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The #1 Thing That Gives You Visceral Fat Say Experts

Here’s what’s adding inches to your waistline.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Visceral fat is dangerous "active fat" stored deep in the abdomen, surrounding organs such as the liver and intestines. Unlike "pinchable" subcutaneous fat (for example, the fat on your thighs), belly fat is linked to concerning health conditions such as heart disease, fatty liver, and diabetes. But why? "Visceral (belly) fat secretes greater levels of adipokines – chemicals that trigger inflammation – and releases more fatty acids into the bloodstream," says Evelyn Parr, research fellow in exercise metabolism and nutrition, Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, Australian Catholic University. "Whereas the fat cells in the leg region, and the pinchable, subcutaneous layers of fat around the middle, store fatty acids within themselves, rather than pushing them into the circulation. The fat around the hips and legs is more passive, meaning it releases fewer chemicals into the body." Here's the number one cause of visceral fat, 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.


Is My Belly Fat Dangerous?

shred belly fat

Measuring your waist circumference is a good place to start: "You can use a tape measure to get a good idea of whether you've packed on too many pounds around your abdomen," says Julie Chen, MD. "Place the tape measure around your belly button and level the sides at the top of your hip bones. For men, a waist measurement of 40 inches is a sign of too much visceral fat. For women, a waist measurement of 35 inches is considered high risk." 


Bad Sleep Means Bad Belly Fat

woman not able to sleep in bed

If you're not getting enough sleep, losing weight—especially belly fat—is like playing a videogame on "hard" mode. "Sleeping too little increases belly fat… by suppressing the release of growth hormone," says personal trainer Cathe Friedrich. "Growth hormone is an anabolic hormone that boosts muscle growth, but it's also a fat-burning hormone that helps keep your tummy and waistline trim. Growth hormone levels rise during deep sleep, so if you're not getting enough sleep, growth hormone levels can be affected. This makes it harder to build muscle and lose body fat even if you lift heavy weights."



woman jogging on bridge

Exercise is important for getting visceral fat under control—if you're not moving, the inches will continue to add up. "The starting point for bringing weight under control, in general, and combating abdominal fat, in particular, is regular moderate-intensity physical activity — at least 30 minutes per day (and perhaps up to 60 minutes per day) to control weight and lose belly fat," says Harvard Health. "Strength training (exercising with weights) may also help fight abdominal fat. Spot exercising, such as doing sit-ups, can tighten abdominal muscles, but it won't get at visceral fat."


It's Called a Beer Belly For a Reason

Pint of beer and whiskey shot

"Drinking beer and spirits is linked to elevated levels of visceral fat – the harmful type of fat that is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and other health complications – whereas drinking wine shows no such association with levels of this harmful fat and may even be protective against it, depending on the type of wine consumed," says Brittany Larsen, Ph.D. Candidate in Neuroscience & Graduate Assistant, Iowa State University.


Change Your Diet To Blast Belly Fat

Woman Eats Cereal

While calories are absolutely not the be-all end-all of weight loss, losing belly fat will be difficult (if not impossible) with a diet high in ultra processed carbohydrates, sugar, and junk food. Kerry Stewart, Ed.D. , director of Clinical and Research Physiology at Johns Hopkins recommends restricting carbs over counting calories. "Ultimately, you need to pick a healthy eating plan you can stick to. The benefit of a low-carb approach is that it simply involves learning better food choices—no calorie-counting is necessary. In general, a low-carb way of eating shifts your intake away from problem foods—those high in carbs and sugar and without much fiber, like bread, bagels and sodas—and toward high-fiber or high-protein choices, like vegetables, beans and healthy meats."

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