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If Your Body Looks Like This, You May Have Too Much Visceral Fat

It’s time to practice girth control.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Is your belly fat starting to feel uncomfortable, even if you're otherwise in shape? Visceral fat doesn't only affect people who are overweight—it's possible to have a "beer belly" no matter what your physique. "As your waistline expands, so does your risk of cardiovascular disease," explains Dr. Osama Hamdy, medical director of the Obesity Clinical Program at Harvard-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Center. A waistline of 40 inches or more for a man or 35 inches or more for a woman puts you in the visceral fat danger zone. Here are five ways to get rid of that extra belly fat—fast. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Try Intermittent Fasting


Intermittent fasting, or time-restricted eating, can help decrease visceral fat. Studies show eating within an earlier window (for example, 7am-3pm) is beneficial. "The brain works together with the other organ systems to coordinate body processes such as hormone production and we manage food intake better when these systems are in line," says Felicia Steger, PhD, RD. "Many Americans eat their largest meals at dinner so we are forcing the organs in our gastrointestinal system (such as our liver) to do the most amount of work as our brain is preparing to shut down for the evening to sleep. Early time-restricted feeding aims to align these rhythms."


Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

older couple sleeping peacefully

How did you sleep last night? If you get less than seven hours of good quality sleep, it can impact your belly fat. "Our findings show that shortened sleep, even in young, healthy and relatively lean subjects, is associated with an increase in calorie intake, a very small increase in weight, and a significant increase in fat accumulation inside the belly," says Virend Somers, MD, PhD, the Alice Sheets Marriott Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine. "Normally, fat is preferentially deposited subcutaneously or under the skin. However, the inadequate sleep appears to redirect fat to the more dangerous visceral compartment."



Coffee and Sugar Main Picture

Excess sugar is linked to dangerous abdominal fat—so stick to the American Heart Association's daily recommendations of no more than 25 grams of added sugar for women and 38 grams for men. "Excess sugar, especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup, may be contributing to worsening health in many people," says endocrinologist Rekha B. Kumar, MD. "Consuming excess sugar leads to a condition called insulin resistance, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, a fatty liver, and cardiovascular disease. Insulin is responsible for the body's absorption of glucose — or sugar — for energy. Those with insulin resistance experience a buildup of glucose in the blood. Soon the body does not respond to insulin as well, and the sugar level in the blood stays higher, which leads to diabetes. Over time, diabetes can lead to nerve damage, vision loss, clogged veins and arteries — perhaps leading to amputations — and kidney failure."


Keep Moving

middle-aged woman jogging in winter in a close up low angle view against a sunny blue sky in a healthy active lifestyle

Sitting all day is incredibly unhealthy and can lead to an increase in dangerous visceral fat. "A body at rest can lead to serious health problems like obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even heart disease and stroke," says Dr. Kumar. "It is not a surprise that many of the medical conditions that we see in people who sit for prolonged periods of time are similar to what we see in patients who have obesity-related diabetes, high cholesterol, arthritis, joint pain, and high blood pressure. Sitting does not cause these diseases, but prolonged sitting means less time moving and less work for our muscles, which has implications of how we metabolize nutrients."


Cortisol and Belly Fat

stressed out woman

Stress can lead to an increase in belly fat, experts warn. "Women with greater abdominal fat had more negative moods and higher levels of life stress," says Elissa S. Epel, PhD. "Greater exposure to life stress or psychological vulnerability to stress may explain their enhanced cortisol reactivity. In turn, their cortisol exposure may have led them to accumulate greater abdominal fat… Everyone is exposed to stress, but some people may secrete more cortisol than others, and may secrete cortisol each time they face the same stressor. We predicted that reacting to the same stressors consistently by secreting cortisol would be related to greater visceral fat."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan