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5 Surprising Habits That Shrink Your "Tummy Fat"

What to know about visceral fat and how to get rid of it, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Did you know that you could be living with a deadly fat and not know it? Visceral fat is hidden deep in your abdomen and it wraps around your vital organs, which can lead to serious health issues like stroke, diabetes or some cancers. Many people don't realize they have it since you can't see or touch it, but it's there. "The first sign that you have high visceral fat is a high waist to hip ratio – or an apple shape (where your tummy around your belly button dominates your shape). Other ways you can tell are having a body composition scan, or getting tested for your cholesterol levels, which are normally elevated," ​​Dr. Suzanna Wong, a licensed Doctor of Chiropractic and health expert with Twin Waves Wellness tells us. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who explain what to know about visceral fat and habits that can help get rid of it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Why Visceral Fat is Dangerous

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Alyssa Wilson, RD and metabolic success coach at Signos says, "Visceral belly fat can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other metabolic health conditions. Having a larger waist size has also been associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension, type 2 diabetes, joint pain, lower back pain, and hyperuricemia. Visceral adiposity is correlated with the accumulation of excess lipids in the liver, which results in impairment in cells' response to insulin signaling. If the cells don't respond to insulin's efforts to move glucose into them to create energy for the body to use, more insulin gets released by the pancreas to funnel glucose into the cells, potentially eventually leading to insulin resistance."

2

What Causes Visceral Fat?

Body fat analysis with electronic bioelectrical impedance scale at weight loss clinic.
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Wilson shares, "The main causes of an increase in lower belly fat are a poor diet and stress. Additionally, eating a diet high in refined, high-glycemic carbohydrates; highly processed foods; glucose- and fructose-sweetened beverages; and sugar-sweetened drinks can contribute to belly fat accumulation. Taking in more calories than one burns and not using that surplus can result in storing more fat as well."

3

Intermittent Fasting

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Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD says, "Intermittent Fasting can be an effective means to achieve weight loss, especially around the abdominal section. It is most beneficial because it doesn't require significant cut backs on any macronutrient or calories. Some people may begin to experience plateau's when they've entered their third or fourth month of IF as their bodies and routines become used to the practice. As the months of following IF increase it is easy to become more lax on your diet during your eating window, especially when you begin seeing results. It is tempting to slack up on the amount of cheat meals you allow yourself to have during the week.

It is important to remember your eating window should still include balanced meals. If you are several months into IF and are hitting a plateau you may want to consider increasing your number of fasting hours on at least one day a week.

You should never fast on consecutive days or more than three or four days a week as this will likely end with a slower metabolism and weight gain or plateau."

4

Work Out

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According to Wilson, "Exercise remains one of the most effective methods of losing excess abdominal fat. One study shows that even without weight loss, high-intensity exercise can significantly reduce visceral belly fat. Running HIIT-style workouts can also reduce belly fat, particularly when combined with a real-food, high-quality nutrition plan. If you're not a fan of HIIT, one study found that resistance training shows great belly fat-reducing benefits – quick note this study was only conducted on male participants, but it's potentially good news if you prefer lifting weights to burpees."

5

Sustainable Weight Loss

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Wilson explains, "Many people wonder how to get rid of belly fat as a woman or how to get rid of body fat as a man. The truth is, there are no gender-specific ways of reducing body fat because everybody works largely in the same way. The only difference is that estrogen causes the body to hold onto more abdominal fat to prepare the body for fetal development and childbirth. A key part of sustainable weight loss is understanding what's healthy for your body and what habits you can maintain long term. Mindful eating, in particular, can help you recognize and overcome compulsive eating patterns that lead to weight gain – see how to incorporate practices into your routine below: 

  • Sit down to eat in a designated area, like your kitchen table, and turn off all electronics (or leave them in another room)
  • Check in with your body to assess how hungry you are before you begin eating; use a 1–5 scale where 1 is not hungry and 5 is ravenous
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule: chew each bite for 20 seconds, break for 20 seconds between each mouthful, and spend at least 20 minutes eating your meal
  • Stop eating your food when you feel satiated, even if there is food left on your plate
  • If you struggle to focus fully on your food, make a point of remembering three things you liked about the meal, and say them out loud when you finish eating."
6

Reduce Stress

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Wilson says, "Managing your mental health is key to longevity and reducing belly fat. One study on middle-aged women suggests an association with depressive symptoms and higher levels of visceral fat, however, whether the presence of excess fat causes mental health issues or vice versa is still not understood. Additionally, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol might cause your body to store more fat around your lower abdomen. While reducing stress in your life won't reduce belly fat on its own, it's a healthy strategy you can use in addition to weight loss and exercise. Ways to manage stress:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Crafting, like knitting, crochet, cross-stitch, etc.
  • Reducing your screen time
  • Making time to see friends and family
  • Scheduling self-care time where you won't be disturbed."
7

Improve Your Sleep

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Wilson states, "Similar to stress, this strategy won't cause you to lose belly fat on its own. Many studies have shown that when you don't get enough sleep, you're at greater risk of storing excess body fat. In a sleep-deprived state, your body produces less leptin and more ghrelin; this can send hunger signals to your brain and tamp down signs of satiety, potentially causing you to eat more. To improve sleep: 

  • Put away your devices an hour before bedtime
  • Go to bed at the same time every night
  • Have a hot bath or shower to help you relax
  • Keep your bedroom cool and free of disturbances as much as possible
  • Expose your eyes to natural sunlight in the morning and, ideally, again in the evening."
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