If you have a growing belly, it is partially due to a special type of fat called visceral fat that gets stored deep within the abdomen and pushes outward.
The abdomen is a common place for men to put on weight, but it also increases in women after they reach menopause.
In this post, I share why belly fat is a dangerous type of fat, a quick trick for knowing if you have too much, and the best strategies for getting rid of it.
Belly Fat- How Much is Too Much & How To Get Rid Of It [Video]
Visceral Fat vs Subcutaneous Fat
Your body stores two main types of fat – subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.
The word subcutaneous literally means “below the skin”. So, subcutaneous fat is the fat you can pinch on any area of your body, even your belly.
The word viscera refers to your internal organs. So, visceral fat is fat that forms around the abdominal organs.
You can’t pinch visceral fat, but if enough accumulates, it will push the belly out.
Visceral Fat is Densely Packed Belly Fat
Visceral fat can become very densely packed.
If you are a guy with a big belly, that is very hard, it is due to densely packed visceral fat.
We also see visceral fat in men who had been slim for most of their life and then develop a relatively small beer belly or pouch of belly fat.
Women Are Not Immune
Women are not immune to belly fat, particularly as we age.
As a woman is nearing or at menopause, changes in hormones, cause fat to be deposited in the abdomen more easily than in the hips.
So, even if a woman spent the early years of her life with a pear-shaped figure, as she nears or passes fifty, she may find that any extra pounds go to her belly not her hips.
The Danger Of Visceral Belly Fat
Visceral fat is a problem because it is in a contained space, so it can’t grow like the fat just below the skin.
Instead, as you put on visceral fat, it packs in around your organs and crowds the liver, pancreas, and intestines.
This fat is said to be metabolically active fat because it releases hormones and inflammatory agents.
These inflammatory agents increase your risk of serious diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers like breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
Excessive belly fat also increases your risk of insulin resistance, which you’ve heard me talk about often if you follow my channel.
Insulin resistance is a very common problem that makes losing weight difficult, and if not controlled, leads to type two diabetes.
Insulin Resistance and Visceral Fat
While there is more to be learned about the link between insulin resistance and belly fat, numerous research papers show that those with excess visceral fat produce more retinol binding protein-4.
Retinol binding protein-4 (RBP4) is a substance reported to impair insulin sensitivity in the body. (1)
How Much Belly Fat is Too Much?
So, how much is too much belly fat to be carrying?
Well, an accurate measurement of visceral fat requires a scanning test like an MRI or CT scan.
However, you can get an idea of the amount of belly fat you carry by measuring your waist.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, you are carrying too much belly fat if you have a waist circumference of more than 35 inches (88 cm) as a woman and more than 40 inches (102 cm) if you are a man. (2)
The measurement is taken halfway between the top of your hip bones and the bottom of your rib cage.
“More Than a Yard…”
While teaching, I would share a little memory trick to help students remember these measurements.
The trick is not subtle, but it does work.
It goes like this:
For women – More than a yard, too much lard.
For a man – A yard plus four, but no more.
Now, obviously, this only works if you measure in inches and yards as we do here in America.
So, if you are one of my International visitors, this may not be as helpful, but it doesn’t change the limits.
So, using metric measurements, you’d be looking to stay below 89 cm if you are a woman and below 102 cm if you are a man.
How To Get Rid of Visceral Belly Fat
So, how do we get rid of visceral belly fat?
Well, first we know that some hormones play key roles in the accumulation of belly fat.
While women cannot do much naturally about the drop in estrogen at menopause that contributes to belly fat, women and men do have control over other hormonal factors.
Step 1: Control Cortisol, Control Visceral Belly Fat
Cortisol, for instance, is a hormone associated with belly fat.
Cortisol is nicknamed the stress hormone because it will be secreted during times of stress, and it works very well to help us cope with short-term stressors like being cut off in traffic.
However, chronic stress, like dealing with challenging work or home situations, causes the production of too much cortisol.
This contributes to weight gain and carb cravings.
Stress reduction techniques are valuable but admittedly challenging to do.
You can also say the same about improving sleep, which is another method to help regulate hormones associated with weight gain.
How to Measure Stress & Sleep
It is important to have a way to evaluate whether or not you are heading in the right direction with these two areas of life; stress reduction and improved sleep.
How do you do that?
Well thanks to modern technology, it is not hard.
For instance, a Fitbit or similar device can be worn at night to track your quality of sleep.
My husband wears an Oura ring, which is less cumbersome, and an excellent device for tracking sleep quality and heart rate variability.
These two factors can indicate how well you’re coping with stress.
Step 2: Eat a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet
Beyond those healthy lifestyle changes, the most influence over the hormonal factors that cause belly fat comes from changing your diet.
Fortunately, we see that visceral fat is lost through the same means by which we lose subcutaneous fat.
So your emphasis should be on eating in a way that keeps insulin low.
Insulin is your “fat-storing hormone”, and the amount in your blood is strongly influenced by your food choices.
High-carb foods like refined bread, cereal, pasta, cookies, and candy and even whole, starches like potatoes and rice cause insulin to rise in your blood.
Until that insulin can be cleared out, your body is in fat-storing mode and fat-burning is blocked.
So, adopting a low-carb or keto diet is beneficial for reducing belly fat.
Step 3: Practice Intermittent Fasting
Another way to keep insulin low is by practicing intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is a timing method that provides you with long stretches of time between meals.
That time away from eating allows insulin to drop, so your body can enter into fat-burning mode.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you back here next week!
(1) Lee, Ji‐Won, et al. “Visceral adiposity is associated with serum retinol binding protein‐4 levels in healthy women.” Obesity 15.9 (2007): 2225-2232.
(2) “Waist Size Matters.” Obesity Prevention Source, 13 Apr. 2016, www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-definition/abdominal-obesity/.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.