Weight Loss

Worried About Belly Fat? Here are the Possible Causes

Aditi Shenai

October 13, 2022

Belly fat is one of the most widely talked about topics in health and fitness.However, the concern about belly fat is not limited to adults only. Moreover, the rising cases of obesity among children and young adults make it even more important to understand what exactly causes belly fat. So here is the lowdown on it before we look into ways to control it. 

Belly fat can happen due to factors that occur due to poor lifestyle choices or factors out of our control. Factors such as an unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle, and poor eating habits, are the leading causes of belly fat. When it is followed by excessive drinking and smoking and leading a highly stressful life, it adds to the issue. Some factors like genetics and hormones can also contribute to belly fat. Some studies show that hormones and pregnancy are the leading causes of belly fat among women.

Belly fat can be prevented and controlled by individuals up to a great extent by making the necessary modifications in lifestyle and eating habits. All one needs is perseverance and the will to make a shift for the better.

Leading Causes of Belly Fat

A Sedentary Lifestyle

Lack of regular exercise and a sedentary lifestyle is one of the leading causes of belly fat. When one does not burn as many calories as they consume, the excess calories get stored in form of fat in the body. Hence it is essential to incorporate at least 30 minutes of exercise into one’s daily routine to keep your body agile and in shape.

Poor Dietary Habits

Studies show that poor eating habits are the leading cause of obesity and related problems in children. Junk foods, fried foods, preserved foods are rich in synthetic additives, artificial flavouring and excessive amounts of sugars.  They not only cause the prevalence of a higher level of belly fat in individuals but also lead to many related health problems such as heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and many more.

High-Stress Levels

When a person undergoes a  stressful situation, the body produces a chemical named cortisol to help one cope with the stress. However, prolonged release of this chemical can slow down the metabolic rate dangerously affecting the body. . Stress also induces binge eating habits, especially in teens and young adults. Excess calories consumed and a slow metabolism leads to fats accumulating in our bodies, especially around our bellies.

Genetics and Belly Fat

Studies show that individuals with genetic strains linked to obesity have a higher chance of accumulating fats around their bellies. That is because these genes dictate how our bodies react to foods and our metabolic rate. A person with an inherently slow metabolic rate is thus more likely to develop a bigger belly.

Improper Sleep

Our bodies need sufficient time to burn up the excess energy and  resrtore themselves every day, which happens through proper and adequate sleep. Also, research shows how poor sleep or too little sleep makes our bodies incapable of regulating energy usage in the long run. As a result, it reduces one’s metabolic rate and fat-burning abilities. Still, it also affects one’s mental health, which might trigger binge eating and anxiety eating problems that lead to excessive weight gain.

Excessive Drinking and Smoking

One of the many vices of excessive drinking and smoking is increased belly fat. Many studies show that individuals with drinking and smoking habits have more visceral fats and adipose (fatty) cells in the belly region than individuals who indulge in neither.

Hormonal Shifts

Many women in their late 40s and 50s often observe an increase in their belly fats. It is due to the onset of menopause, where the oestrogen levels decline rapidly and cause the body to store most of the fat in the abdominal region rather than distributing it evenly. 

Postpartum and Belly Fat

Postpartum is one of the most common causes of belly fat in women. The abdominal region has to stretch out and distend outwards during pregnancy to ensure the child is safe in the womb. During this time, the body stores some fat in the abdomen to provide an energy bank to the mother. It also provides a cushion against possible external injury to the child. After the child’s birth, the skin and internal structure of the abdominal region need time to rearrange itself into the normal layout. Many times, the fat doesn’t get burnt out, causing a lower belly pooch.

After Effects of Medication

Medications for diabetes, insulin injections, anti-hypertensive medicines, beta-blockers and medications related to psychiatric problems such as anxiety, depression, etc., often lead to weight gain and a slower metabolic rate leading to higher amounts of fat stored around the abdominal area.

Belly Fat: How to Measure It and How Much is Too Much?

Excessive belly fat not only leads to obesity but also brings about a lot of health problems related to it. Hence, it becomes essential to know how much fat gets stored in the body and how the distribution occurs.  

How Much Belly Fat is Too Much?

Apart from the external indicators and measurements of belly fat, it is essential to know the inside composition of one’s body. Our bodies have fats called visceral fat, which gets stored in a person’s abdominal cavity, near our pancreas, liver and intestines. It also affects how hormones function in our bodies. Hence excess visceral fat levels can have multiple dangerous health consequences.

  • CT scans or MRI tests are the most accurate means of measuring visceral fats in one’s body. In a typical MRI scan, an individual’s visceral fat is between 1 to 59. 
  • For a healthy person, the visceral fat levels should fall under 13. 
  • Anything greater than or equal to 13 indicates that the person needs to make immediate lifestyle and dietary modifications to get the value down to normal.

Given that such tests are expensive for many, doctors often opt to measure a person’s overall body fat to know the amount of visceral fats stored. Harvard Medical School studies have shown that the visceral fats in an individual’s body are about 10 percent of the overall fat present.

Can You Measure Belly Fat at Home?

There are many prescribed methods for measuring one’s abdominal fat levels. However, the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health studies have found the following techniques to be the most accurate.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

BMI tells us about how ideal an individual’s weight is. It is calculated as weight(in kg)/ Height(m^2). The higher the figure, the more overweight an individual is.

  • An average person’s BMI should fall between 18.5 and 24.9
  • A person is overweight if their BMI falls between 25.0 and 29.9
  • A person is obese if their BMI is 30.0 or higher

BMI is the easiest way to assess a person’s weight but isn’t always accurate in cases like bodybuilders and expecting mothers.

Waist Circumference

The average BMI level does not indicate the distribution of fat within one’s body. Many times, the extra fat is centered around the waist region. So, measuring our waist circumference helps to get a rough idea.

All one needs is a measuring tape to measure the circumference of one’s waist size, i.e. between the lowest rib and top of the hip bone across the umbilicus (belly button). But one must keep in mind that this is just a measure of excess belly fat and does not tell us about body composition. 

Waist-To-Hip Ratio

The waist-to-hip ratio is the ratio of waist circumference to hip circumference. The higher the ratio, the more fat is stored around one’s waist. It also considers that one’s body structure also dictates the waist to hip ratio. For example, an apple body shape will have a much lesser waist to hip ratio than a person with a pear body shape. Men with a waist to hip ratio of 0.85 and above and females with 0.9 are highly likely to develop chronic health problems. In addition, it is usually a fall out of a high amount of belly fat.

Ways to Reduce Belly Fat

The visceral fat in our body is a clear indicator of ur health status. Therefore, it becomes essential that one tries to maintain their body fat levels in the healthy range. Reducing belly fat needs a few lifestyle modifications and the perseverance to stick to it. 

Regular Exercise

The best way to reduce belly fat is to rope in at least 30 mins of exercise every day. One doesn’t need to start with intense cardio or heavy weight lifting. Exercising can be as simple as a relaxing yoga session or a brisk 30 min walk every day. Not only does it help in getting our bodies agile and active, but it also benefits our mental health, both of which lead to reduced levels of belly fat eventually.

Eating Clean

The type of food we eat heavily affects our body’s metabolic rate and how the calories get utilised. Therefore, it becomes essential to check what one eats. Consequently, one must strictly avoid junk and sugar-rich, and heavily processed foods as they lead to more fats getting deposited in the body. Instead, one must consume plenty of fruits and greens, healthy carbs, and fibre-rich foods that keep us sufficiently full throughout the day and provide healthy fats and nutrients to our bodies.

Managing Portion Sizes

One must keep in mind that while eating healthy aids belly fat reduction, it does not guarantee it. Even healthy foods may add up to the calories in our bodies. When the calories consumed exceed the number of calories burnt out, the body stores the excess calories in the form of fats. It is hence equally essential to manage one’s portion sizes. One must consult their doctors or dieticians to get advice on the same.

Besides these points, it’s important to hydrate well, sleep well and manage stress levels. Weight loss occurs when all these factors are in sync and not when the focus is on any one method.


Belly fats are a great indicator of one’s overall health and determine the vulnerability of an individual to various health complications. Given its proximity to many vital organs in our bodies, such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines, we must keep our body fat, especially the visceral fats, under the healthy range to ensure proper bodily functions. CT and MRI scans give us an accurate measure of the amount of visceral abdominal fats in our bodies. However, given their high costs, measurements such as the BMI and the waist to hip ratio are popularly used to determine belly fat levels. Individuals with increased abdominal fat levels must take conscious steps to modify their lifestyle and dietary habits to bring their fat levels down to healthy ranges.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How can I reduce my belly fat?

A. The best and the simplest way to reduce belly fat is to combine regular exercising with a healthy diet. One must exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes every day and ensure that they eat well rounded, homemade meals as much as possible. Cutting down on excessive sugars, preserved foods, and fried foods will significantly reduce belly fat in just a few months.

Q. Which foods cause the most belly fat?

A. Studies show that consuming junk food and processed foods with synthetic additives are the leading cause of high belly fat and obesity. Additionally, foods rich in sugar and Omega 6 fatty acids, excessive drinking, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle are equally likely to cause high belly fat levels.

Q.What are the 5 foods that burn belly fat?

A. The five best foods that help burn up belly fats are-

  • Green tea with lemon and honey,
  • Citrus fruits, 
  • Fibre-rich foods such as oats and barley, 
  • Sweet spices such as cinnamon and cardamom and
  • Foods that are rich in omega3 fatty acids, such as cod liver oil

Q. What causes a big stomach in females?

A. There are many dietary, lifestyle, and hormonal factors that cause women to get a big stomach. The most significant factors are the amounts of calories consumed, the type of food one consumes, and the amount of physical activities. Also, genetics often lead to a big stomach in women. These genes sometimes lead to fats being stored mainly in the stomach area. Additionally, women also go through hormonal shifts during menopause. For example, a drop in oestrogen levels during menopause causes fat to be stored in the stomach rather than distributed over the body.

Q. What fruit will reduce belly fat?

A. Fruits which have high water content and are rich in Vitamin C and fibres are  best for reducing belly fat. Fruits such as watermelon, grapefruits, berries, and apples aid in belly fat reduction. They induce the feeling of being full and prevent binge eating 

Q. Does rice increase belly fat?

A. studies show that there is no direct link between consuming rice and belly fat. However, consuming excessive quantities of white refined rice may cause an increase in belly fat. In addition, it may cause obesity over time. Also, consuming rice in measured portions is recommended by many dieticians as rice is one of the easiest foods to digest by the human stomach. Therefore, it is an excellent means of energy and healthy fats.

Q. Do bananas cause belly fat?

A. When compared to the other fruits, bananas are higher in calories. Therefore, it makes people believe that they lead to increased belly fat. However, this assumption is incorrect. Studies by UPenn’s Medical School show that bananas are filling, nutritious, and easy to digest, making them a quick source of energy. In addition, it aids the body in shedding off more belly fat during workouts.

Q. How can I flatten my stomach naturally?

A. The simplest way to flatten out one’s stomach naturally is by exercising regularly and eating clean. Not only does this help our bodies gain healthy fats and nutrients, which aid in the natural fat loss process, but it also helps keep our hormones and stress levels under the healthy range.

Q. Do eggs burn belly fat?

A. Yes, eggs are effective in reducing belly fat. This is because eggs are calorie deficient foods that help accelerate our metabolism and allow our bodies to burn fat quicker, leading to quicker belly fat loss. 

Q. Why is my belly getting bigger even though I’m not pregnant?

A. A belly bulge can happen due to many reasons apart from pregnancy. The most common reason is bloating, where our stomach traps too much gas in it, causing our bellies to protrude outwards. Besides, excessive stress, frequent alcohol consumption and hormonal changes due to menopause cause our bellies to grow bigger.

Q. Is having a belly normal?

A. Having a belly and lower belly pooch is entirely normal to a certain extent. Most people develop a belly to a certain extent as they age due to their metabolic rate slowing down. But when it starts bordering on being overweight and obese, it becomes dangerous for overall health and well being. Therefore, one must take preventive measures to avoid putting on unhealthy fats in such cases.

Q. What is a hormonal belly?

A. Hormonal belly is usually observed in the case of women in their late 40s and through their 50s. It occurs during menopause when the body sees a natural shift in hormones. The sudden decline in oestrogen levels causes the fats to get stored in one’s tummy rather than getting spread out proportionately across the body.

Q. What foods to avoid if you want a flat stomach?

A. You must avoid junk foods, fried foods, fast foods, preserved foods rich in synthetic additives and artificial flavouring and excessive amounts of sugars. Also, to get a flat stomach, you must avoid binge eating, excessive drinking and smoking at all costs.

About the Author

M.Sc in: Dietetics and Applied Nutrition from Manipal University. Worked: All over India and have been involved in helping set up nutrition departments in start ups. Interested in lifestyle based nutrition. Mantra: A healthy lifestyle isn't a choice to be made or discarded, it's a way of life!

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One response to “Worried About Belly Fat? Here are the Possible Causes”

  1. I am going through Menopause phase. I have gained weight and belly fat. I am following diet plans and exercise given by the coaches of Healthifyme. There is no change in my weight.
    Please let me know will I be able to loose weight once menopause phase is over.

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