like a game of chess, every move you make to disrupt energy equilibrium will bring a counter response by the body to try and correct the unbalance. This happens almost from the very first day you implement a calorie deficit.

What About Carb and Calorie Cycling? Or Fasting?

The low-carb community has tried a wide variety of tricks to keep from counting calories.

Some of the trends and fads have had good results, while others have more mixed reviews.

High-fat diets, for example, can trigger fat storage mode in some individuals and planned cheat days can backfire if you cheat with foods you're sensitive to.

In theory, keeping away from set patterns is a good idea.

Carb and calorie cycling mean you don't eat the exact same number of carbs and/or calories every single day, so the body doesn't see the low-calorie or low-carb days as threatening as it otherwise would. Leptin levels also seem to stay higher.

This is what I'm currently doing myself.
  • Some days I eat 40 carbs
  • Other days I eat 60 or 65
  • On a few days, I eat 100 or 120
This keeps me circling between a low-carb diet, a moderate-carb diet, and maintenance, so the body doesn't believe I'm caught in a famine situation.

I'm personally doing it this way due to the hyperthyroidism, so I don't know how good this tactic is for belly fat particularly, as I have no experience with that. Neither have I ever made it to a mere 10 to 15 pounds from goal.

However, some people have reported good results by using a diet program called Judd where calories are taken down to extremely low levels for one day and then you eat at maintenance for the next.

At least, that's how most of the people doing the program describe it.

When I put my stats into the Judd calculator, however, the Up Day was not anywhere close to maintenance calories for me, and the Down Day was only 300 calories.

This means I would be on a “diet” for the rest of my life.

I can't do that due to the celiac disease and Graves disease, but in essence, Judd is an every-other-day fasting approach that some people find remarkably effective. I'm just not tall enough to make it happen for me.

Intermittent fasting is still quite popular, as well. This approach requires you to eat within a certain window.

The most common is a 5 to 8 hour window, with people choosing to eat 1 or 2 meals a day instead of the 3 meals plus 2 snacks that the new Atkins 20 recommends.

If you evolve into this sort of sparse eating plan, due to your personal hunger patterns, it shouldn't really freak out the body. Hubby lost his job when I was in the weight-loss phase of a modified Atkins plan, and moving from 3 meals and snacks to just 2 meals didn't adversely affect on my weight loss at all.

I continued to drop weight at a reasonable speed.

But, I've heard of many people trying to force themselves to eat this way deliberately because they've heard that it's healthier.

Fasting and partial-fasting programs can set you up for a binge, due to the way that Leptin tanks rather quickly, so you need to really know yourself before you attempt to fast.

5 Steps to Help You Achieve Success!

In my own experience, a famine situation is a famine situation, and the body will always respond in an appropriate manner to save your life.

Despite what I want, I try to generate feelings of thankfulness for the ability to adapt. If the body didn't have that ability, I wouldn't be here today.

Regardless of how you believe your ancient ancestors might or might not have eaten, the body is very good at adaption. If it wasn't, the processed-foods industry would have killed us all a long time ago.

The problem with nutritional advice today is that people are always looking to blame their current situation on something that someone else did. This is why we have tons of blogs and diet plans that insist you try to imitate what your ancestors ate several centuries ago.

It's easier to blame the food industry and find justifications for eating a certain way than it is to just take charge of your inner emotional state.

These types of things work in theory, but not so well in practice.

People are used to eating a certain way, so they do everything they can to return to those old habits by using legal ingredients, even though their ancestors never ate coconut-flour cakes and breads.

There is nothing wrong with having almond-flour pancakes and wheat-protein tortillas, provided you aren't justifying your habits by lying to yourself about what you're doing and why you're doing it.

The real problem with the way people eat today is that the body's purposes and values might not be the same as yours, so if you're trying to force your will on the body, you're only asking for trouble further down the path.

Force isn't taking charge.

Force is an attempt to feel better about yourself by getting rid of what's bothering you.

Maybe, you're worried that the belly fat will never come off. Maybe, you're frustrated because you've been acting on suggestions that were presented to you by others, and they are not working out as you anticipated.

Maybe, you feel guilty because you believe you must be doing something wrong. And maybe, you're just feeling a little defiant because you don't want to count carbs and/or calories and resent not being like everyone else.

Mood is generated by how you perceive what's going on.

If you feel victimized by something you can't control, like too much belly fat, or you feel mistreated because the body isn't giving you what you want, right now, without having to do what's required to receive that blessing, you'll just create more misery for yourself.

The more you struggle against life, the more you resist what's going on, the less capable you are of seeing clearly enough to actually do something constructive about the situation.

Your gut instincts and body functions are hard wired to protect the species, and that's exactly what they do. Non-acceptance won't change that fact.

The body doesn't understand that belly fat is ugly and can be harmful. The body didn't read the same articles on the web that told you belly fat was harmful, like you did.

The body doesn't see itself as ugly. The body doesn't hate itself like you do. It's not influenced by anything outside of itself. It just does the appropriate thing for what you tell it by way of attitude or emotion.

And therein lies the key:

When you only have 10 to 15 pounds of belly fat to lose, the deficit required to make that happen requires that you become extremely aware of every single thing you put into your mouth. For some people, this means counting calories, as well as carbs, to make sure the body is always in a caloric deficit.

For others, it means to stop eating when you are not hungry. Stop eating to fit in. Stop eating for comfort when stressed. Stop eating when you don't feel well, hoping that food will make you feel better.

It won't.

You'll just feel guilty tomorrow and the belly fat will still be there.

You also have to be aware of every thought in your head, everything you feel, and how you react to people and things in your environment. If you make losing belly fat too important and stress out about it, that's enough to keep your mind creating it.


Because you're paying attention to it!

The mind acts on what your gut feelings tell it, and not always your words. Words can lie. They often come from habit and repetition, rather than purpose and will.

Words are influenced by what's suggested to you instead of what your heart actually wants.

When you say that you want your belly fat gone, but spend all day thinking about how to do that, running to and fro, and chasing every trick, every new method of getting rid of belly fat that you hear about, the mind doesn't act on it because you believe you know better than your body does as to how to bring it about.

Instead of struggling against yourself, or getting offended at what other people might think of you because you believe you still look fat, consider taking charge of your emotional state instead.

Since you have no clue how to mobilize your fat stores, you can focus on what you can do instead.

To take the initiative:

Step 1: Go back to basics.

Step 2: Look at Dr. Atkins diet above and compare it to what you're eating today. Look at other menus and food articles on this website and see if you're giving your body the nutrition it needs. If you're doing Nutritional Ketosis or some type of low-carb high-fat plan, rather than Atkins, watch a few of Dr. Phinney's videos and learn what to eat. Don't just take some blogger's word for what Nutritional Ketosis is and don't listen to the low-carb community. Go to the source.

Step 3: Cut out all of the modern-day crap, except for holidays and honest-to-goodness special occasions. Eat what the body needs to function appropriately almost all of the time. Nutritional stress will keep you fat.

Step 4: Start tracking your food intake whether you want to, or not.

Step 5: Look for little ways your body might be trying to influence you into being less active.

How to Increase Activity and Spot Subtle Differences

Activity isn't just about exercise. That should be consistent. What won't be consistent are little things like fidgeting or a change in your everyday routine.

Once you have a firm grip on your emotional state and have accepted your body's goal, you can purposely do things that will keep your energy output up.

Since the body's goal is to bring you back into energy balance, you have to stay one step ahead of it and keep aware of what you're doing different.

Look for subtle changes like waiting until tomorrow morning to do the dishes or conveniently forgetting to fold up the last batch of laundry you did today.

Maybe you were too tired to take out the trash or you decided to let the brakes on the car squeal at you for another week. Maybe you allowed yourself to get distracted while surfing the web and spent more time sitting in front of the computer than you ordinarily do.

Even sleeping in for an extra 15 minutes a day will lower your energy output for the week.

The body is subtle.

Most changes in food intake and activity will be unconsciously enacted.

Watch what you feel like cooking. Are you having urges to fix higher-calorie dishes than you did before you started dieting? Are you just giving into those urges without questioning where they came from or whether obeying them is to your advantage?

More energy coming in and less energy output won't always be obvious. You will have to do some digging.

At the same time, look for ways to become even more active than you already are. If you have the urge to jiggle your foot, go ahead and jiggle it! Rock in your chair while you're sitting in front of the computer. Who cares what you look like!

Get up during television commercials and pace through the house. It's okay to clean something that's already clean. Just because you washed the car yesterday, doesn't mean you can't wash it again today.

Get involved in a hobby or special interest.

Put your mind on something other than your belly fat.

Tell your mind that the belly fat has no value, do what you can, and then let the manifestation of what you want – go.

Stressing out about whether or not your low-carb diet is going to work or getting angry when life doesn't give in to your demands isn't going to change anything. You cannot control LIFE. You can't control how your body decides to use its fat stores or even if it will.

Worrying about whether Atkins can get rid of belly fat only makes your life more miserable.

Stop using low carb as just another diet.

Decide to get out there and LIVE the low-carb lifestyle instead!


  1. Thank you for your common sense advice. It is most refreshing to have someone that speaks plainly about the challenges of losing weight.

    1. You're welcome. Losing weight is definitely a difficult and often lengthy road to travel. It's taken me years to wrap my head around the necessity for lifestyle instead of dieting.


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