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Causes of Visceral Fat You Need to Know Now

These 7 habits could be making you gain visceral fat, experts say
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

You can't always see it, but visceral fat is embedded deep in your belly and it wraps around organs like the liver and intestines. It's dangerous because visceral fat causes significant health issues and has been linked to heart attack and heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and Alzheimer's disease. "The best way to tell if you have visceral fat is to measure your waist. The waist circumference is a good indicator of how much fat is deep inside the belly, around the organs. For women, your risk of chronic disease is increased if the waist circumference is 80 cm or more and for men 94cm or more, explains Dr. Elliana Rose, a practicing medical doctor specialized in gynecology, pharmacology, internal medicine and surgery." Eat This, Not That! Health talked to experts who revealed the causes of visceral fat and how to help get rid of 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

Consuming More Calories Than You're Burning

Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, aka "The VibrantDoc", a recognized leader in functional medicine and author of the new self-care book Vibrant: A Groundbreaking Program to Get Energized, Reverse Aging, and Glow states, "Reduce your calories, even just a little. Visceral fat is the first to go when people cut their food intake. Even a modest calorie reduction will burn off visceral fat first. The more you lose, the more your body will also dip into your subcutaneous fat. This is the fat just under the skin that people often want to lose because they can see it, but which is less harmful to health. Multiple research studies have demonstrated that visceral fat gets used first, which may be why health measures improve so quickly, even with just a little weight loss from calorie restriction.

2

Not Getting Enough Cardio

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Dr. Stephenson says, "Although all exercise can burn off dangerous visceral fat, cardio trumps weight training, according to a systematic review of many different research studies on how different exercise regimes (without dieting) influence visceral fat. After analyzing 87 articles totaling 852 subjects, the review found that moderate to intense aerobic exercise effectively reduced visceral fat in both women and men, and continued to do so even after 12 weeks. Cardio also preferentially burns off liver fat and total abdominal fat. However, a study comparing exercise only to exercise combined with reducing calories, or reducing calories alone, showed that exercise without any calorie reduction was much less effective at reducing visceral fat, so for best results, combine cardio with portion control."

3

Eating Processed Foods

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Dr. Rose says, "Avoid processed foods. They contain trans fat from pumping hydrogen to vegetable oil that makes them have a longer shelf life. They are bad for your health and carry more visceral fat.

4

Alcohol

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Dr. Stephenson explains, "Go easy on alcohol. According to a study on both men and women in Spain who drank alcohol, more than three drinks per day was significantly associated with greater abdominal obesity, which is a good measure of visceral fat. Other studies have shown the same result: More drinks per day are positively associated with abdominal obesity. Even moderate drinking can cause the body to store fat preferentially in the abdomen. An older study of 87 healthy women who were light to moderate drinkers showed that women who drank more had significantly greater waist circumference than women who drank less, which the researchers concluded was due to enlarged visceral fat area. These women also showed higher testosterone levels, which could influence where fat is deposited."

5

Intermittent Fasting

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"Although intermittent fasting can be a helpful weight loss strategy for many people, and I would never say to eat when you aren't hungry," Dr. Stephenson says. "A 2021 study out of Australia showed that fasting can put the body into what they called 'preservation mode,' storing visceral fat around the stomach and triggering a biochemical process that resists burning visceral fat specifically. However, note that this study was in mice, and tested every-other-day fasting. Fasting for 12 to 14 or even 16 hours each day, or skipping a single meal, may not have this same effect."

6

Stress

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Dr. Stephenson states, "You can't always get rid of your sources of stress, but you can manage how you react to them, and that could help reduce visceral fat. There are more cortisol receptors (cortisol is a stress hormone) in visceral fat than in subcutaneous fat. In fact, researchers think that visceral fat may be what one study called a "non-optimal physiological adaptation to stress." A Yale University study showed that stress can cause excess abdominal fat, even in otherwise slender women, so one direct path to reducing visceral fat may involve something as simple as a daily meditation practice, which has been shown to reduce blood levels of cortisol." 

7

Eating Sugar

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Sarah Bourdet RDN LLC Fit2LiveNutriton Dietitian Nutrition Coach explains, "Limit the simple sugars that you eat. Save them for special occasions. You may crave them for energy, but it won't last long. Eat something that has more fiber and possibly protein — such as nuts, or hummus and veggies, or an apple. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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