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Habits Secretly Increasing Your "Bad Belly Fat," Say Physicians

Doctor explains what bad habits are causing visceral fat. 

An expanding waistline isn't just uncomfortable, it can be deadly. Excess weight around the midsection is unhealthier than you think and here's why. While we all know about subcutaneous fat—the fat you can see and pinch, there's another kind of fat hiding deep in your belly called visceral fat. It surrounds your vital organs and is linked to some cancers, stroke, type 2 diabetes and more. "Visceral fat is one of the most dangerous kinds of fat in the body. Thankfully, there are ways to reduce its accumulation. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are two best ways to fight visceral fat," Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies tells Eat This, Not That! Health. There's several causes of visceral fat and Dr. Mitchell reveals what habits can increase visceral fat and how to help prevent it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why is Visceral Fat so Unhealthy?


Dr. Mitchell says, "Most people are familiar with the different types of fat that accumulate in the body. Subcutaneous fat lies beneath the skin and can be seen and felt when pinching an inch. Visceral fat, on the other hand, is much more dangerous. This type of fat surrounds organs and is often referred to as "hidden" or "internal" fat. Because it's not visible, many people don't realize they have it until it's too late. Visceral fat has been linked to various health problems, including heart disease, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. In addition, this type of fat releases inflammatory molecules that can damage cells and contribute to cancer development."


How Can You Tell if You Have Visceral Fat?

Woman looking in mirror

Dr. Mitchell explains, "Visceral fat is the type of fat that accumulates around your organs. It's different from subcutaneous fat, which is the type of fat that you can see and feel just beneath your skin. Visceral fat is often "hidden" or "abdominal" obesity because it's not always apparent that you have it. However, there are some telltale signs that you may be carrying too much visceral fat. If you have a large waist circumference, you likely have a high level of visceral fat. Men with a waist circumference of more than 40 inches and women with a waist circumference of more than 35 inches are considered at risk for developing health problems related to visceral fat. Another sign of visceral fat is a high body mass index (BMI). If your BMI is greater than 30, you likely have too much visceral fat. Excess visceral fat can lead to several health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. If you think you may be carrying too much visceral fat, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk."


Stop Eating Refined Carbs

white bread

Dr. Mitchell states, "Consuming too many refined carbs and sugars can lead to weight gain, increasing the amount of visceral fat in your body. Refined carbs are found in foods like white bread, pastries, and sugary drinks. They're quickly digested and absorbed into your bloodstream, raising your blood sugar levels. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance, which is a significant risk factor for visceral fat development."


Eating Processed Foods


"When you eat processed foods, your body has to work harder to break them down," says Dr. Mitchell. "This process can lead to increased visceral fat, the type of fat surrounding your organs. Visceral fat is hazardous because it can increase your risk for heart disease and diabetes. Eating processed foods can also cause weight gain, further contributing to increased visceral fat. Processed foods are often high in sugar and unhealthy fats, leading to increased calorie intake. When you consume more calories than you burn, your body stores the excess as fat. If you regularly eat processed foods, you're more likely to become obese, and obesity is a significant risk factor for developing heart disease and diabetes. Eating processed foods can also disrupt your body's natural hormone balance. For example, certain hormones, such as insulin, promote fat storage. If you eat too many processed foods, your body may produce more of these hormones, increasing visceral fat. Making healthier food choices is the best way to reduce your risk of developing health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Eating whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, helps keep your calorie intake in check and prevents it."


Drinking Sugary Beverages


"There's no denying that sugary drinks are delicious," Dr. Mitchell exclaims. "But what you may not know is that drinking them can lead to increased visceral fat. Visceral fat surrounds your organs and can increase your risk for health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. So how does sugary drinking beverages increase visceral fat? When you drink a sugary beverage, the sugar is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. This causes your blood sugar levels to rise, which triggers a release of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps to remove sugar from your blood. However, when there's too much sugar in your blood, insulin can't remove it all. The excess sugar is then stored as fat, and over time this can lead to increased visceral fat. So next time you're tempted to reach for a sugary drink, think about its impact on your health. Instead, quench your thirst with water or unsweetened tea or coffee. Your body will thank you!"


Sitting for Long Periods of Time

Man holding sore neck while using notebook

According to Dr. Mitchell, "Most people don't think about how they sit, but the position you put your body in can have a significant impact on your health. For instance, did you know that sitting for long periods can actually increase visceral fat? Visceral fat is the type of fat that surrounds your internal organs and can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. So how does sitting cause this increase in visceral fat? When you sit, your muscles are inactive for extended periods, which leads to a decrease in the number of mitochondria (the powerhouses of cells). This decrease in mitochondrial activity causes your body to store more fat, particularly around your abdomen. In addition, sitting also decreases lipoprotein lipase (LPL), an enzyme that helps break down fat. So sitting leads to an increase in abdominal fat, but it also makes it harder for your body to burn that fat.  Too much sitting has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. When you sit, your body burns fewer calories, and your muscles burn less glucose, leading to weight gain. So what can you do to avoid these health risks? First, try to stand up and move around every 30 minutes. This will help to increase your muscle activity and reduce the amount of time your muscles are inactive. In addition, try to be mindful of your posture."


Learn to Manage Stress

woman on couch at home, stressed

"Chronic stress can also lead to weight gain and increased visceral fat over time. When you're stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol," Dr. Mitchell shares. "Cortisol signals your body to store more calories. Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives. Whether it's from work, family, or financial problems, stress can take a toll on your body. One of the ways stress manifests itself is through an increase in visceral fat. Visceral fat is the type of fat that surrounds your organs and increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes. When you're stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol tells your body to store more fat, which often shows up as belly fat. Visceral fat is unsightly, but it's also dangerous to your health. So if you're feeling stressed, try to find healthy ways to cope. Exercise, meditation, and spending time with friends and family can help reduce stress and protect your health." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of 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
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