My healthy habits may have slipped a little during the holidays. I ate things I wouldn’t normally eat – in addition to eating more than I probably should. My exercise routine went out the window with the hectic holiday schedule.
It really hit home when I had trouble buttoning my jeans a few days ago. My belly and waistline had definitely expanded.
Belly fat can be a serious health issue. When we talk about belly fat, we don’t mean the jiggly (subcutaneous) fat you can pinch with your fingers. We’re actually referring to the visceral fat that lies out of reach, deep within your abdomen. It’s found around your liver, intestines and other organs. It’s also stored in a flap of tissue that lies under your stomach muscles.
Why is this abdominal fat worse than fat around the hips and thighs? Here are 5 reasons to be concerned about belly fat:
Belly fat acts like an organ
Belly fat isn’t just idly hanging out on your waistline. Researchers believe belly fat is an active “organ” in your body. It can contribute to health problems all over your body. Abdominal fat breaks down easily into fatty acids. These flow directly into the liver and your muscles.
Belly fat produces hormones
The fat cells in your abdomen are little hormone factories. They produce substances that get in the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body. The hormones made by fat cells affect your appetite, metabolism, blood sugar and blood pressure.
Belly fat increases risk of diabetes
Belly fat secretes a molecule that increases insulin resistance, which raises your risk of type 2 diabetes. Learn more about the 6 Truths About Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners.
Belly fat hurts your heart
Visceral fat also makes certain proteins that trigger low-level inflammation. These proteins can increase your risk of heart disease. The fatty acids released by belly fat are also linked to higher LDL or “bad” cholesterol and lower HDL or “good” cholesterol. Read about these Best Exercises to Lower Your Cholesterol.
Abdominal fat also triggers a change in angiotensin – a hormone that controls blood vessel constriction – increasing the risk of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack. Here are 13 Heart Healthy Foods you should be eating.
Belly fat ups risk of breast cancer
In general, being overweight or obese can increase your risk of breast cancer. Belly fat produces the hormone estrogen, which feeds breast cancer cells.
What can you do about belly fat?
There is evidence that your genes do determine how many fat cells you have. In addition, your genes dictate, to some extent, your body shape. You may be more inclined to be apple-shaped (carrying more weight in your mid-section) or pear-shaped (carrying weight in the hips and thighs).
Beyond that, how much belly fat you carry is linked to your lifestyle, including physical inactivity and how many calories you eat.
Learn more about how you can control and lose belly fat in our blog post: 4 Steps to Losing Belly Fat.
The good news is that belly fat responds well with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Visceral fat metabolizes more easily than the fat that’s on the surface of your body. There’s even more good news. Once you start to lose belly fat, the harmful effects of these extra fat cells can be reversed, including the risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Just another reason to eat healthy and get more exercise in 2015!