What Causes Belly Fat When You Eat

12 Min Read

For what reason do so many of us store our extra weight there? Metabolism (which decides how many calories are too much), hormones (which direct fat to where it feels most comfortable), and genetics all play a role in the solution.

It’s not fair at all. The rest of us couldn’t believe that yesterday’s Chipotle was the cause of today’s jeans not fitting because some individuals can eat anything they want and never gain an inch.

The issue goes deeper than skin deep. Numerous serious diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, have been associated with excessive abdominal fat.

“It’s not solely an aesthetic issue,” says Andy Bellatti, MS RD of abdominal obesity. “There are real risks to people’s health.”

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For what reason do so many of us store our extra weight there?

Metabolism (which decides how many calories are too much), hormones (which direct fat to where it feels most comfortable), and genetics all play a role in the solution. You may worry less about your weight and have more confidence in your weight loss efforts if you understand how these elements interact to convert food into belly fat.

The Relationship Between Your Metabolism and Weight Gain

Gaining weight is due to one fundamental problem: consuming more calories than you expend. First things first: how much activity you do does not affect the number of calories your body burns daily.

Your BMR, or basal metabolic rate, is responsible for most of the calories you burn daily. This is the fuel your body needs to keep going. Every cell in your body relies on the energy you provide through the calories you expend.

Naturally, this also includes calorie expenditure throughout the night. To get a sense of how much power is required to operate the “machine” that is your body, consider that your calorie burn lowers by just around 5 percent when you sleep. This regulates between 80% and 60% of your metabolic rate.

Ten percent to thirty percent of the calories you burn come from the amount you move. This includes exercise, strolling about, and even fidgeting. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy required by your body to digest food, accounting for roughly 10% of your total metabolic energy expenditure.

When energy intake exceeds energy expenditure, the body can store the excess as lean mass (muscle) or fat.

If we had free will over this, we’d all yell, “Pick muscle!” However, your body needs the incentive to direct the blood supply to your guns (or buns or any of the hundreds of other muscles). That stimulation may be seen in — you guessed it — physical activity.

Weight-bearing exercise increases caloric expenditure because muscular growth requires more fuel. Muscle tissue needs repair so the body understands where to send those calories, Bellatti explains.

“But if you’re not giving your muscles anything to work against, they won’t get any stronger.”

No stimulation of the muscles? The second choice your body makes is to start storing fat, where that fat deposit itself is primarily determined by a person’s genetics and hormonal state.

What Causes Fat to Be Stored There

Our fatty tissue is distributed randomly. Our lower body mass distribution (the “pear shape”) or our abdominal preponderance (the “apple shape”) is partially determined by our genetic makeup.

Our hormones are another critical predictor of fat accumulation, but they are also subject to some control through our daily habits. Insulin and cortisol are two hormones that play a crucial role in developing abdominal fat.

Dietitian and Penn State Ph.D. candidate Mike Roussell said, “How we live our lives impacts those hormones, and then those hormones impact our ability to store or release fat.”

In a nutshell, insulin serves as a security guard. It causes the blood sugar level to drop to a healthy range, as described by Roussell. “So when you eat something with a high glycemic index, like carbohydrates or sugar, your blood sugar goes up, and insulin takes it out of your blood and deposits it into your fat cells.”

However, this does not prove that insulin is responsible for fat storage (this hypothesis has been tested and needs to be supported by the data). Insulin is essential for storing calories as muscle, after all.

If your insulin levels are constantly high, as they could be if you ate sugar regularly throughout the day, this might open the door to increased fat accumulation.

The important thing is to keep insulin levels from being consistently high rather than fretting over the various foods that might cause an insulin reaction.

Cortisol, the other hormone, regulates your body’s reaction to stress. Its purpose is to get your vast muscles ready for action by releasing a surge of glucose into your bloodstream.

As a result of stress brought on by things like a job or a lack of sleep, your body may mistakenly enter “survival mode,” releasing cortisol. Since cortisol has been related to belly obesity for a long time, this makes matters worse.

Like compound interest, weight gain may dig you into a deeper and deeper hole from which it’s increasingly difficult to escape.

“As you get more fat into your fat cells and they get bigger, it can cause an inflammatory response,” adds Roussell. To paraphrase, “When your fat cell is in that stressed situation and inflamed, it’s not going to want to release the fat.”

Avoiding Excess Weight Gain

Maintaining energy balance, where daily caloric intake equals daily caloric expenditure, is the first line of defense against belly fat accumulation. Obesity affects about a third of the U.S. population, so it’s clear that this is easier said than done. Here are three places to begin.

1. Pick the Good Calories

Bellatti says a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins will not only make you feel fuller (due to the fiber, protein, and minerals in these foods) but will also be less likely to be converted into belly fat during digestion.

Consider two individuals who adhere to Bellatti’s suggested daily calorie intake of 1,500. Whichever diet contains more processed carbohydrates and added sugar, less fiber, and fewer high-quality proteins and fats is more likely to cause a rise in blood sugar. Increased insulin production increases the likelihood that abdominal fat will be deposited.

Buying whole foods instead of processed ones is healthier and more cost-effective. That’s why Bellatti doesn’t think you should believe the results of the diets where individuals claim to have lost weight while eating a lot of McDonald’s or Twinkies.

How about 1,500 calories of Haagen Dazs and McDonald’s? Can you lose weight doing that?” Bellatti agrees, “Yeah.”

But it’s not good for you and only fills you up a little. The volume of ice cream necessary to get 1,500 calories is relatively tiny. You would be starving.

2. Manage your Cortisol Levels

Caffeine, drinking, stressing out about work, and not getting enough sleep are all factors that can increase your cortisol levels, assuming you aren’t running from wild animals or otherwise experiencing a genuine stress reaction.

Caffeine presents a dilemma for those trying to slim down. Caffeine may have a slight calorie-burning impact, but studies have shown that consuming many cups of coffee daily raises cortisol levels. Drinking coffee in the morning is OK, but skipping the afternoon pick-me-up is a better strategy.

Consuming alcohol in a short period might cause your cortisol levels to spike. Having a glass of wine with dinner is generally acceptable, but chugging six beers at happy hour is reckless.

The stress reaction can be brought on by stress. The good news is that the solution may be in plain sight and even include your nose.

Focusing on one’s breathing is one of the most straightforward and accessible strategies to alleviate tension and induce a state of calm. By breathing deeply and slowly, you may switch from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest.”

So the next time you’re at work, and your thoughts start racing, you feel like pressing the panic button, get up, find a quiet location, and sit down. Then, do some belly breathing for five minutes?

3. Climb into the Bed

Cortisol and other hormones that might contribute to fat accumulation are increased in response to poor or inadequate sleep.

“Lack of sleep tips the hormonal balance to fat storage and cell inflammation,” adds Roussell. The hormones in your body are altered after only two nights of poor sleep (four hours or less), making it considerably more challenging to release fat from fat cells and increasing the likelihood of fat accumulation.

According to research, people’s levels of ghrelin (also known as the “hunger hormone”) rise after only one night of sleep loss, while leptin (a hormone that makes it easier to say “I’m OK without that donut, thanks”) falls.

You should know that sleep involves a lot more than just resting. It’s a crucial battlefield in the war against abdominal fat. You should dedicate at least seven to nine hours to it (the average attention span of an adult) and read it carefully.

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