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Worst Habits for the Belly Fat You Can't Lose

Four bad habits that cause visceral fat, according to health experts.

Besides wanting to look and feel great, there's another reason to lose abdominal fat–it's actually really unhealthy. Most people don't know it, but there's a dangerous fat located deep in the belly that you can't see or touch. It coils around your vital organs and has been linked to major health issues like some cancers, stroke, type 2 diabetes and more. Getting rid of visceral fat is important for your overall health and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who explained what to know about visceral fat and what bad habits cause it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


The Importance of Losing Visceral Fat

Man upset and questioning belly fat as he grabs stomach

Matt Gehlbach, a certified ISSA and NASM personal trainer with, says, "Visceral fat, also known as abdominal fat, is the type of fat that is stored around the organs in the abdominal cavity. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which is stored just under the skin, visceral fat is located deep within the body and has been linked to a number of health problems. For example, visceral fat has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Additionally, visceral fat is more likely to release inflammatory substances into the bloodstream, which can lead to inflammation throughout the body. Finally, visceral fat is more difficult to lose than subcutaneous fat, making it a significant health concern. All of these factors make visceral fat one of the most dangerous types of fat in the human body. Fortunately, there are a number of lifestyle changes that can help to reduce visceral fat."


How to Measure Visceral Fat


Gehlbach explains, "Subcutaneous fat can be seen and felt, whereas visceral fat is hidden deep within your body. Although visceral fat is not visible, there are some ways to tell if you have too much of it. For example, if you have a 'beer gut' or 'pot belly,' this is a sign that you have extra visceral fat. You may also be at risk for visceral fat if you have a family history of obesity or diabetes. Additionally, people who are apple-shaped (meaning they carry most of their weight around their waist) are more likely to have too much visceral fat. If you think you may have too much visceral fat, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce it."

Dr. Kim Harris, a Naturopathic Medical Doctor with Prescott Medical Aesthetics adds, "The best indicator of visceral fat is to measure your waistline. For women, having a waistline of 80 cm. or more is a sign of too much visceral fat. For men, 94 cm or more is the critical number for having visceral fat. Visceral fat usually shows up because of too much calorie consumption and too little physical activity. In other people, visceral fat is a factor of genetics. It could also be caused by alcohol consumption, especially for men." 


Stop Eating Processed Foods

Woman reaching for chip and holding soda in processed junk food array on table with popcorn

"Eating a diet high in processed foods, for example, is one of the worst things you can do for your waistline," Gehlbach emphasizes. "These foods are often high in calories and low in nutrients, making them perfect for packing on extra pounds. In addition, people who eat a lot of processed foods tend to have higher levels of inflammation, which leads to an increased risk of visceral fat accumulation. The key is to focus on eating a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups. This means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. It's also important to limit your intake of sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks. By following these guidelines, you can make sure that you're getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and decrease your visceral fat accumulation." 


Get More Sleep

woman sleeps in bed

According to Gehlbach, "Studies have shown that there is a link between lack of sleep and an increase in visceral fat. This is because sleep deprivation causes changes in hormones that increase appetite and make it more difficult for the body to burn fat. If you're not getting enough sleep, there are a few things you can do to improve your situation. First, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to help regulate your body's natural circadian rhythms. Second, create a relaxing bedtime routine that will help signal to your body that it's time to wind down for the night. Finally, limit your exposure to bright lights in the evening and avoid working or using electronic devices in bed. By making some simple changes, you can improve your sleep habits."


Drinking Too Much Alcohol


Gehlbach shares, "Alcohol consumption has been linked with increased abdominal fat, particularly visceral fat. When you drink alcohol, your liver gets priority in metabolizing the ethanol. This process leaves behind a by-product called acetate, which ends up being stored as visceral fat. While moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits, heavy drinking can lead to weight gain and other health problems. There are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of developing visceral fat if you drink alcohol: 

  • Limit your intake: If you drink alcohol, it's important to limit your intake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that men consume no more than two drinks per day, and women consume no more than one drink per day. 
  • Choose low-calorie options: If you're going to drink alcohol, choose lower calorie options such as light beer or wine spritzers. 
  • Avoid binge drinking: Binge drinking (defined as four or more drinks in two hours for men, and three or more drinks in two hours for women) can lead to quick weight gain and increased abdominal fat. 
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise can help to reduce visceral fat, even if you don't lose weight. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day."


man experiencing high stress doing work, panic attack

Gehlbach explains, "When you're stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol signals your body to store more fat, especially in the abdominal area. In addition, cortisol increases your appetite and makes you crave high-fat, high-sugar foods. This can lead to weight gain and further accumulation of visceral fat. So what can you do about it? The first step is to try to reduce the amount of stress in your life. If you're looking to reduce your stress levels and shrink your waistline, here are a few things you can do: try yoga or meditation to relax both your mind and body; get regular exercise, which can help to lower cortisol levels; and make sure you're eating a healthy diet. With a little effort, you can soon be on your way to a healthier, happier self." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of 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 about Heather