Skip to content

Habits Secretly Increasing Your Abdominal Fat, Say Physicians

Here is what’s causing excess belly fat, according to doctors.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

All fat is not created equal—and abdominal fat is the most dangerous. Also known as visceral fat, this particular fat is stored deep under the muscle in your abdomen, surrounding vital organs such as the liver and intestines. Unlike subcutaneous fat (for example, the fat in your thighs), abdominal fat is hidden—it's possible to be slender and still have dangerous belly fat. "Although obesity rates in the United States have stabilized somewhat in recent years after decades of increase, belly fat is becoming more common among U.S. adults," says James de Lemos, M.D. "Two people who weigh the same could have dramatically different risks of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes, depending on where fat is deposited in their bodies." Here are five habits secretly increasing your visceral fat. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Poor Sleep Is Giving You a Pot Belly

Woman awakened lying in bed with her eyes open.

Not getting enough sleep does more than make you grouchy the next day—it also encourages fat to build up around the organs in your abdomen. One study showed a clear link between getting less than five hours of sleep a night and increased belly fat. "We put a lot of stock in diet," says Kristen G. Hairston, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism. "But this study brings up some interesting questions about the way we live. We may need to start looking at other behaviors — besides daily food choices — that could be contributing to the obesity epidemic in younger age groups."



Stress Is Increasing Your Visceral Fat


Stress is strongly linked to abdominal fat—even in otherwise slender people, research shows. "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," says Elissa S. Epel, Ph.D. "We predicted that reacting to the same stressors consistently by secreting cortisol would be related to greater visceral fat."

RELATED: The #1 Cause of High Insulin, According to Science


Constant Snacking


Constant snacking, especially with high-fat and high-sugar foods, is linked to an increase in belly fat. "American children consume up to 27% of calories from high-fat and high-sugar snacks," says Dr. Mireille Serlie with the Academic Medical Center Amsterdam. "Our study examines if high meal frequency, with snacking, compared to large meal consumption contributes to increased intrahepatic and abdominal fat… Our study provides the first evidence that eating more often, rather than consuming large meals, contributes to fatty liver independent of body weight gain. These findings suggest that by cutting down on snacking and encouraging three balanced meals each day over the long term may reduce the prevalence of NAFLD [non-alcoholic fatty liver disease]."

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Just Gave This Essential Virus Update


Yes, Beer Is Giving You a Beer Belly


Drinking too much alcohol is linked to an increase in visceral fat, both in terms of calories and of fat-burning. "Too many of any kind of calories, whether they're from alcohol or sugary foods or just from eating too much food, can increase belly fat," says Daniel Allan, MD. "Since an average beer can be more than 150 calories, it doesn't take long for the calories (and the belly) to build. Beer can also interfere with fat burn, because your liver will preferentially burn alcohol instead of fat when it is consumed."

RELATED: The #1 Sign Your Blood Pressure is "Way Too High"


Maintain a Healthy Weight To Fight Belly Fat


If you're overweight or obese, losing weight can make an impact on your visceral fat. "There is no magic formula. You must lose weight," says Dr. Allan. "It takes consistent attention to a balanced diet and appropriate portions, combined with regular physical activity. Drinking less or lower-calorie beer is a place to start for beer drinkers. Doing crunches, sit-ups or planks will not speed the process beyond just burning calories associated with that activity. Weight loss via physical activity for losing belly fat is most effective by combining both strength and cardio fitness programs. The good news is that when the weight does start to come off, you will likely notice it disappear in the midsection first, because visceral fat can be broken down quicker than other types of body 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