Best Ways to Reverse "Deadly" Weight Gain
Excess weight gain is never great news. But one form of weight gain is more dangerous than others. Putting on belly fat—also known as visceral fat or abdominal fat—is a major hazard to your health. That's because this type of fat lies deep within the abdomen, near vital organs like the liver, pancreas, and intestines. It's metabolically active, meaning it actively releases toxic substances into those organs and bloodstream that raise the risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The good news: If you've packed on abdominal fat, you can take specific steps to burn it off. Here's what science says are some of the most effective ways to reverse that potentially deadly weight gain. 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.
Lose Body Fat and You'll Lose Visceral Fat
The easiest way to reduce visceral fat is to lose weight. According to W. Scott Butsch, MD, an obesity medicine specialist with the Cleveland Clinic, weight loss alone can effectively reduce visceral fat. And just sending the scale slightly in the right direction can have a major effect on deadly belly fat gain. By losing 10% of your body weight, you may lose up to 30% of your body fat, he says.
Avoid Added Sugar
Visceral fat lives for sugar. "Fructose, or sugar, causes fat cells to mature faster, specifically in the visceral fat," says the Cleveland Clinic. Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet—like sugar-sweetened drinks, simple carbs, baked goods, processed foods, and fast foods—and you'll likely see your waistline shrink.
Get Enough Sleep
Researchers at Wake Forest University found that dieters who slept five hours or less every night put on 2.5 times more belly fat than people who got an adequate amount of sleep. Not sleeping enough can increase the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that tells the body to hold onto fat around the abdomen. Poor sleep alters the production of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that regulate appetite, and that can increase feelings of hunger. And just plain being tired can cause you to overeat to try and boost your energy. How much sleep is ideal? Experts say seven to nine hours a night.
Do This Form of Exercise
According to a 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients, exercise reduces visceral fat even if you don't lose weight. That's because it lowers circulating insulin (which tells the body to hang on to fat) and tells the liver to burn nearby belly fat deposits. The best kind of exercise for belly-fat reduction is moderate-intensity activity combined with strength training, a 2021 review of studies found.
Reducing stress can provide a one-two punch in the battle of the bulge. Chronic feelings of stress cause the brain to produce more cortisol, which makes belly fat hang around. Stressing out can also lead to comfort-eating fatty and sugary foods. The combination is a shortcut to belly fat, says a study published in The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Eat a Protein-Rich Diet
Several studies have found that a high-protein diet can burn belly fat and help keep it off. One of the latest was published this summer in the journal Scientific Reports: Researchers found that a test group that took a protein supplement along with a mildly calorie-restricted diet lost more visceral fat than a group that took a placebo. Protein fills you up faster and for longer, and studies have found that it reduces levels of ghrelin, the hormone that tells the body it's hungry. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.