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5 Reasons You Can't Lose Your Visceral Fat

If you've ever tried to reduce stubborn abdominal fat, you might have found yourself frustrated.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Visceral fat—also known as belly fat, the kind of fat that lurks under the abdominal muscles and around crucial organs like the liver and pancreas—is dangerous. Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine physician with the Cleveland Clinic, puts it in stark terms: "If you have belly fat, it is a risk factor for every single age-related disease, period. Forget about smoking, this is the killer." Among other destructive effects, visceral fat stokes bodywide inflammation and releases hormones and toxins into crucial organs. But if you've ever tried to reduce stubborn abdominal fat, you might have found yourself frustrated. In a recent episode of his podcast The Doctor's Farmacy, Hyman detailed five reasons why. 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 Drinking Too Many Calories

pouring sugar into coffee

Hyman pinpoints liquid calories as one of the biggest contributors to visceral fat. "Soda, juices, even nut milks, which you think are healthy, can be spiking your sugar—sweetened coffee, sweetened teas, energy drinks," he said. "We are living in a sea of liquid sugar, and it's really different than regular sugar." 

Liquid sugar seems to accelerate the development of belly fat "by being quickly absorbed, spiking blood sugar, spiking insulin," he said. "Liquid sugar calories are the single biggest correlate with obesity in America … If you can do a single thing to dramatically improve your health, get rid of liquid sugar calories."


You're Eating Too Many Refined Grains


Nearly as bad as liquid sugar: The refined carbs in flour, which are highly processed and quickly absorbed by the body. "It turns out that flour is worse than table sugar when it comes to raising your blood sugar," said Hyman. "When you raise your blood sugar, you raise insulin. You raise insulin, you sweep all the fuel out of your bloodstream and throw it into your belly-fat cells." 

"It's like insulin basically opens the gates—all the fuel, fat, sugar, carbs, everything goes flooding into your fat cells. And then the gate closes like a one-way turnstile in the subway."

RELATED: The #1 Way to Lower Your Blood Sugar, Say Doctors


You're Overeating Overall

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

"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. "We have to really take a good, serious look at the way our bodies are adapted—which is to store as much fat as possible, as quickly as possible—when we have an excess of calories."

"We have to actually stop this process of overeating and eating the wrong foods," he added. "That's driving this belly fat … it is the single biggest thing that's driving disease."

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You're Eating Right Before Bed

young woman wearing sunglasses eating burger outdoors
Shutterstock / Bogdan Sonjachnyj

"You don't want to eat before bed, three hours at least," said Hyman. "When you're sleeping, your body's in repair storage mode. So all these hormones change from day to night, and the hormones at night are storage hormones. So you're going to store all that food as belly fat." Hyman eats dinner at 5 or 6pm before going to bed at 9 or 10pm, allowing himself three hours to digest—without snacking. 

RELATED: The #1 Way to Lower Your Blood Sugar, Say Doctors


You Count Calories

woman eating noodles and writing

"I never put people on a calorie-restricted diet, never," said Hyman. "I never say, 'Count your calories, cut your calories. Don't eat too many calories.' I don't even say the word 'calories,' it's just so irrelevant. And I've had people lose hundreds of pounds. It works because when you use science, not willpower, it's easy. People aren't hungry, they feel nourished, they feel satisfied, they don't feel deprived, it's sustainable."

To lose belly fat and maintain a healthy weight, Hyman, like many experts, recommends a diet focused on whole foods, which are anti-inflammatory, phytonutrient-rich and high in fiber and good fats like avocado and olive oil.

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