Many names are associated with belly fat, including beer belly, beer gut, pot belly, paunch, and spare tire. Is there a difference between a beer belly and belly fat, and what exactly is belly fat?
Belly fat, also called visceral fat, is the worst possible fat you can have. It surrounds your organs deep inside the abdominal cavity, crowding the intestines, stomach, liver, pancreas, and kidneys.
Unlike subcutaneous fat, which lies under the skin’s surface, visceral fat can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
A way to tell whether you have more visceral or subcutaneous fat is to look at your body shape. People with more visceral fat have an apple shape (abdominal fat), while those with more subcutaneous fat have a pear shape (lower body fat).
There are a few different ways of measuring belly fat:
- Body mass index (BMI): uses weight and height to measure body fat, with a BMI over 30 indicating excessive visceral fat.
- Waist measurement: using a tape measure around the waist above the hip bones – 35 inches or more for women and 40 inches or more for men puts you at risk of visceral fat health problems.
- Waist-to-height ratio: measure your waist size and divide it by your height. The ratio should be 0.5 or less.
- Waist-to-hip ratio: measure both the hip and waist and divide the waist measurement by the hip size. Ratios above 0.85 in women and 0.90 in men indicate abdominal obesity.
The standard amount of visceral fat you should have – and some fat is essential for the body – is 10% of your body fat. After calculating total body fat, remove 10%. If you have too much body fat, your visceral fat range will also be higher than recommended.
What Is Beer Belly?
If you have traded your six-pack abs for a big, round gut resembling a keg, you might have a beer belly. All kidding aside, this is a highly dangerous condition as that excess fat crowds your internal organs and contributes to many health issues.
A beer belly is a large, hard round abdomen. Unlike softer belly fat, this hardness occurs as high amounts of visceral fat build up and pack tightly around the organs. Typically associated with men, there are scientific facts linking beer consumption by men to waist circumference (WC) that are not associated with women. A study of 7876 men and 12,749 women showed that men who consumed more beer had a higher risk for WC gain than those who were very light consumers. With women, the ratio was significantly lower. Decreasing beer consumption can help reduce waist circumference.
If your belly is softer and jiggly, you have higher levels of subcutaneous fat rather than visceral fat. You can pinch your subcutaneous fat, something you can not do with visceral fat. Men are more likely to develop visceral fat than women, who tend to have more subcutaneous belly fat.
What Causes Beer Belly?
While you do not need to drink beer to get a beer belly, as that is just a term for belly fat, the cause is the same no matter what – consuming more calories than you expend. The less you move, the more you eat and drink, and the less you sleep, the more likely you are to develop a beer belly.
A beer belly occurs when high accumulations of visceral fat fill the abdominal cavity. With no further room to fill, the additional fat accumulation pushes out against the abdominal wall. As more fat packs on, the stomach expands further outward. The hardness of the beer belly is due to the abdominal wall’s fibrous tissue, not the fat below.
What if I do not drink beer? How can I still have a beer belly?
The assumption that beer consumption is the cause of a beer belly is due to the higher propensity of men who consume a lot of beer to have a beer gut. Beer is full of empty calories, and, to top it off, drinking is typically accompanied by eating unhealthy snacks and fried food. Even if you do not drink beer, if your diet is full of bad-for-you foods, you will gain weight.
The average 12-oz serving of beer contains approximately 150 calories. If you have two beers a night, that is an extra 300 calories on top of everything else you consume. Alcohol consumption often increases hunger, so you may eat more than usual when not drinking.
Another problem with drinking alcohol is that it forces the body to prioritize breaking down the alcohol rather than burning fat, another cause of fat accumulation. The hops used in beer processing are high in phytoestrogens, compounds that mimic estrogen hormones in the body. Estrogen tells the body to increase fat while producing the enzyme aromatase that converts free testosterone into more estradiol (estrogen).
Ultimately, it is the increased caloric intake, whether from beer, other forms of alcohol, or unhealthy food choices, that causes the development of belly fat.
Why Does Fat Accumulate in the Belly?
Belly fat is often the most noticeable and is due to eating and drinking too much and not exercising enough. However, that is only part of the problem. The abdomen is not the only place we accumulate fat.
Why does fat accumulate in different areas of the body than the belly?
Hormones are one of the leading predictors of where the body accumulates stored fat. Elevated estrogen often increases arm and thigh fat. Thyroid hormones can increase upper back fat. Insulin sends fat to your hips (love handles). Cortisol influences belly fat, but more on that below.
Women are more likely to store fat in their thighs, arms, buttocks, and bellies. The leading place men store fat is in their abdomens.
Here are the leading reasons for belly fat accumulation:
- Poor diet
Highly processed, fatty, and sugar-laden foods contain empty calories, increasing fat storage and slowing metabolism. Trans-fats found in baked goods and fast-food increase inflammation which can lead to obesity.
Not only does alcohol, including beer, contain empty calories, but it can also cause overeating and lead to inflammation, liver disease, and other health problems.
- Genetics and hormones
Genetics plays a role in how your body stores fat, as do certain hormones, diet, stress, and exercise. Another genetic influence is family habits, which can influence behavior, dietary consumption, and exercise, impacting metabolism and increasing the risk of developing obesity-related diseases.
Hormone changes also can worsen the situation, which is why people tend to gain weight with age as crucial hormones such as human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone begin to decline. One of the benefits of hormonal therapies, such as HGH therapy, is fighting weight gain, especially abdominal obesity. Find out how to get rid of belly fat while treating hormonal imbalance and deficiency.
Stress is a crucial factor as it increases the production of the hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels interfere with human growth hormone and testosterone production, two essential hormones influencing metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Elevated cortisol interferes with the sleep cycle, making it harder to fall asleep.
To make matters worse, low HGH and testosterone levels often mean higher estrogen levels, which cause the body to store more fat, which decreases these hormones even more. It is a vicious cycle.
- Sedentary lifestyle
Lack of exercise translates to fewer calories burned. The less you move, the more weight you will gain.
- Poor sleep
We have already seen how cortisol interferes with sleep. Getting less than seven hours often leads to fatigue, causing you to eat more during the day for energy. Not getting enough sleep impedes HGH and testosterone levels, increasing weight gain.
While smoking is not a direct cause of increased belly fat, a study showed that smokers have more belly fat than nonsmokers.
Tips for Burning Belly Fat
The healthier your lifestyle, the more you will lose that unwanted and dangerous belly fat. Because the body metabolizes visceral fat faster than subcutaneous fat, losing it is easier, and your body eliminates it through peeing and sweat. A healthy exercise and diet plan can produce visible results within two to three months.
- Control portions and calories
The only way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you expend. Smaller portions, healthier foods, and moving more can help you reduce belly fat. Also, reduce the intake of refined sugars and carbohydrates, trans fats, processed and fried foods, and sodium. Eliminate or significantly reduce intake of soda, beer/alcohol, candy, and processed baked goods. Increase consumption of lean protein, vegetables, and fruit.
- Increase physical activity
The more energy you expend, the more calories your body will burn. You need to burn 2000 extra calories to lose one pound of fat. Increasing your physical activity and lowering your caloric intake increases your ability to burn stored fat. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) dramatically speeds up weight loss. Thirty minutes of exercise a day, even broken up into three 10-minute bouts, is all that is necessary.
- Emotional support
Many people eat or consume beer and alcohol out of stress or depression. We have already examined how stress can lead to increased belly fat. Getting help in these areas can reduce your food and alcohol intake. Finding hobbies or other activities that can fill the time can help improve your overall mood.
- Improve your sleep patterns
Hormones such as HGH and testosterone help the body metabolize food and burn fat while you sleep. Aim to get between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night for optimum fat-burning and well-being. Also, do not consume alcohol before bed, as that impedes sleep.
- Check your hormone levels
Out-of-balance hormones can lead to increased belly fat. A comprehensive blood panel test that includes essential hormones can determine if hormone deficiency or imbalance is causing weight gain. Hormone replacement treatment can help in that situation.
If you have a beer belly, or excess abdominal fat, the best thing to do is to take action to lose weight to protect your health. The most important thing to do is take stock of what you consume and how much you move. Increasing activity and decreasing calories is the only way to lose weight.
If you have a hormonal imbalance, getting help can improve how your body metabolizes food and burns stored fat. Restoring hormonal balance can also help improve many health issues.
Losing that beer belly will take time – it did not happen overnight. The sooner you take action, the better it will be for your health and life.
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