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What Causes Belly Fat? (11 Major Causes That Get Overlooked)

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: March 8, 2022

Belly fat is a nuisance that not only makes your clothes feel tighter but also can lead to some serious health issues.

And although some people associate body weight gain with aging, many behind-the-scenes factors may contribute to an expansive waistline.

After hours of digging through journals and articles, I’ve gathered some useful information, as well as 11 things that can make you gain weight excessively.

Let's talk about them.

Quick Summary

  • Two types of belly fat can lead to serious health problems: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat [1].
  • The leading causes of excess belly fat accumulation are sugar and processed foods.
  • You need to do some cardio and avoid stress, alcohol, and fast foods to gain abdominal muscles.

Types of Belly Fat

man squeezing his stomach

All people have some degree of belly fat, even those with flat stomachs.

Belly fat comes in two types: one that lies under your skin(subcutaneous fat) and another that lies deep in your abdominal cavity (visceral fat).

Subcutaneous fat is soft and mostly hangs around your waistline.

Women naturally tend to have it in larger quantities than men.

However, too much subcutaneous fat can contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers [2]

Visceral fat surrounds your internal organs such as kidneys, pancreas, and liver and is often considered more harmful. Excess visceral fat is strongly linked to type 2 diabetes and liver disease.

11 Causes of Belly Fat

man being a couch potato and another man munching a burger

Here are some activities, foods, behaviors, and body conditions you can lower to prevent weight gain:

1. Sugary Foods and Beverages

People consume more added sugar in a day than they realize. Added sugar is found in baked goods, muffins, pastries, flavored yogurt, breakfast cereals, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), and other processed foods [3].

Since they're cheaper and easy to consume, Sugary beverages contribute the largest share of sugar intake. To ensure a balanced diet, consume sugary products moderately and opt for water, unsweetened drinks, or milk.

2. Poor Diet

Protein-rich foods enable people to feel fuller for longer, and they enhance muscle repair and growth, which contribute to weight loss due to higher metabolism and more calories getting burned.

If you don't include lean protein in your diet, you may eat more food, contributing to weight gain. So, try consuming food items such as lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, and lentils.

You can also cut your saturated fat intake by avoiding food items such as cookies and french fries and replacing them with low-calorie foods like broccoli, apples, and brown rice.

3. Trans Fats

fried food in a platter with sauces

Trans fats are the most notorious fats. Some trans fats occur naturally, but most are formed through the hydrogenation of unsaturated fats.

Researchers have found that they increase visceral fat in your abdomen [4].

Their medical advice is to get rid of trans fat in your food by using oils with polyunsaturated fats, avoiding fast and fried foods, and opting for meat with low trans fats such as chicken, lean pork, lean beef, or fish which is high in omega 3 essential fatty acids.

4. Lack of Physical Activity

Living a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of excessive weight gain. Unfortunately, 80% of adults don't engage in resistance training despite living sedentary lifestyles.

If you spend most of your days sitting behind a desk, you should engage in regular physical exercise and limit your sitting time to lower your health risks.

5. Alcohol

According to researchers, alcohol contributes to obesity or beer belly, especially among men. It contains about 43 calories per 100 grams [5].

Beer belly decreases as you shed abdominal fat. So after reducing your beer consumption, eat more healthily, count calories, and consume more vegetables for sustainable results.

6. Stress

mouth view of a person screaming

People who are more vulnerable to the effects of the stress hormone are more likely to gain excess fat around their abdominal organs.

Stress makes your body release cortisol, which can impact your metabolism.

If you eat more when you're stressed, the excess abdominal fat will remain around your abdomen for later use.

Exercise regularly, study relaxation techniques and assert yourself to handle your mental health well.

7. Menopause

Estrogen restrains body fat distribution in women around the hips and thighs in preparation for pregnancy. When menopause occurs, their estrogen levels drop drastically.

This means fat will now get stored in the belly rather than the hips and thighs. To shed menopausal fat, consider aerobic exercises like swimming, walking, biking, and running [6].

8. Genetics

Genetics can also influence where your body stores fat. If your family has a history of insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases, you may have a tendency to accumulate abdominal fat.

To combat belly fat caused by genetics – and overall disease control, try consuming protein- and fiber-rich diets and reduce calorie intake.

9. Poor Sleeping Habits

confused man on a pillow

If you get low-quality sleep of less than six to seven hours a day, you might gain excess body mass.

Sleep deprivation can also lead to unhealthy eating behaviors or emotional eating.

On the other hand, increased sleep duration can help improve your digestion and enable you to make better food choices.

It also prevents late-night snacking and allows you to burn more calories.

10. Gut Bacteria

Having a higher ratio of firmicutes bacteria to Bacteroidetes can lower the increased risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease [7].

You can take probiotics to help you reduce the amount of fat absorbed in your body and increase appetite-reducing hormones, which can help you burn calories and fat.

11. Smoking

Researchers have found that cigarette smoking increases abdominal obesity. It pushes fat into central areas, which leads to pot bellies and protruding tummies.

Their medical advice highly suggests quitting smoking to reduce your increased abdominal fat and the risk of getting diabetes. If you have diabetes, your blood sugar control might also increase.

Ways to Lose More Belly Fat

man and woman being active outdoors

If you want to lose abdominal fat fast, you must change your diet and other unhealthy habits.

“How you lose fat may be just as important as how much fat you lose,” - Dr. Samuel Klein, professor of medicine and nutritional science at Washington University School of Medicine.

Here are some things you can do to enhance weight loss:

  • Drink a lot of water
  • Reduce carbs
  • Get enough sleep
  • Increase protein intake
  • Take walks and crunch exercises
  • Rest for six to seven hours
  • Add fiber to your diet

FAQs

What Food Causes Increased Belly Fat in Females?

In women, the most common abdominal fat causes are fatty foods such as butter, cheese, and fatty meat. Eating excess calories of any kind can also increase your waistline and abdominal fat.

How Long Does It Take To Lose Belly Fat?

If you're keen on your diet and determined to lose weight, you can start to see results in two weeks. However, you must burn about 3500 calories to lose one pound. So, take that into account when optimizing your diet for faster results.

Final Thoughts on Causes of Belly Fat

Losing weight and excess belly fat can be difficult if you’re not consuming a healthy diet or living a healthy lifestyle. The most common causes of belly fat are sugary products, alcohol, trans fats, and lack of exercise.

To ensure even bodyweight distribution you should do aerobic exercise regularly and you can also use some stimulant-free fat burners that do not take a toll on your health.

However, our long-standing advice is that quitting smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating junk food is the best place to start your journey towards robust health.


References:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323309
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5522762/
  3. https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20160111/sugary-drinks-tied-to-increase-in-deep-belly-fat
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3551118/
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-get-rid-of-beer-belly
  6. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325386#menopause-and-weight
  7. https://theconversation.com/belly-fat-gut-bacteria-checks-could-lead-to-personalised-diets-120035

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