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The #1 Sign Your Visceral Fat is "Way Too High"

Science-backed signs your belly fat is too high.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Visceral fat—or belly fat—is fat stored deep in the abdomen, surrounding vital organs like the liver, intestines, and stomach. Unlike subcutaneous fat which is easy to see and touch, visceral fat is hidden, making it far more difficult to see just how bad the situation might be—which is dangerous considering abdominal fat is linked to serious health conditions like heart disease and diabetes. If you're worried about belly fat, here are five clear signs your visceral fat might be getting way too high. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


You Are Overweight

Plump female looking in mirror, upset about her belly.

Losing weight is one of the most effective ways of targeting dangerous belly fat. "Weight loss alone can effectively reduce visceral fat," says Dr. Butsch. "By losing 10% of your body weight, you may lose up to 30% of your body fat." 

"Losing weight overall will help shrink your waistline; more importantly, it will help reduce the dangerous layer of visceral fat, a type of fat within the abdominal cavity that you can't see but that heightens health risks," says Kerry Stewart, Ed.D. , director of Clinical and Research Physiology at Johns Hopkins.


You Are a Smoker

Man Smoking On Bright Sunny Day Outdoor

Smoking is terrible for your health at the best of times (seriously, it has zero redeeming qualities), but it also encourages fat to develop in the abdomen. "It is unfortunately not an uncommon practice for people (especially women) to use smoking as a method of weight control," says Dr. Sue Pedersen, MD, FRCPC, Specialist in Endocrinology & Metabolism. "However, what most of these people probably do not know is that smoking actually increases the risk of abdominal obesity (which is the metabolically bad fat) and diabetes. There are a number of undesirable hormonal effects of nicotine as well. Tobacco influences fat distribution through hormones like cortisol that increase abdominal fat deposition. In women, nicotine has an anti-estrogen effect which also favors abdominal fat collection."

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You Eat an Unhealthy Diet

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

Visceral fat is strongly linked to a terrible diet—so if you exist on over-processed junk food and sugary beverages, you're practically inviting abdominal fat to camp out in your belly. "Eat a well-balanced diet," says Trinh Le, MPH, RD. "Eat a diet high in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean protein with calories set for gradual weight loss (e.g. about 1-2 pounds per week). Cut way back on added sugars and alcohol since these nutrients will more likely end up as visceral fat." 

"The findings that the Mediterranean diet preferentially reduces the more dangerous visceral fat may explain why it is the only diet that has been convincingly found to prevent cardiovascular events," says Dr. Pederson. "These results also show us that it's not about numbers on the scale, as this does not reflect the important changes going on with fat deposit patterns inside."

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You Live a Sedentary Lifestyle

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

There are multiple studies showing the connection between a sedentary lifestyle and visceral fat—exercise is crucial not just for your health in general, but for blasting that pesky belly fat.

"Keep moving. Exercise can help reduce your waist circumference," advises Harvard Health. "Even if you don't lose weight, you lose visceral belly fat and gain muscle mass. Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days, such as brisk walking or bicycling at a casual pace. Also create opportunities to add motion to routine tasks. For example, park farther from your destination and walk the rest of the way, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and stand while you talk on the phone. Studies have shown that you can help trim visceral fat or prevent its growth with both aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) and strength training (exercising with weights). Spot exercises, such as sit-ups, can tighten abdominal muscles but won't get at visceral fat. Exercise can also help keep fat from coming back."

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The #1 Sign Your Visceral Fat is Way Too High

Body fat analysis with electronic bioelectrical impedance scale at weight loss clinic.

If you have abdominal fat that's causing your stomach to be hard and extended, it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. "A person with a very firm beer belly is at even higher risk for health problems," says Daniel Allan, MD. "That is because it is typically caused by a high accumulation of internal organ (or visceral) fat. This is the fat that is located in the organs themselves and between the organs inside your abdomen. It is packed in tightly and, as it builds up, it will push the abdominal wall outward, exaggerating the appearance of the beer belly. The abdominal wall itself is made of muscle and tough fibrous tissues and is very firm; thus the belly will feel hard."

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