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Most People are Getting Abdominal Fat This Way, Experts Say

Avoid those liquid calories.

The human body is complex, and we all have unique health journeys. But one health problem is increasingly common: Abdominal fat, also known as visceral fat or belly fat. This type of fat, which sits under the abdominal muscles and near and around vital organs, is particularly dangerous: It can release toxins and hormones into the bloodstream and organs like the liver and pancreas, increasing the risk of serious disease. Developing abdominal fat too often comes down to a few common habits, experts say. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


You're Consuming Too Many Liquid Calories

fruit soda bottles
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Sugar-sweetened beverages are a major contributor to belly fat. "We are living in a sea of liquid sugar, and it's really different than regular sugar," said Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine physician with the Cleveland Clinic, on a recent episde of his podcast. "Soda, juices, even nut milks, which you think are healthy, can be spiking your sugar—sweetened coffee, sweetened teas, energy drinks," he said. 

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"The Single Biggest" Cause of Obesity Today

woman drinking ice cola in the glass

And how you consume sugar matters, when it comes to belly fat. Liquid sugar acts differently in the body than, for example, the natural sugar found in fruit: It's quickly absorbed into the body and spikes blood sugar faster. "Sugar calories are bad and liquid sugar calories are worse," said Hyman. "And the reason is they're unpacked from the matrix of food that they're in. They're not in a matrix of fiber or protein or fat, they're just pure sugar. They spike your blood sugar that creates a spike in insulin. And that creates the flood of all the available fuel that's in your bloodstream into your cells.

"So it goes right into your belly fat cells, it doesn't go into your butt or arm, or your ear lobe, it goes right into your fat," he added. "And that is why the liquid sugar calories are the single biggest correlate with obesity in America." 

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You're Just Eating Too Many Calories

potato chips

"The challenge with our modern diet is the absolute excess of calories, the absolute excess of sugar and starch in our diet, and the endless ability to overeat," said Hyman. 

When it comes to preventing obesity, "a lot has to do with the quality of the diet and the various habits that people can get into, such as snacking regularly," says JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital. For example: Snacking on donuts, candy, or a bag of potato chips—instead of nuts, fruit, or veggies with a yogurt dip—can easily add 500 calories or more to the average person's daily intake.

RELATED: How to Get Rid of Visceral Fat in Women


You're Not Sleeping Well

Man in bed suffering from insomnia

Researchers at Wake Forest University found that dieters who slept five hours or less every night put on 2 1/2 times more belly fat than people who got adequate sleep, meaning seven to nine hours a night. Experts say poor sleep alters the production of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that regulate appetite. Not sleeping enough also increases the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that tells the body to hold onto fat around the abdomen. 

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You're Not Moving Enough

running up stairs outdoors
Tim Liu, C.S.C.S.

"If you eat too much and exercise too little, you're likely to carry excess weight — including belly fat," says the Mayo Clinic. As we age, muscle mass tends to decline while overall body fat increases. If you have less muscle, your body burns less fat. To fight visceral fat, exercise regularly. Moderate physical activity combined with strength training seems to work best at burning belly fat. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, including two sessions of strength training. And to ensure your health don't miss these 101 Health Habits You Didn't Know Were Deadly.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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