Key factors that affect belly fat accumulation
Besides toned muscles, the one thing standing between you and six-pack abs right now is likely a layer of fat that keeps those muscles hidden. This type of fat can appear just about anywhere, but the areas most recognizable are the hips, thighs, and especially the stomach. So what is causing your belly fat? What are the key factors that affect abdominal fat accumulation?
While you may think that eating too many cheeseburgers and fries are the reason behind your stomach fat (and you are part right), with age, there are several other factors that come into play in your less-than-svelte midsection. And while aesthetics are important, excess abdominal fat has been proven to play a role in certain health risks like heart disease and diabetes.
In this article we’ll break down some of the most common triggers of belly fat, including why they cause fat accumulation and what you can do about it. The only way to achieve a flat belly is to know exactly what’s stopping you from having one and how to go about fixing it!
Appetite-regulating gut hormones, work, diet, and physical activity in adults, children, and adolescents have all been described as factors that affect abdominal fat accumulation.
Well known factors that contribute to accumulation of abdominal (belly) fat
Inadequate level of physical activity
Our activity level is a major player in weight balance. Inactivity causes loss of muscle mass, a reduced metabolic rate, and increased body fat. Conversely, regular exercise can improve muscle mass and boost metabolism. As we exercise, our muscles utilize calories for energy and generate heat, which promotes the burning of fat.
Excessive caloric intake
Overeating and consuming more calories than your body uses for energy can result in weight gain, regardless of whether those calories come from fat, carbohydrates, or protein. Excess calories that are consumed and not burned for energy are stored by the body in the form of fat.
Poor food choices
The food choices you make can either help or hurt your efforts to attain a flat stomach. By transitioning away from belly-bloating foods and instead consuming the majority of your meals and snacks from belly-flattening foods, you can get on track to a smaller waistline and a healthier life. Consider the following eating practices that are poor choices for your midsection:
- consuming refined carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, white rice, sugary cereals etc)
- opting for unhealthy fats (saturated fat)
- downing too many fluid calories (drinks mainly made up of sugar)
These foods are energy dense (high in calories). They can also trigger hormone and blood sugar imbalances, which are associated with weight gain, abdominal fat accumulation, and inability to lose weight. Always remember that food quality is just as important as food quantity.
Slow metabolism (basal metabolic rate)
Your basal metabolic rate is the rate at which your body burns calories at rest. This rate is dependent on several factors, such as activity level and thyroid function. Having a sluggish metabolism means that your body burns calories more slowly, and this is represented by a low BMR.
Less obvious factors that trigger abdominal fat accumulation
They don’t call it the “middle-age spread” for no reason. With age, you are more likely to accumulate fat higher up the body than you may have in younger years, when it stuck to your hips and thighs, instead.
Because your metabolism is slowing down as you age, the rate at which you burn calories is slowed. Therefore you will need to ramp up your workouts to combat it. Some aging people also experience problems with their thyroid, which can make losing body fat nearly impossible. Only a medical test can confirm if a faulty thyroid is to blame.
Chronic stress, which is common today, is a major contributor to weight gain and abdominal fat accumulation. It comes in many forms, not just from our outside environment (work, family, finances). For example, eating high-glycemic foods triggers a quick and strong surge in insulin levels, which is stressful to the body and increases the release of cortisol.
The hormone cortisol is believed to play a role in slowing down the fat-burning process. Therefore this is the key hormone that promotes fat storage, particularly around the midsection (belly). Along with stress, naturally, comes a busier life that can get in the way of exercising or finding way to relax. Plus, these hormones may make you feel depressed, which can spiral into overeating. Taking care to reduce or manage stress is critical when trying to achieve six-pack abs. Therefore you must get your stress level under control in order to slow down the accumulation of abdominal fat.
Lack of sleep
Getting too little sleep (less than six hours per night), even for as short a period as a week, can trigger hormonal imbalances such as decreased sensitivity to insulin, decreased production of leptin and serotonin, and increased levels of a hormone called ghrelin, all factors that trigger increased appetite and fat storage. Lack of sleep also reduces human growth hormone production, which can slow down your metabolism.
Beyond your diet and exercise plan, if your day consists of less than optimal sleep and too much alcohol, you may find yourself with a bigger belly. Sleep is crucial for weight loss, studies have found. And those who do not get enough sleep have more trouble losing weight. Also, remember that alcohol actually translates into sugar in the body – a major culprit in excess stomach fat.
Genetic factors (heredity)
You may simply be more likely to accumulate more abdominal fat because of heredity. It is true that we inherit our genetic code from our parents, and we have no control over certain characteristics, such as our bone structure and height. That certainly doesn’t mean if everyone around the kitchen table has a spare tire that you can’t achieve six-pack abs. You may just have to be more diligent for the long haul. Having a genetic predisposition toward obesity does not mean that this is your destiny. Several studies have shown that lifestyle factors are more important determinants of obesity and abdominal (belly) fat accumulation and these factors can also switch obesity genes on or off.
Some medications you take can actually cause you to gain weight because they alter your appetite-regulating hormones or slow down your metabolism. Steroids, often used to ease arthritis are a one. Others, including antihistamines, birth control pills, antidepressants and sleeping pills can cause you to gain weight. If you suspect your medication may be to blame, ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are alternative medications that won’t affect your weight loss efforts.
Closing thoughts: The causes of belly fat accumulation
Belly fat doesn’t Just come from one place or one cause. In fact, a number of reasons cause you to start accumulating belly fat. Surprisingly, they aren’t all due to just what you put in your mouth (although that can be part of it)! Your diet plays a direct role in your belly fat, be it due to excess fat cells or bloating caused by gaseous foods.
Your lifestyle (bad habits), inactivity, inadequate level of physical activity, stress level, hormones, genetic factors (heredity), lack of sleep, and age all play a role in belly fat accumulation and in keeping your muscles well-hidden.
As you can see by now, some of the factors that contribute to belly fat accumulation are less obvious than others.