Your belly has too much fat, though it feels hard instead of jiggly. That’s because you have visceral fat—the type that develops deep inside your belly around your organs—as opposed to peripheral fat. Visceral fat around your middle raises your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. Several factors contribute to hard belly fat.
Your age is a factor in developing hard belly fat because as you get older your metabolism slows, meaning the rate at which your body burns calories goes down and your risk for accumulating excess fat goes up. The average person gains 1 to 2 pounds annually in the belly region between ages 35 and 55. As you age, your muscle mass decreases, which is significant because muscle burns more calories than fat. That means you may not increase your calorie intake but, because your body does not need as much fuel to maintain itself, the excess gets stored as fat. The onset of menopause sometimes leads to a shift in where your fat gets stored, from the thighs to the belly.
Hormones play a role in whether your fat ends up deep in your belly or elsewhere, such as on your thighs. Cortisol, commonly known as one of your body’s stress hormones, promotes weight gain when you experience too much stress. Your bodily cortisol concentrations are controlled by an enzyme that’s located in fat cells, with visceral cells having more of these enzymes than subcutaneous cells. Having higher levels of these enzymes in your abdominal fat contributes to obesity because greater amounts of cortisol are being produced, says Christine A. Maglione-Garves in the University of New Mexico article, “Cortisol Connection.” Accumulating fat and higher cortisol levels in the body also are associated with a higher appetite, sugar cravings and weight gain, says Maglione-Garves. The hormone imbalance known as estrogen dominance also promotes belly fat gain, says physician Genie James, author of “From Belly Fat to Belly Flat.” Environmental estrogens, stress, poor diet, a sluggish liver, taking birth control pills and illness all may contribute to estrogen dominance.
Lack of exercise and a poor diet both contribute to packing on visceral fat, according to Harvard Medical School. Work up to 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily, perform strength-training exercises a couple of times a week, and modify your diet to reduce your belly fat. Replace trans fats and saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats, and choose lean proteins. Consuming the wrong type of carbohydrates raises your risk for visceral fat. Increase complex carbohydrate intake and decrease refined carbohydrates in your diet, such as those in processed foods and white breads, to reduce your risk for accumulating visceral fat.
There is a chance that the hard fat around your middle isn’t actually fat—or isn’t all fat. Your belly might protrude from built-up waste in your colon, notes Jorge Cruise, author of “The Belly Fat Cure.” Eating the wrong kind of carbs makes you prone to this false fat in addition to raising risk for visceral fat, Cruise says. Consume carbohydrates that are high in fiber to promote regularity and to eliminate this false fat. You should have one to three bowel movements daily. Cruise recommends 25 g to 30 g of fiber daily, which you can gain by consuming six servings of complex carbs such as whole grains, fruits and veggies.
- “From Belly Fat to Belly Flat”; Genie James and C. W. Randolph; 2007
- Discover Magazine: “Killer Fat”; Mariana Gosnell; 2007
- “The Belly Fat Cure”; Jorge Cruise; 2010
- Harvard Medical School: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About it
- University of New Mexico: “Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight”; Christine A. Maglione-Garves et al.
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.