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The #1 Cause of Abdominal Fat, Says Science

Trying to lose belly fat? Don’t do this according to experts.

While losing stubborn belly fat is something many people struggle with, it doesn't have to be. We may not be able to avoid packing on a few pounds, especially as we age, but there are ways to help prevent excess abdominal fat. "These are the  fat cells that matter most: visceral fat, the type of fat ensconced in your belly," says Zero Belly Diet author David Zinczenko. "These fat cells act like an invading army, increasing inflammation and putting you at risk for diabetes, Alzheimer's, arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. Visceral fat can also can alter your hormone levels, erode muscle tissue, increase your chances of depression, and destroy your sex drive. But you can turn the odds in your favor." Eat This, Not That! Health talked to experts who reveal the causes of abdominal fat and ways to get around adding so much extra weight.  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Get Plenty of Sleep


woman smiling while sleeping in her bed at home

Getting the right amount of sleep doesn't just feel good, it's healthy.  According to Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN, with Brown Sugar Nutrition, "A 2014 study found that people who slept less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours a day gained significantly more abdominal fat over a period of 6 years when compared to those who averaged 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Interestingly people who decided to increase their sleeping time from less than 6 hours to 7-8 hours a night gained less abdominal fat than the people who continued to sleep less than 6 hours a night. Another study, this time conducted only with minority participants (African Americans and Hispanic Americans) found that those who slept 6-7 hours a night gained less abdominal fat over 5 years compared to those who got less than 5 hours or more than 8 hours of sleep. Taking both of these studies together, getting in between 6-8 hours of sleep a night seems to be the sweet spot to reducing your risk of gaining abdominal fat.

While we don't know exactly how less sleep or excessive sleep increases abdominal fat, less sleep has been linked to eating more calories and getting in less physical activity, which are two behaviors that are also linked to increased abdominal fat. Not getting an ideal amount of sleep has also been linked with changes in levels of hormones like leptin (the hormone that signals you to stop eating) and cortisol (your body's main stress hormone), which may play a role in promoting abdominal fat as well."



Woman have her blood pressure checked by female doctor.

Another cause of abdominal fat is hormones. Jess Rose McDowell, certified fitness trainer and founder of KINETIC SWEAT® says, "belly fat, especially in the lower abdominal area, is caused by several different unhealthy outlets; however, the main three reasons are hormones, diet, and stress. Belly fat is one of the toughest areas to maintain, especially for women because we carry our "weight" in the abdominal area. Hormones can be difficult to control, and it is recommended to get routine thyroid and blood work done. It's best to meet with your doctor and follow their recommendations if there are any abnormalities."

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Smiling young woman having an unhealthy snack, she is taking a delicious pastry out of the fridge

It goes without saying sugar isn't good for you and it causes weight gain.

Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, Ph.D. from New Mexico State University explains, "Diet and lack of exercise are especially detrimental after the age of 40 and more so in men. We do not process sugars well with age and inflammation and insulin resistance add to the insult causing visceral fat. This type of fat results in premature mortality and number of comorbidities of heart and blood vessels."

McDowell adds, "diet is a huge factor! Consuming too many carbs and sugar will cause belly fat. Alcoholic beverages, high sugar foods, and gluten are common offenders."

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stressed woman

Stress can cause health issues, including abdominal fat, says McDowell. "If you're living a stressful lifestyle with little time to decompress, your body will hold onto the fat to produce energy that your body isn't producing naturally. Living a sedentary lifestyle can also exacerbate this."

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How to Prevent Belly Fat

Woman holding a slice of cucumber

There are several ways to help avoid abdominal fat. McDowell says, "to cut belly fat, incorporate cardio, resistance training, and a balanced diet of fiber, protein and vegetables with some grains. Also try to destress your life through sleep (that means at least 8 hours), meditation, getting outdoors, and hydrating (drinking at least 90 ounces or more a day)!" And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather