What to do when you’re gym routine isn’t burning off those stubborn love handles

You work hard at the gym, and it can be frustrating when all that exercise and effort isn’t providing the results you want – like melting away the fat around your midsection.

Part of the problem may be that you’ve gotten yourself into a routine that’s no longer working for you, causing your weight-loss goals to plateau. But there are ways to tackle this universal male issue, from obvious habit changes to more under-the-radar solutions, like planning an adventure getaway. Take a look.

Reduce your stress

Stress causes unwanted anxiety, sure, but it also can lead to other adverse health effects, including headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, and, yes, weight gain. In fact, elevated levels of stress hormones can make your body reluctant to release excess weight and may even lead it to store more. Figure in all that stress eating and you’re ballooning in no time.

Integrative health and nutrition consultant Devon Battaglia provides a few tips for stress reduction, like daily deep belly breathing for as little as five minutes.

“Stress management techniques such as daily deep belly breathing for even as little as five minutes can work wonders,” she says. “[as can] meditation, laughter, playing with our pets, and unplugging from all media.’

In other words, now’s the perfect time to turn off your phone and take the dog to the park.

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Cut out carb-heavy foods

We’re men; we love our pizza, wings, snacks, and beer. But you can’t go to the gym, make progress, then go home and ruin it all by diving face first into a Papa John’s and expect to see your waist slimming. At best, you’ll maintain the weight you’re at, but eventually those eating habits will catch up to you, no matter how much time you spend sweating it all out.

One of the biggest causes of belly fat is consuming carb-heavy foods,” says Dr. Catherine Metzgar, a nutritional biochemistry expert at Virta Health. “Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates in the body. For it to exist in your cells, it has to be surrounded by a barrier of water. The human body tightly controls blood sugar levels, so when you eat a carb-heavy meal, glucose gets transported into your cells and liver. Once there, it gets added to existing glycogen, which require more water and causes more ‘bloat.’”

To reduce water retention, and ultimately get rid of those love handles, Dr. Metzgar suggests addressing the primary cause of carbohydrate intake by eliminating processed carbohydrates and focusing on fruit and vegetable intake, lean protein and healthy fat. (But you already knew that.)

Track your progress properly

Hopping on the scale to see how many pounds you’ve lost or gain isn’t the best way to monitor your progress – not singularly, at least. According to Mary Weidner, co-founder of the training and nutrition app Strongr Fastr, you should take regular body measurements (torso, arms, legs, etc.) and weigh yourself every day at the same time of day, then look at long-term trends instead of focusing on the day-to-day changes.

“Sometimes people find their weight is staying the same while the size of their love handles are decreasing,” she says. “There are many things that go into one’s weight day-to-day and only long-term trends are important.”

Increase healthy fat consumption

It’s harder for men over 40 years old to lose belly fat because the metabolism begins to slow down, but the amount of food one eats continues the same – and the human body favors adding fat to the stomach area before any other body part.

“This is why you’ll often see men with big stomachs but tiny legs,” quips Anthony Treas, a men’s health and brain performance coach.

To lose body fat, he suggests increases healthy fat consumption, which includes nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, and avocados.

“Healthy fats added to one’s diet will help the body to burn the fat that is already within the body,” he adds.

Try Fitpacking

Backpacking is a great way to trim your love handles, and adventure company Fitpacking provides half-week to 14-day trekking experiences for people who want to lose weight while spending time exploring the United States’ national parks and nature preserves. You’ll burn fat during the multi-mile daily walkabouts as you carry your outdoor and camping necessities in your pack, plus you can only eat whatever you can carry. (Sorry, Doritos don’t travel well.) You’ll see results over the course of your expedition by monitoring the “overhang” on your pack’s belt. “By the end of your trip, you can gauge your progress by how much tighter you can cinch the belt,” says Fitpacking founder Steve Silberberg.

Switch it up and go harder

Eliminating or at least slimming those love handles isn’t easy, but if you’ve plateaued at the gym, it’s probably time to break out of your old routine, shake it up, and go harder.

Courtney Meidenbauer, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the state media representative for the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees.

“Typically for those who are established in their gym routine, I recommend trying a new activity or increasing the intensity,” she says. “If you find yourself doing a cardio activity, think of another cardio activity that is different from what you usually do. The change in activity can be a new challenge for our bodies, which can help kick-start weight loss again.”

Also, be cautious of activities outside of the gym time.

“You may be very ‘disciplined’ Monday through Friday, but come the weekend, those healthy behaviors may be out the window,” Meidenbauer adds. “Be cautious of the discretionary calories you allow yourself. Although everyone should allow indulgences, [monitor] the amount and frequency and how that may affect your weight loss goals.”

A few ways to stay on track throughout weekend is to first stop drinking your calories (something many men do to unravel their fitness progress). Allow yourself a couple drinks, but put the glass down before it’s classified as a binge. As for food, track what you’re eating – jot down the numbers if you have to; not every weekend meal should be 1,200-plus calories (which is very easy to do) – and read the labels for total carbs, grams of sugar, and protein so you can make more conscious, informed decisions about your health. You’ll make better choices when the consequences are staring you in the face.

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He splits his time between homes in New York City and the Jersey Shore with his dog Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.