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Reasons You're Getting a "Big Belly" With Visceral Fat

Here’s why your belly fat is only getting worse.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Visceral fat is a particularly dangerous fat stored deep in the abdomen, around organs such as the liver and kidneys. Known as "active fat", belly fat is linked to a host of health conditions including diabetes and heart disease. "Studies that have examined the relationship between abdominal fat and cardiovascular outcomes confirm that visceral fat is a clear health hazard," says Dr. Tiffany Powell-Wiley, chief of the Social Determinants of Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk Laboratory at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Here are five reasons your belly fat is out of control, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Your Stress Is Out of Control


Stress and belly fat unfortunately go hand-in-hand—so not managing stress will show on your waistline. "When it comes to belly fat and visceral fat in particular, after years of studying and clinical experience I have seen one hormone imbalance that is most often to blame: cortisol," says Dr. Will Cole. "Studies have looked at this relationship between cortisol and weight extensively and have found a significant link between cortisol levels and increased weight, specifically that stubborn hormonal belly fat in both men and women."


You're Not Getting Enough Fiber

Woman Eats Cereal

Studies show that soluble fiber from vegetables, fruit and beans can help reduce belly fat. "We know that a higher rate of visceral fat is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes and fatty liver disease," says Kristen Hairston, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest Baptist. "Our study found that making a few simple changes can have a big health impact. There is mounting evidence that eating more soluble fiber and increasing exercise reduces visceral or belly fat, although we still don't know how it works. Although the fiber-obesity relationship has been extensively studied, the relationship between fiber and specific fat deposits has not. Our study is valuable because it provides specific information on how dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber, may affect weight accumulation through abdominal fat deposits."


Do You Avoid Aerobic Exercise?

Tired senior woman after jogging. Tired senior woman resting after running outdoors. African female runner standing with hands on knees. Fitness sport woman resting after intensive evening run

Research shows regular aerobic exercise is crucial for blasting belly fat. "When it comes to increased health risks, where fat is deposited in the body is more important than how much fat you have," says Duke exercise physiologist Cris Slentz, Ph.D. "Our study sought to identify the most effective form of exercise to get rid of that unhealthy fat. Resistance training is great for improving strength and increasing lean body mass. But if you are overweight, which two thirds of the population is, and you want to lose belly fat, aerobic exercise is the better choice because it burns [67%] more calories." 


Lack Of Sleep

woman trouble sleeping while dealing with menopause

Studies show that lack of sleep can dramatically impact belly fat accumulation. "Normally, fat is preferentially deposited subcutaneously or under the skin," says Virend Somers, M.D., Ph.D., Alice Sheets Marriott Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine. "However, the inadequate sleep appears to redirect fat to the more dangerous visceral compartment. Importantly, although during recovery sleep there was a decrease in calorie intake and weight, visceral fat continued to increase. This suggests that inadequate sleep is a previously unrecognized trigger for visceral fat deposition, and that catch-up sleep, at least in the short term, does not reverse the visceral fat accumulation."


You Spend Way Too Much Time Sitting

Woman sitting on bed looking at phone bored and in a bad mood

Living a sedentary life is strongly linked to belly fat, doctors warn. "We know that spending long periods of time sedentary is unhealthy and a risk factor for chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease," says Dr. Joe Henson, Research Associate at the University of Leicester. "Likewise, the amount of fat deposited around our internal organs may also predispose us to these diseases. Using MRI techniques and physical activity monitors we have shown that the more time spent sedentary, the stronger the association with higher levels of internal and abdominal fat. This was particularly so if the long periods of sedentary behavior were uninterrupted. Our findings also show that reaching the UK government's target of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity may offer some protection against the harmful effects of prolonged sedentary time."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan