Belly fat causes more than embarrassment at the beach. The latest research has linked belly fat, also called visceral fat, to several serious health problems. In fact, belly fat is so harmful that doctors are now encouraging their patients to focus on dropping extra weight around the waistline instead of focusing on losing total body weight.
Not all fat is the same
Not all fat is the same! There are different types of body fat. Visceral or intra-abdominal fat is found deep beneath the muscle tissue in the abdominal cavity while subcutaneous fat sits directly beneath the skin. The visceral fat (“belly fat”) is the main culprit behind so many health issues:
- Belly fat causes heart disease. Extra visceral fat is exceptionally harmful because this belly fat causes increased risk for heart disease.
- Belly fat causes depression and mood disorders. Belly fat has also been associated with higher rates of depression.
- Belly fat causes low bone mineral density in women. Too much abdominal fat can have a damaging effect on bone health. In a study of premenopausal women, those who had more fat around their waistline were more likely to have low bone mineral density, a huge osteoporosis risk factor.
- Belly fat causes decreased bone strength in men. Obese men with a lot of visceral fat have significantly decreased bone strength compared to obese men with low visceral fat but a similar BMI (body mass index).
What causes belly fat and how do you get rid of it?
Now you know that belly fat causes poor health, but the real question is: What causes belly fat? And, more importantly, how do you get rid of it? Belly fat can be caused by a number of factors, but the two most common are:
1. Hormonal imbalances in both men and women
- Estrogen. After menopause occurs in women, decreased estrogen levels induce fat storage and increases the size of fatty tissues. Often, this extra fat is stored in the tummy.
- Testosterone. In men, decreased testosterone levels with aging causes loss of muscle tone and slows the metabolism rate, creating a pot belly.
- Androgen. Overproduction of androgen by the adrenal glands in both men and women can cause weight gain around the abdomen.
- Cortisol. Aside from increased androgen levels, adrenal gland dysfunction can also lead to high cortisol levels, the stress hormone. When a person is under chronic stress or is sleep deprived, the body compensates by releasing this hormone. Consistent, high cortisol levels equates to increased belly fat and food cravings. And in men, it further lowers testosterone levels.
To find out how to correct hormonal imbalances, read our articles:
- Estrogen: Osteoporosis Guidelines for Postmenopausal Women
- Testosterone: Men Over 40: Is Testosterone Replacement Therapy Right for You?
- Androgen and/or Cortisol: Surprising Causes of Depression: Why Even Your Doctor is Likely to Miss This One!
2. Poor diet
Eating certain foods has been proven to cause belly fat. To decrease the amount of fat stored around your tummy, you have to eliminate or decrease the consumption of these foods.
- Refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates are grains that have been processed by machinery. These foods are typically made from flour or milled corn and include white breads, chips, cookies, crackers, donuts, muffins and cereals.
- Sugar. Sugar both drives fat storage and makes the brain think you are hungry, setting up a vicious cycle. Furthermore, sugar is very addictive. A study in the journal, Obesity Research, noted that sugar cravings and withdrawal can be just as intense as morphine or nicotine withdrawal. Sugar is not only found in candies, pies and cakes, but it is also found in jellies, canned fruits, salad dressings and even so-called health foods such as yogurt and fruit juice.
- Foods and beverages with high fructose corn syrup. Consuming food or beverages (like sodas) that contain high fructose corn syrup can lead to weight gain and augmented fat deposition, especially fat around the abdomen.
- Fast food. Fast foods are typically cooked in unhealthy saturated oils such as corn oil. Consuming saturated fats both increases the amount of abdominal fat tissue and decreases muscle tissue.
The way to avoid eating these harmful foods is to learn to enjoy (even love) eating healthy foods. And it can happen more easily than you might suspect – the more you eat lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and regular servings of fish (omega-3 fatty acids), the more you will grow to love their taste as well as the way you look and feel after you eat them. It’s a process that reinforces itself the more you do it.
Share your experience
Have you gotten rid of your belly fat? Tell us how you did it in the comments section below.
This post originally appeared in 2013 and has been updated.