The Big Dangers of Belly Fat

Elizabeth Millard
by Elizabeth Millard
Share it:
The Big Dangers of Belly Fat

Many people want to whittle their midsections to look better and fit into that next-size-down pair of pants. But reducing belly fat brings many more benefits than just aesthetics — you could be significantly reducing your health risks.

Although getting to, and maintaining, a healthy weight is important for a number of reasons, belly fat reduction is particularly crucial.

BELLY FAT CULPRITS

The major contributor causing your belly to get more abundant than you’d like is what you eat, says Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Sugary food, including highly processed fare, can cause a blood-sugar spike that triggers an insulin release throughout the body. Over time, that creates the need for this energy to get stored if it’s not used — and the body’s favorite storage area is the belly.

Fat around your midsection can also get stored due to high levels of cortisol, the hormone responsible for your stress response. Getting too little sleep or feeling overwhelmed and stressed on a daily basis can keep cortisol elevated, leading to increased fat storage as a way for the body to be ready to handle threats. But when those threats don’t lead to usage of those energy packs, it continues to get stored long-term.

Keep in mind, belly fat is different from bloating, although you can deal with both. Bloating often comes and goes and has been linked to causes like food sensitivities, dehydration, ramping up fiber too quickly and digestive issues related to gut health. For example, you might have a “food baby” in the evening after dinner, and then a more normal-for-you stomach in the morning.

By contrast, belly fat tends to stay fairly constant, increasing and decreasing at a much slower pace, based on lifestyle factors like eating habits, stress and sleep.

DANGERS OF BELLY FAT

Even if you’re relatively slender throughout most of your body, having excess belly fat can still cause health risks. That’s because fat cells aren’t just benign entities packed together, they actually generate adipose hormones and adipokines, says Dr. Ludwig.

These chemicals increase the amount of inflammation in the body, and that’s been linked to serious health problems like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. It has also been suggested that more belly fat can increase your chances of getting non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome.

Abdominal fat isn’t just a “spare tire” either. This type of fat is called visceral fat, which means that it’s not just under the skin, but is lodged deep inside around organs like the liver.

“Visceral fat is the fulcrum on which your health teeters,” notes Dr. Robert Lustig, a neuroendocrinologist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “This is the type of fat that doctors care about, because it’s visceral fat that kills you.”

WHITTLE THE MIDDLE

As many people have found, getting rid of belly fat can be a daunting endeavor. There’s a reason most fitness magazines — and even many non-fitness publications — constantly tout strategies for “flat abs.” Spot-reduction techniques don’t tend to work, though, so you can’t do a zillion crunches and expect your belly fat to melt away.

Fortunately, there are some strategies that can get you on the right track. The best starting point, according to Dr. Ludwig, is to focus on your plate.

“The big problem is refined carbohydrates, which raise insulin levels the most,” he says. “Insulin is the ultimate fat cell fertilizer, that’s just endocrinology 101. So, the solution is not cutting back calories, which doesn’t change the dynamic, it’s to change what you’re eating.”

Choices like vegetables are slow-acting carbs, thanks to the amount of fiber they contain, and they don’t have the same insulin-spiking effect on the body.

Also, lowering cortisol levels through better sleep habits and frequent de-stressing can also be helpful, adds Dr. Filomena Trindade, of the Institute for Functional Medicine. Not only can that contribute to reducing belly fat, but it also leads to better immunity and hormone function, she says.

With a focus on tactics like consuming less sugar and getting more sleep, you can have a beneficial effect on how your belly looks — but most important, you can reduce major health risks long into the future.

About the Author

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth is a freelance journalist specializing in health and fitness. She’s also an organic farmer, yoga teacher, obstacle course aficionado and 5K junkie. Her work has appeared in SELF, Men’s Health, CNN, and other publications.

Related

13 responses to “The Big Dangers of Belly Fat”

  1. Ava says:

    The post is very informative. It is require to aware of the belly fat issues. This post became useful for me to open my eyes. Thank you so much for this fabulous artical.

    • David Claude Warlick says:

      Thank you, Ava, for your sultry icon. I think you are indeed aware of your low belly fat. Will I too get paid for my post?

  2. Brenda says:

    This isn’t much help if you’re pear shaped, your fat is mostly subcutaneous and you don’t want to lose weight.

  3. Bill says:

    I have done this for many years! Thin in all areas except for my “beer” belly (I do not drink alcohol). My diet is high in vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes. I am not vegan but eat much less red meat than when I was younger (now 70 y.o.). I am about ready to “throw in the towel” and accept that “it is what it is.”

    • David Claude Warlick says:

      I got it the 1st time.

      • cattail722 says:

        Maybe Bill didn’t see it posted so he tried again. Geez, give him a break.

        • David Claude Warlick says:

          I’m just saying that hitting “post” twice is redundant. Turning your car key twice in the ignition is unnecessary too (if you have a key). I don’t even think posting twice is possible unless one hits Ctrl-C before “post” and then Ctrl-V after “post.”

          • cattail722 says:

            Well, I guess if it makes you feel better about yourself to point it out, then good for you. We get it, you’re perfect and never make mistakes.

          • lookingahead says:

            Apparently DCW never has any problems with his ISP either.

  4. Bill says:

    I have done this for many years! Thin in all areas except for my “beer” belly (I do not drink alcohol). My diet is high in vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes. I am not vegan but eat much less red meat than when I was younger (now 70 y.o.). I am about ready to “throw in the towel” and accept that “it is what it is.”//

    • David Claude Warlick says:

      Same approximate age, same gender (based on your name), and same diet here, Bill. I’ve found that achieving 10,000 steps/day with high intensity (eg, walk/run at more than 5 MPH for 60 minutes) or 20,000 steps/day with low intensity (eg, walk at more than 3.5 MPH for 85 minutes) can stabilize my weight. It does not reduce my belt size. I’m looking for a metric that correlates with healthy belly fat, such as 15% body fat is generally sufficient. Just give me a number. I didn’t see a useful metric or rubric in this article for defining “healthy” belly fat.

  5. BriBlessed79 says:

    “Getting more sleep…” what if that is not currently an option? #mommylife

  6. Kathy Harrison says:

    All unused calories revert to increased weight. To say “…the solution is not cutting back calories, which doesn’t change the dynamic, it’s to change what you’re eating.” is complete rubbish. Increase your caloric deficit to lose weight. Whether that’s a special diet you’re excited about, or a bunch of behavioral modifications you’ve found works for you, plus some exercise of your choice, that’s it. It’s not complicated unless you have a metabolic disorder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Never Miss a Post!

Turn on MyFitnessPal desktop notifications and stay up to date on the latest health and fitness advice.

Great!

Click the 'Allow' Button Above

Awesome!

You're all set.