Six-pack abs or a flat stomach are simply aesthetic aspirations mostly unrelated to your health and wellbeing. But on the other end of the spectrum, too much abdominal fat does come along with some negative health risks.
“We have several types of fat on our bodies,” says Rene Ficek, a Registered Dietitian who is also the Lead Nutrition Expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating. “Brown, white, subcutaneous, visceral and belly fat. While not all fat is harmful to our health—some is actually very healthy and necessary for life—excess belly fat can cause numerous health issues.”
Ficek says that too much abdominal fat is associated with insulin resistance, which increases the risk for diabetes.
“It can also negatively affect blood lipids, boosting heart and stroke risk,” she said.
How much belly fat is too much? Ficek says that women with a waist circumference of more than 35 inches and men with a waist circumference of more than 40 inches are at increased risk.
Of course, getting rid of your gut, or reducing fat stored around your belly isn’t an easy task. For many people it’s the last place on the body to lose excess weight, which means if your goals include shrinking the size of your stomach you’ll probably have to put in some extra work.
You’ll also have to consider factors outside of diet and exercise, like your sleep habits and stress levels.
We asked a few health and fitness experts what they think are the biggest culprits of excess belly fat.
These are the things they said you should give up if you want to lose your gut.
1. Soda and Juice
“Refined sugars like the ones found in most sodas have high levels of added sugars,” says Danielle Girdano, certified master personal trainer and the president of D'fine Sculpturing & Nutrition LLC. “People who consume sodas have a significantly higher increase in visceral, skeletal muscle, liver and blood fat than those who don't.”
Because large amounts of sugar spike insulin levels and are often converted into and stored as fat, Ashley Lied, a Certified Sports Nutritionist for Trusted Nutrients, recommends that you also avoid bottled juices with added sugar.
“Though great in taste, artificial juices are horrible for anyone that's trying to lose belly fat,” she said. “They often contain high amounts of sugar and calories that can take a lot of time to burn off; especially if you're not on a daily gym routine.”
Instead, she suggests avoiding added sugars by juicing your own fruits at home.
2. Late Nights
“Research shows that getting the right amount of shut-eye can help ward off belly fat,” says Ficek. “In one study, people who got 6 to 7 hours of sleep per night gained less visceral fat over five years compared to those who slept five or fewer hours per night or 8 or more hours per night.”
“The fastest way to lose belly fat is to cut down on consumption of alcohol,” says Lori Kenyon-Farley, a Certified Nutritional Consultant, co-author of The Juice Cleanse Reset Diet, and co-founder of USDA certified organic Ritual Wellness.
She says that booze affects belly fat in the following ways:
- Because your liver recognizes alcohol as a toxin, it processes it differently, oxidizing those "empty" calories before nutrients.
- Alcohol can also affect hormone levels, affecting the way calories are metabolized, causing your body to store the extra calories.
- The extra calories in alcohol can really add up when you are having a few drinks daily. Save the drinking for weekends and special occasions, and even then, enjoy in moderation.
“Stress is a quintuple threat to the waistline,” says Dr. Ellen Albertson, PhD, a Psychologist, Nutritionist, Licensed Wellness Coach and founder of SmashYourScale.com. “It increases appetite, bolsters fat storage, decreases willpower, reduces metabolism and interferes with sleep.”
5. Artificial Sweeteners
“Even though they're low-calorie and are found in many diet and sugar-free products, artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame are not easily digested and cause belly bloat,” says Lola Dranker a Holistic Health Coach from Brooklyn, New York. “Artificial sweeteners are also linked to increased appetite and overeating. Skip the diet soda and have a healthier option like water. To make it more appealing, add some slices of your favorite fruit and a stir in some stevia. It will add the sweetness without calories and negative side effects of artificial sweeteners.”