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Reasons You Tend to Gain More Belly Fat

Health expert explains the four main reasons we gain belly fat. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Carrying excess weight around your waistline has been linked to major health problems like stroke, some cancer, type 2 diabetes and more because of visceral fat, which is hidden deep in your abdomen. It wraps around your vital organs and is much more dangerous than subcutaneous fat–the jiggly fat that you can see and pinch. To maintain overall good health, it's important to lose belly fat, but it's also just as important to understand why we gain it so we can help prevent an expanding waistline. Reda Elmardi, a Registered Dietician, Certified Nutritionist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Trainer and owner of explains to Eat This, Not That! Health just how unhealthy belly fat is and the reasons we gain 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 Belly Fat is Unhealthy

Nutritionist inspecting a woman's waist using a meter tape

Elmardi says, "Belly fat is unhealthy because It's not good at anything. Belly fat is not good at storing energy, nor is it great at keeping your heart healthy. In fact, belly fat has been linked to increased risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, metabolic syndrome, gallbladder disease, certain cancers, sleep apnea, arthritis, asthma, and even dementia. Belly fat is also bad for your health because it makes you sick and weak. Fat stored around your waistline can cause inflammation that leads to insulin resistance, which means your body doesn't use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate sugar levels in your bloodstream. When your body becomes resistant to insulin, your blood sugar rises and stays higher than normal. This causes your pancreas to produce excess insulin, which eventually leads to type 2 diabetes. And finally, belly fat is dangerous because it can cause serious diseases. When you have too much belly fat, it can put stress on your organs and increase your risk of developing diseases like fatty liver disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and cardiovascular disease. These conditions are known to lead to cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, and heart attacks."


How Much Is Too Much Belly Fat?

Fat overweight woman measuring her waist

According to the Mayo Clinic, "For women, a waist measurement of more than 35 inches (89 centimeters) indicates an unhealthy concentration of belly fat and a greater risk of health problems." For men, the Mayo Clinic states, "A waist measurement of more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) indicates an unhealthy concentration of belly fat and a greater risk of health problems."

Elmardi adds, "Waist size is determined by the space between your hip bones and your rib cage. If you are carrying excess weight around your middle, then you should try to lose those pounds before they start accumulating around your midsection."


We Eat Too Much

woman eating pizza in bed
Shutterstock / Doucefleur

To know how many calories you should be eating a day, please speak with your physician. You can also get an idea by using the Mayo Clinic's calorie calculator.

Elmardi shares, "The first reason that we tend to gain more body fat is that we eat too much. When we eat, our bodies release insulin into the bloodstream which then travels to the cells where it attaches to receptors. Once attached to these receptors, insulin tells the cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Glucose is the primary fuel source for the brain and other organs. Insulin also tells the cells to store excess energy as glycogen (stored carbohydrate). This is great if we are eating a meal but not so good if we are constantly snacking throughout the day. If we don't burn off this stored energy, it can cause us to gain weight."


We Eat The Wrong Foods

pasta pizza carbs

"Another reason that we tend to get more belly fat is that we eat the wrong foods," Elmardi states. "Many people consume fast food and processed foods on a daily basis. These types of foods have high amounts of carbohydrates and low amounts of fiber. Carbohydrates are converted directly into sugar in the liver and are stored as fat. Fiber helps slow down digestion and prevents the absorption of large quantities of carbohydrates. We eat too much food that has high sugar content. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that is digested easily and gives us energy. But this energy comes at a price; it causes our body to store excess calories as fat. In addition, we eat processed foods. Processed foods are stripped of their vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other beneficial components. This means that these foods are not good for our health."


We Drink Too Much Sugar

Woman pouring sugar into coffee

"We drink too many sugary beverages," Elmardi says. "Sugary drinks have no nutritional value but do contain empty calories. Empty calories come from added sugars and sweeteners that provide little or no nutritional benefit. They add nothing to your diet but take away from your daily calorie intake."


We Exercise Less Than We Should

overweight woman at home lying on the floor, laptop in front of her, prepared to work out on mat according to video

Elmardi emphasizes, "We need to make sure that we are exercising enough. Exercise stimulates hormones called endorphins which help reduce pain and stress. Endorphins also increase serotonin levels which makes us feel happy. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects moods and emotions. Low serotonin levels can lead to depression and anxiety. Exercise also burns calories which help us lose weight."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, "We know 150 minutes of physical activity each week sounds like a lot, but you don't have to do it all at once. It could be 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You can spread your activity out during the week and break it up into smaller chunks of time."


Why It's Harder To Lose Belly Fat As We Get Older

mature couple jogging outdoors

Elmardi explains why it's a bit more challenging to lose belly weight as we get older, but it's not impossible and you can get a slimmer waistline at any age with discipline and healthy lifestyle choices.

  1. "We are not getting any younger! As we age, our bodies begin to slow down. This means that our metabolisms become slower, and our body's ability to burn calories decreases. Our bodies also produce less testosterone, which can lead to weight gain around the middle.
  2. We have more stress! Stress has been proven to increase cortisol levels in your body, which increases insulin production. Insulin then causes us to store fat instead of burning it off.
  3. We eat more carbs! When we feel stressed out, we tend to crave carbohydrates like sugar and bread. These foods give us quick energy but they don't help us burn fat. Instead, they cause us to store fat in our bellies.
  4. We drink more alcohol! Alcohol is known to deplete the liver of vitamins and minerals. In addition, it slows down our metabolisms even further.
  5. We sleep less! When we are tired, we want to go to bed early and stay asleep longer. However, this leads to less time spent exercising and eating right.
  6. We spend less time outdoors! As we age, we spend less time outside playing sports and doing physical activities. This means that we are spending less time burning calories and building muscle mass."
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