What You Should Know About Belly Fat and Your Hormones

Health Coach

We all know what it looks like, but what IS belly fat and how do we get rid of it?

Belly fat is very stubborn and is not easy to shed. It’s made up of two kinds of fat. Some of the fat is subcutaneous (under the skin), and although it’s very frustrating to have, especially when you’re trying to squeeze into your favorite jeans, it’s not nearly as dangerous as the other kind of belly fat: visceral fat. It even sounds worse! Visceral fat is different than subcutaneous fat.  It’s made up of large fat cells that can grow bigger with time, and firmly pack into the spaces between and in the organs, having a negative effect on how they function.  Fat is good to some extent, in that it protects our internal organs from injury, but excess visceral fat that extends deep into our abdomen and attaches to our organs, like our pancreas, heart, stomach, and liver, can be dangerous. 

What causes belly fat?

There are many causes of belly fat, most of them directly related to diet and lifestyle. Here are some of the dietary reasons for the increase in belly fat:

  • Excessive intake of sugary and refined foods like cookies, cakes, candy and sugary drinks and juices. Hidden sugars in foods like ketchup, dressings and yogurts are not as easy to spot, but have lots of sugar.
  • Nutrient-poor processed foods and carbohydrates like crackers, chips, white rice and pasta not able to be processed by the liver, are stored as fat in your fat cells.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption, is linked to excess belly fat because of the sugar content.
  • Inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle play a huge part in obesity and include dangerous belly fat.

Embracing a healthy eating plan can help prevent belly fat from developing. Adding fat-burning and high fiber foods like nuts, eggs, lean protein, leafy greens, legumes, whole grains and green tea to your diet are key to reducing belly fat.

How hormones are linked to belly fat

Extra belly fat can indicate an imbalance in hormones. Here a a few culprits:

  • Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that is essential to survival. It’s produced in the adrenal glands and dictates how energy is used, controls blood pressure, and promotes the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. It also helps the body mount a response to stressful situations. High levels of stress result in an over-production of cortisol, which leads to cravings for sugary, fatty comfort foods. This extra nutrient-deficient food is stored as fat, especially around the abdomen.

As we age, the chances of increased belly fat are pretty likely. Women going through menopause or IVF can also accumulate belly fat because of fluctuations in hormones — during menopause specifically, there’s a decrease in estrogen and progesterone, which appears to influence where fat is distributed in the body. In this case, it’s the belly. As estrogen drops, it stirs up proteins that cause fat cells to store even more fat. To make this extra fat problem even worse, these cellular shifts also slow down the fat-burning process. 

Visceral fat (belly fat) extends deep into our abdomen and protects our internal organs, like our heart, stomach, and liver, but too much is dangerous.

The dangers of belly fat

Researchers at the American Diabetes Association revealed that visceral fat produces toxins, like chemicals called cytokines, which increase your risk of heart disease. Cytokines also make the system less sensitive to insulin, which could lead to the development of diabetes.

Studies at the Massachusetts General Hospital reported that belly fat is one of five components of a metabolic syndrome which increases the risk of the following conditions:

  • Stroke and heart disease.
  • Brain problems like depression and dementia.
  • High blood pressure and possible hardening of the arteries.
  • Promotes the development of triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.
  • Leads to poor blood sugar control which can lead to diabetes.
  • Causes inflammation in the body which increases the chances of disease.
  • Inflammation may also aggravate arthritis and lead to other bone problems.

Ways to combat belly fat

Unfortunately, you cannot spot-reduce belly fat, but here are some tips to help reduce overall fat which will lead to less belly fat:

  • Work on reducing stress levels that can lead to a spike in blood sugar and promotes insulin resistance. Listen to a guided meditation, get a massage, walk your dog around the block and include more sleep (since lack of sleep can increase cortisol production.)
  • Get more exercise. Exercise is crucial to help combat belly fat, so commit to regular exercise 4-5 days/week. Try HIIT workouts or spinning and add strength training to your regular routine. More muscle burns more fat.
  • Cut out refined, acidic foods. The extra acid in your system that can’t be metabolized will be deposited into your fat cells.
  • Cut down on saturated fats found in fatty red meats, bacon, sausage, processed meats, and cheeses. Switch them out for lean protein like tofu, white-meat chicken and fish like salmon and tuna, rich in omega 3’s.
  • Eat healthy fats. Research shows that not all fats are bad, and by adding some good fats to your diet, it helps your body burn the bad fat. Add foods like avocados, olives, walnuts, and fatty fish into your daily diet.
  • increase your intake of fiber. Foods like asparagus, broccoli, pears, lentils, quinoa and squash provide the “prebiotics” that feed the good bacteria. “Bad” bacteria thrive on refined carbs like sugar.
  • Drink less alcohol. Alcohol is high in calories and sugar and leads to fat gain that shows up on your waist.
  • Strength training and cardiovascular exercise will help to decrease the total amount of body fat we carry around and will help decrease our stubborn belly fat. 

Banishing belly fat to rebuild self-esteem

Losing belly fat will not only benefit the restoration of good health, but can also help rebuild self-confidence and self-esteem and will bring back a major improvement in your general feeling of well-being and winning at life!