6 Things You Should Know About Belly Fat

Carrying extra pounds around your midsection? Here's how a few simple tweaks can help you address belly fat.

Medically reviewed in September 2020

Updated on March 15, 2022

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You can carry extra weight just about anywhere on your body. But packing pounds around your waist may have some particularly serious consequences for your health. Deep belly fat, also called visceral fat, is the kind that makes for a classic beer belly. It produces proteins and hormones that can lead to higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), aka “bad” cholesterol, as well as high blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglycerides. It's also a player in insulin resistance and inflammation.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a few simple changes to your lifestyle, you can slim down, trim your midsection, and boost your overall well-being.

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Dropping Belly Fat Isn't Just a Calorie Game

The type of food you eat affects whether belly fat stays or goes. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at people with metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions related to excess belly fat and high blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Those participants who ate more whole grains lost significantly more abdominal fat than those who ate refined grains such as white bread and pasta.

You can, too. Replace your refined grains with satisfying whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal. Make them part of an overall nutritious diet that includes lots of fruit, veggies, and lean protein, and minimizes sugar, salt, and unhealthy saturated fat.

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Sitting Promotes Belly Fat

Belly fat prefers it when you spend hours sitting, so if you want to get rid of it, get up and move. Shoot for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. Aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming, or biking are good options. Remember to exercise at an up-tempo speed, rather than a window-shopping speed.

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Don't Rely on Crunches Alone

Crunches can firm up the muscles under your belly and keep your core strong, and that's important for many reasons. But they won't make fat magically vanish. For that, you need regular aerobic exercise, such as walking.

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TV Removes Have a "Bye-Bye Belly Fat" Button

Chase away belly fat by pushing the "off" button on your TV remote. In a small study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, participants considered obese and overweight who halved their daily TV intake burned more than 100 extra calories daily. That's a pound every 35 days without even trying.

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You Really Can Blame Your Boss or Your Mother-in-Law

Oftentimes, the higher your stress, the bigger your waist. Stress increases the hormone cortisol, which makes you crave high-calorie snacks that get stored in your belly as fat. But you may not have to quit your job or ghost your family to ease your anxiety—just learn to tame your response to stress.

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Flat-Belly Success is Measured in Inches and Pounds

Track your weight using both a scale and a tape measure. A scale will help you keep tabs on your total weight, including pounds lost or gained. Determining your waist circumference can help you gauge your visceral fat and disease risk. When you measure, make sure you exhale and place the tape midway between your hips and the bottom of your ribs.

Remember that everybody’s weight tends to fluctuate a little from day to day, so your numbers may differ slightly each time you measure, even if you haven’t gained or lost anything.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Johns Hopkins Medicine. “The Skinny on Visceral Fat.” May 2012. Accessed September 9, 2020.
R de Mutsert, K Gast, et al. “Associations of Abdominal Subcutaneous and Visceral Fat with Insulin Resistance and Secretion Differ Between Men and Women: The Netherlands Epidemiology of Obesity Study”. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders. 2018;16(1):54-63. 
HI Katcher, RS Legro, et al. “The effects of a whole grain-enriched hypocaloric diet on cardiovascular disease risk factors in men and women with metabolic syndrome.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008;87(1):79-90.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” Last reviewed February 1, 2019. Accessed September 9, 2020.
JJ Otten, KE Jones KE, et al. “Effects of Television Viewing Reduction on Energy Intake and Expenditure in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009;169(22):2109–2115.
Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. “Assessing Your Weight.” Reviewed July 1, 2020. Accessed September 9, 2020. “Why is my waist size important?” Last reviewed September 24, 2019. Accessed September 8, 2020.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Taking aim at belly fat.” Published August 2010. Accessed September 9, 2020.

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