Never Do This to Lose Visceral Fat, Say Experts
Not all body fat is equal. Subcutaneous fat is the jiggly fat under the skin that you can grab or pinch. Visceral fat, which lies deep within the abdomen, is much more dangerous. Nestled near organs like the stomach, liver, pancreas and intestines, visceral fat can release harmful substances into those organs, increasing your risk of cancer, heart disease, and other serious diseases. To lose visceral fat, these are the habits you should never lapse into. 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.
To burn belly fat, diet isn't enough. Regular exercise is crucial. According to a 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients, exercise reduces visceral fat even if you don't lose weight. "If you get into really good physical shape, your weight really doesn't matter that much," said Dr. Stephen Kopecky, a preventive cardiologist, on the Mayo Clinic's podcast in December. "Because when you get into good physical shape with activity and exercise, then you lose your abdominal fat or visceral fat, which is very pro-inflammatory and causes a lot of these diseases that we don't want like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's."
Chronic feelings of stress cause the brain to produce more cortisol, the "stress hormone" that instructs the body to hold on to fat around the abdomen. "A study of stressed out middle-aged Swedish men showed that those with the highest cortisol levels also had the biggest beer bellies," says the American Institute of Stress. "Since abdominal fat also tends to increase cortisol levels, this can lead to a vicious and unhealthy cycle, especially in women. There is little doubt that increased stress and/or cortisol can cause increased abdominal fat and weight gain.
Poor sleep increases the body's cortisol output and screws up the production of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that regulate appetite and satiety. This can make you hungrier during the day. (So can just being tired, as the body clamors for calories to replace lost energy stores.) Scientists 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 adequate sleep—seven to nine hours nightly.
Scarf Down Added Sugar
Eating too much sugar is associated with larger fat deposits around the heart and in the abdomen, says a 2020 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. "When we consume too much sugar the excess is converted to fat and stored," said study lead author So Yun Yi of the University of Minnesota. "This fat tissue located around the heart and in the abdomen releases chemicals into the body which can be harmful to health. Our results support limiting added sugar intake."
Suggested study co-author Lyn Steffen, Ph.D., MPH: "Have water instead of sugary drinks and choose healthier snacks over foods rich in added sugar, such as cakes. Read food labels to check the amount of added sugar in what you are buying. Look for ingredients like syrups, glucose, fructose, sucrose, and maltose. Being more aware of hidden sugar will help you cut back."
Let Yourself Get Overweight
If you're not overweight, you have a lower chance of accumulating a dangerous amount of visceral fat. If you are overweight or obese, the easiest way to reduce visceral fat is to lose weight. Losing 10% of your body weight can eliminate up to 30% of your body fat.
How to Tell If You Have Too Much Visceral Fat
To gauge if you have excess visceral fat, measure your waist at the belly button. Experts say you're at higher risk of health problems related to visceral fat if your waist is more than 35 inches if you're a woman, or more than 40 inches if you're a man. Whittling your waist will likely reduce your visceral fat percentage. "Waist circumference remains the single best anthropometric marker of change in VAT [visceral fat]," wrote the scientists behind the Nutrients study. "It is extremely likely that reductions in waist circumference (e.g., greater than 2 cm) are associated with a corresponding reduction in VAT." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.