What causes belly fat in women? Doctors break it down

Abdominal fat is a problem area for many of us. Despite our best efforts and the hours we spend in the gym, losing weight in the abdomen can be a challenge.

For many women, weight gain occurs with age. Metabolism slows down, and since your body doesn’t burn as many calories, the pounds may gradually start to add up. Along with age, there are a variety of factors that play a role. Here you will find everything you need to know about developing abdominal fat and how to lose it.

The science behind belly fat

Abdominal fat refers to “visceral fat” or “omental fat,” the pad of fat that surrounds the internal abdominal organs. Having too much is thought to be linked to heart disease and metabolic syndrome, which includes diabetes and obesity. Fat cells secrete chemicals that modify our metabolism.

Compared to thigh fat, for example, visceral fat cells are more active because they are a direct source of food for internal organs. Mike Hoaglin, MD, DrHouse’s medical director explains. They secrete more inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that make it harder to lose weight and lower blood sugar, especially when there’s too much of it.

Because the belly is so close to the liver, it constantly sends fat to the liver and then into the bloodstream, which in turn can increase cholesterol and general markers of inflammation in the body. A high amount of visceral fat also blocks beneficial hormones like adiponectin that normally help increase fat burning and lower blood sugar.

What causes belly fat in women?

Stress can also contribute to the distribution of abdominal fat, adds Dr. Hoaglin. With stress comes flight or flight hormones like cortisol. Cortisol causes our bodies to retain fat and sugar even more, and belly fat is the most active. Genetics also play a role, especially in women, as women tend to store fat viscerally.

Related: Belly Fat May Be Stubborn, But Losing It Isn’t Impossible — Here Are 30 Different Ways How To Achieve It

“The main causes of abdominal obesity are a poor diet, mainly too much sugar, alcohol and trans fats, and insufficient protein,” he says. dr Mir Ali, MD bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. “Lack of activity also plays a fundamental role. Other contributing factors include lack of sleep and genetics.”

How do you know if you have too much belly fat?

A good screening tool to see if you may have excess belly fat is your waist circumference. It is even better than BMI for this purpose.

Position the tape measure at navel level, around your torso, and above your hip bones, while standing. Make sure the treadmill is level with the ground. Exhale, pull the tape to tighten it, but without putting pressure on the skin. In general, cardiovascular and metabolic risks increase with a waist size of more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men, says Dr. Hoaglin.

How to get rid of excess belly fat

As much as we wish we could pinpoint where we lose weight, that’s not how weight loss works.

“Unfortunately, you can’t target weight loss to certain areas like your abdomen,” says Dr. Ali. “However, losing weight in general will lead to a reduction in truncal obesity.”

1. Limit refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates like sugar and white flour cause your insulin levels to rise, which can contribute to more inflammation in the omentum fat and to retain and increase that fat more strongly.

Talk to your doctor about a weight-loss plan, recommends Dr. Hoaglin. Your doctor might suggest emphasizing foods that have a lower glycemic index. He may even tell you to start a ketogenic diet, where you focus on healthy fats and protein and cut carbs significantly.

Related: What is a weight loss journal and should you try one? Here’s why it might help

2. Eat foods high in fiber and low in sugar

Changing your eating habits and lifestyle is the most effective way to lose belly fat.

A diet high in fiber and protein, as well as low in sugar, is a great place to start, says Dr. Ali. Minimizing or eliminating alcohol consumption is also vitally important.

3. Get enough sleep and exercise regularly

Improving your sleep habits and exercising regularly can lead to a positive reduction in belly fat, says Dr. Ali.

4. Reduce stress

Stress is another important factor. Chronic stress marinates our body in the stress hormone cortisol and leads to insulin resistance and preferential distribution of fat around the abdomen. Dr. Lydia Alexander, MDmedical director of Enara and vice president of the Obesity Medicine Association, he explains.

Practicing mindfulness, including meditation practices, can be beneficial for reducing belly fat.

Next up: Sick of that stubborn bulge around your midsection? Stock Up On These 40 Foods To Burn Belly Fat


  • Dr. Mike Hoaglin, Medical Director of DrHouse

  • Mir Ali, MD, Bariatric Surgeon and Medical Director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA

  • Dr. Lydia Alexander, Medical Director of Enara and Vice President of the Obesity Medicine Association

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