There are many reasons why people gain belly fat, including poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress. Improving nutrition, increasing activity, and making other lifestyle changes can help people lose belly fat.

Belly fat refers to fat around the abdomen. There are two types of belly fat:

  • Visceral: This fat surrounds a person’s organs.
  • Subcutaneous: This is fat that sits under the skin.

Health complications from visceral fat are typically more harmful than having subcutaneous fat. However, lifestyle changes can often help people reduce levels of belly fat and improve overall health.

This article covers the causes, complications, and reduction techniques for belly fat.

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When a person consumes more calories than they expend for a period of time, it can cause weight and an increase in fat storage.

As a result, diets that contain a lot of high calorie but low nutrient foods can increase a person’s risk of weight gain and belly fat levels.

Fats have the highest level of calories per gram and, as a result, can increase a person’s caloric intake quickly. High-sugar and processed foods are common causes of weight gain and obesity and can also slow a person’s metabolism, hindering fat loss efforts.

Trans fats, in particular, can cause inflammation and may lead to obesity. Trans fats are in many foods, including fast food and baked goods like muffins and crackers.

The American Heart Association recommends replacing trans fats with healthy whole-grain foods, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.

The second key part of the energy in, energy out equation is a person’s physical activity levels.

A lack of physical activity is a primary risk factor for obesity and increases in body fat percentage. Increasing weight and physical inactivity can also make it harder for a person to start exercising.

When a person burns fewer calories through activity than they consume, the body stores this excess as fat.

Consuming excess alcohol can cause various health problems, including liver disease and inflammation.

Research into alcohol consumption and obesity found that higher alcohol consumption is linked to higher visceral fat levels, regardless of a person’s body mass index (BMI) or other markers. Researchers found no discernable link between alcohol intake and subcutaneous fat levels.

A steroid hormone known as cortisol helps the body control and deal with stress. When a person is in a dangerous or high-pressure situation, their body releases cortisol, impacting their metabolism.

People often reach for food for comfort when they feel stressed. Cortisol causes those excess calories to remain around the belly and other body areas for later use.

There is some evidence that a person’s genes can play a part in whether they become obese. Scientists think genes can influence behavior, metabolism, and the risk of developing obesity-related diseases.

Environmental factors and behavior also affect the likelihood of people becoming obese.

Research shows that shorter average sleep durations are linked with increased visceral body fat.

Short durations of sleep are linked to an increase in food intake, which may play a part in the development of abdominal fat.

Not getting enough good sleep also may potentially lead to unhealthy eating behaviors, such as emotional eating.

In general, people who smoke tend to have a lower BMI than nonsmokers.

However, research shows that despite this general trend of lower body fat, smokers typically have higher levels of visceral abdominal fat than nonsmokers.

There is no way to spot-reduce areas of body fat, but lifestyle and diet changes can help people to lower their overall weight, which will bring down excess abdominal fat in time. Steady weight loss of 1–2 pounds per week is often the most effective long-term plan.

The following steps may help people lose unwanted belly fat:

Improving their diet

A healthy, balanced diet can help a person lose weight and is also likely to have a positive effect on their overall health. The most important part of a weight loss diet is establishing and maintaining a calorie deficit – where the body burns more calories than a person consumes.

People may want to avoid sugar, fatty foods, and refined carbohydrates with low nutritional content. Instead, they can eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates.

Learn more about diet and weight loss here.

Reducing alcohol consumption

A person trying to lose excess abdominal fat can monitor their alcohol intake. Alcoholic drinks often contain additional sugar, which can contribute to weight gain.

Read more about alcohol and its effects on weight here.

Increasing exercise

A sedentary lifestyle can lead to many serious health problems, including weight gain. People trying to lose weight should include much exercise in their daily routine.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of light activity and two sessions of strength-building per week to maintain their health and weight. Going above these numbers can increase energy expenditure and assist in weight loss.

Undertaking both aerobic exercise and strength training can help people tackle their belly fat.

Discover 6 exercises for weight loss here.

Getting more sunlight

A 2016 review indicates that exposure to sunlight in animals could lead to a reduction in weight gain and metabolic dysfunction.

The review notes that few studies have looked at the effects of sunlight on humans with respect to weight gain and that more research is required.

Reducing stress

Stress can cause a person to gain weight. The release of the stress hormone cortisol influences a person’s appetite and could cause them to eat more.

Stress-relieving tactics include mindfulness and meditation, and gentle exercise like yoga.

Learn more about the link between stress and weight here.

Improving sleep patterns

Sleep is vital to people’s overall health. Sleep’s primary purpose is to allow the body to rest, heal, and recover, but it can also affect a person’s weight.

Getting enough quality sleep is essential when a person is trying to shed weight, including belly fat.

Work out how much sleep is necessary per night here.

Quitting smoking

Smoking is a risk factor for increased belly fat, as well as many other serious health concerns. Quitting can significantly reduce the risk of excess belly fat, as well as improve overall health.

A person has a higher risk of various health issues if they have excess belly fat. Causes include poor diet, lack of exercise, and short or low-quality sleep.

A healthy diet and active lifestyle can help people lose excess belly fat and lower the risk of associated problems.