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Reasons You're Gaining Weight in Your Belly

Four reasons why people gain belly fat and why it's so unhealthy. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Having a little belly fat is normal, but an expanding waistline is unhealthy because of visceral fat, which is located deep in your abdomen and wraps around your vital organs. Visceral fat is actually really dangerous and it can cause major health issues like cancer, stroke, fatty liver, type 2 diabetes and more. 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 says, "a waist measurement of more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) indicates an unhealthy concentration of belly fat and a greater risk of health problems." Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who shared why it's important to lose belly fat and the reasons why people 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.

1

Why Belly Fat Is Unhealthy

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Dr. Mitchell explains, "Belly fat is more than just a nuisance that makes your clothes feel tight. It's also a serious health risk. Excess abdominal fat-particularly visceral fat, the kind that surrounds your organs-increases your chances of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, including breast cancer and colon cancer. Studies have shown that people with excess belly fat are more likely to die from these diseases even if they are otherwise healthy. That's because abdominal fat is believed to produce inflammatory substances that can damage the lining of blood vessels, leading to plaque formation and increased risk of blood clots. Additionally, abdominal fat cells are thought to release hormones that can increase the risk of certain diseases. So, if you're carrying around the extra weight in your midsection, it's time to take action. Losing weight isn't easy, but it's worth it for your health. There are many safe and effective strategies for losing weight, so talk to your doctor about what might work. Belly fat is more than just a nuisance that makes your clothes feel tight. It's also a serious health risk. Excess abdominal fat-particularly visceral fat, the kind that surrounds your organs-increases your chances of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, including breast cancer and colon cancer. Studies have shown that people with excess belly fat are more likely to die from these diseases even if they are otherwise healthy. That's because abdominal fat is believed to produce inflammatory substances that can damage the lining of blood vessels, leading to plaque formation and increased risk of blood clots. Additionally, abdominal fat cells are thought to release hormones that can increase the risk of certain diseases. So, if you're carrying around the extra weight in your midsection, it's time to take action. Losing weight isn't easy, but it's worth it for your health. There are many safe and effective strategies for losing weight, so talk to your doctor about what might work." 

2

Loss Of Muscle Mass

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"As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass," says Dr. Mitchell. "This process, called sarcopenia, can start as early as age 30. And it's not just a natural part of aging – it's also a significant contributor to age-related frailty and disability. But why does the loss of muscle mass cause us to gain more belly fat? There are a few reasons. First, when we lose muscle mass, our bodies burn fewer calories at rest. So even if we're eating the same amount of food, we're likely to gain weight. Second, abdominal fat is more closely linked to insulin resistance than other types of fThird, insulin resistance is when the body doesn't properly use the hormone insulin. This can lead to Type 2 diabetes. And lastly, as we age, our levels of the hormone testosterone decrease. Low testosterone levels can lead to increased body fat, especially around the waist. So there you have it – three reasons why the loss of muscle mass can cause us to gain more belly fat. But there's good news. Even though sarcopenia is a natural part of aging, there are things we can do to slow it down."

3

Changes in Metabolism

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Dr. Mitchell explains, "When we think of metabolism, we often think of how our bodies burn calories. However, metabolism is a much broader process that includes all of the chemical reactions in our cells. Therefore, changes in metabolism can affect many different aspects of our health, including our weight. One way that changes in metabolism can lead to weight gain is by affecting the way our bodies store and use energy. For example, if our metabolism slows down, we may store more fat instead of burning it for fuel. Additionally, changes in metabolism can also lead to changes in appetite and how our bodies process food. For example, if we have a slow metabolism, we may feel hungrier and eat more than we would if our metabolism were faster. This can lead to weight gain, especially if we are not getting enough exercise. In summary, changes in metabolism can make us gain more belly fat by affecting the way our bodies store and use energy and changing our appetite. However, there are ways to combat these effects through diet and exercise. By maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle, we can help prevent or reverse the effects of a slow metabolism."

4

Changes In Hormones

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"As we age, our bodies go through lots of changes," Dr. Mitchell reminds us. "Among these changes are fluctuations in our hormone levels. For women, changes in estrogen levels can cause an increase in belly fat. For men, testosterone levels tend to decline with age, leading to a build-up of belly fat. There are a couple of reasons why these hormonal changes can lead to more belly fat. First, when hormone levels are off balance, it can increase appetite and cravings for high-calorie foods. Second, fluctuations in hormones can affect how our bodies store and distribute fat. Third, when we have higher than normal levels of hormones like estrogen and testosterone, we tend to store more fat around our waist. This type of fat is hazardous because it increases the risk for heart disease and other health problems. Unfortunately, there's no easy fix for this problem. If you're struggling with weight gain due to hormonal changes, the best thing you can do is eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. This will help lower your overall body fat percentage and improve your health overall. In some cases, medication may also be necessary to get hormone levels under control."

5

Lifestyle Changes

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According to Dr. Mitchell, "Age, genetics, and hormones all play a role in why we accumulate fat around our midsections. But lifestyle choices are also a significant factor. Eating a high-fat, high-sugar diet and being sedentary are two of the worst offenders for packing on the pounds. When we consume more calories than we burn, our bodies store the excess energy as fat. And where that fat is stored depends on various factors, including our gender and age. For post-menopausal women, fat is more likely to be stored in the abdominal area. Being inactive also promotes weight gain, as our bodies burn fewer calories when we're not moving. Unfortunately, this can become a vicious cycle: the more weight we gain, the less inclined we exercise, and the easier it becomes to add even more fat. Making smart lifestyle choices is key to keeping belly fat at bay. Eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise will help keep your weight in check and reduce your risk of developing obesity and other health problems. Finally, lifestyle choices can also play a role in accumulating belly fat. If we don't make an effort to exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, it's easy for the pounds to creep on. So if you're noticing a little extra padding around your midsection, these are some of the likely culprits. But don't despair – with a little conscious effort, it's possible to fight back against the flab and achieve a healthier weight."

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