Answer – My experience as a personal trainer and as someone who has lost and maintained a 90 pound weight loss for 7 years is that this is more simple than you realize…but not necessarily easy.
Diet: the more carbohydrates you eat and the more often you eat them, the less fat your body can remove. It’s not just about total calories! Insulin increases when you eat carbs (grains, sweeteners, fruits, veggies), and the presence of insulin blocks the activity of hormones that utilize fat. Insulin is the storage hormone and will be storing and building while it is present. Reduce insulin as much as possible by reducing carbs as much as possible.
Sleep: 8+ hours a night and as many before midnight as you can. Sleep is when your build repairs and removes. During sleep your body is NOT resting. It is very active doing things it can’t do when you’re awake. Your hormones NEED this time. Less sleep means more cortisol and adrenaline which increase hunger and fat storage. More sleep means less inflammation and removal of waste. If you have belly fat and are doing everything else right, likely it’s cortisol in relation to a lack of sleep. Or cortisol in relation to stress…
Stress: Stress is necessary for growth. It’s what motivates you mentally and builds muscle physically. But you want acute not chronic stress. Stress breaks down and you must have time to rebuild and grow. As I say to my clients: I’m not building your muscle with these work outs; I’m breaking it down. You build it when you go home and especially when you sleep.
Exercise: this helps not with burning calories but with stimulating hGH and making your muscles more insulin sensitive. It also helps with mood and motivation. Sounds like you got this part, so focus on the others. Don’t overdo this or you’ll stimulate more cortisol, more breaking down, and not enough building and repair.