For many women, gaining fat in the stomach area occurs with age. As you get older, your metabolism slows down and doesn’t burn as many calories. Menopause can also cause insulin resistance and lead to excess belly fat that is hard to lose with just diet and exercise alone.
There are two main types of fat that can cause a big stomach:
- Visceral fat: Surrounds the organs
- Subcutaneous fat: Sits under the skin
Aside from inevitable aging, there are hosts of other causes that can lead to a big stomach in women. Here are 7 of the most common reasons you may be gaining more belly fat.
7 causes of belly fat in women
1. Calories consumed
If you are taking in more calories that you are burning through physical activity, you will likely gain weight. Women especially tend to gain weight around their waistline and hips.
2. Unhealthy diet
For many women, growing more abdominal fat may be in their genes. Familial DNA can control gene receptors for hormones that regulate caloric intake and fat storage. Out of the three genes linked to a higher waist-to-hip ratio and greater amounts of abdominal fat, two are found only in women.
4. Sedentary lifestyle
Not moving enough throughout the day is one the biggest risk factors of an increase in both visceral and subcutaneous abdominal fat. Engaging in regular physical activity and limiting sitting for long periods of time can help prevent the storage of excess fat in your stomach.
Gaining weight after menopause is common. During puberty, estrogen signals the body to begin storing fat on the hips and thighs in preparation for a potential pregnancy. However, estrogen levels drop as you approach menopause, causing fat to be stored around the abdomen instead of the hips and thighs.
6. Imbalance in gut bacteria
Changes in the bacterial diversity of the gut can disrupt nutrient metabolism, promote inflammation, and cause hormonal imbalances. Eating a diet high in fiber and low in refined carbs can help you maintain a healthy gut and combat weight gain around your middle.
7. Pregnancy and postpartum
In your third trimester of pregnancy, you are eating for two and will likely gain weight around your stomach, arms, and thigh. After childbirth, you may find it difficult to lose weight and regain muscle mass. If your baby was delivered via C-section, you are more likely to develop abdominal muscle weakness, which can contribute to a larger abdomen.
How to lose abdominal fat
Having a big stomach goes beyond looks and can lead to serious health issues. However, with few lifestyle changes, you can shed the excess weight around your midsection:
- Eat more plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and choose lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy product
- Replace sugary beverages with water or fruit juices
- Exercise moderately for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorously for at least 75 minutes a week
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep a night
Why do I only have fat on my stomach?
If you have excess fat only on your stomach, it could be related to your diet and lifestyle or an indication of central obesity. Common reasons you may be gaining weight in your stomach include:
- Poor diet: Eating a diet high in sugar, carbs, and saturated fat but low in protein can cause you to pack on pounds around your middle. Junk food slows down your metabolism and affects your overall health.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Long hours of sitting throughout the day can lead to the accumulation of visceral and subcutaneous fat.
- Stress: Stress can lead to high cortisol levels in the body, which can affect your metabolism as well as make you reach for unhealthy foods more often.
- Sleep: Not getting enough sleep has been linked to inflammation, changes in hunger hormones, and lack of exercise, all of which can contribute to weight gain.
- Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption not only causes people to gain weight around their abdomen but also leads to chronic liver problems and inflammation.
Other reasons you may be gaining more fat in your stomach include:
- Poor gut health
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What is central obesity? How is central obesity managed?
Central obesity is the excess accumulation of fat around your abdomen, especially due to too much visceral fat.
How do you know if you have central obesity?
Signs that you may have central obesity or an unhealthy body fat percentage include:
- BMI over 30 (the average maximum BMI standard for normal weight is 24.9)
- Waist circumference over 40 inches for men and over 35 inches for women
- Blood pressure higher than 130/80 mmHg
- Fasting glucose level higher than 100 mg/dL
- Triglyceride level higher than 150 mg/dL
- Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels higher than 110 mg/dL
- High-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels lower than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women
How is central obesity managed?
The goal for treating central obesity is to lower the risks of related diseases. Some of the most effective remedies include lifestyle changes such as:
- Diet: Limit intake of sugary and high-carb foods, and increase fiber intake.
- Exercise: Swimming, cycling, cardio, and other exercises should be performed for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
- Stress relief: Practice meditation or yoga to combat stress and consciously make positive changes in your daily routine.
- Medications: Take prescribed medications and follow other recommendations provided by your doctor.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Harvard Health Publishing. Belly fat may pose more danger for women than for men. https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/belly-fat-may-pose-more-danger-for-women-than-for-men
Harvard Health Publishing. Abdominal fat and what to do about it. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it
Science Direct. Abdominal Fat. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/abdominal-fat
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