Discovering what causes belly fat in females can answer many questions and reduce fears. Every woman loves wearing hip-height pants with a short top as she embraces summer. However, hanging, lower, and overall belly flab can make you feel self-conscious.
How can you stop feeling so self-conscious about your belly? Discovering the reasons behind a not-so-tight and flat belly will help you realize what you can control and limit. That way, you can trim it down or reduce the likelihood of gaining more belly weight.
What Are 3 Reasons You Have Belly Fat?
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are ultimately four factors that cause belly fat in females (2):
- The number of calories you consume daily
- The number of calories you burn daily
- The natural aging process
However, many factors influence some of these reasons, particularly the number of calories you eat and burn each day. Let us first understand your belly, the fat types, and the risks of excess weight. Then, you’ll discover how these reasons relate to different lifestyle, calorie, and aging-related causes.
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Stomach Fat in Females Explained
Harvard explains that there are two types of stomach fat (20):
- Subcutaneous fat that lies between the abdominal wall and skin
- Visceral fat that surrounds the organs and lies deeper within your abdomen
According to Harvard, the majority of people have approximately 90% subcutaneous and 10% visceral fat. Too much visceral fat is linked to health risks.
How to Measure Belly Fat in Women
Harvard suggests measuring your waist to see if it is 35 inches or less (20). For most women, a waist circumference of 35 inches or larger is considered to be a sign of excess visceral fat. This cutoff may not apply if you have a large overall body size, and you should discuss any specific issues or questions you have with your healthcare provider. Measure straight above your navel directly above your hip bones at the back and make sure to measure in exactly the same place every time.
The Hormonal Belly
A research article describes visceral fat as being hormonally active(21). It can influence several metabolic processes and too much of it is associated with an increased risk of several chronic diseases.
Stomach Fat in Women Risks
Harvard says that subcutaneous fat produces healthier molecules, whereas visceral fat produces more potentially harmful molecules (20). For example, visceral fat makes cytokine proteins that can trigger inflammation.
The fat also releases angiotensin precursors that can narrow the arteries and increase blood pressure. Furthermore, Harvard provides evidence that excess visceral fat may increase the risk of the following diseases (20):
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
WebMD suggests that excess visceral fat may increase the risk of these diseases (24):
- Heart disease
- Type II diabetes
Belly fat is an enemy that may increase risks as you become older. If you believe that you have too much visceral fat, you should talk to your healthcare provider about a plan to reduce it.
3 Causes of Increased Belly Fat (Age-Related)
The causes of belly fat in females that relate to aging include body composition changes and hormones. Let’s examine why you’re gaining extra pounds around the middle as you become older.
Causes of Lower Belly Fat in Females – Changing Fat Distribution
Los Angeles researchers studied fat distribution around menopause for almost 12 years (3). They found the menopause transition to be associated with the development of central adiposity or the accumulation of fat in the abdominal region.
Causes of Belly Fat in Menopause – Estrogen
Changing hormone levels explains much of why you gain weight around the middle during menopause. Louisiana State University researchers examined estrogen and visceral fat post-menopause (10). They found that women begin storing more visceral fat in the abdomen as their estrogen levels drop and energy expenditure decreases.
Another Cause of Stomach Fat in Aging Women – Muscle Loss
The Mayo Clinic explains the final part of the aging process and its relationship to belly fat (2). We all naturally lose muscle mass as we become older and decreased muscle mass requires less energy to maintain, meaning that the body uses fewer calories. In combination with the fact that people have a tendency to be less active as they get older, if we don’t lower our calorie intake, weight gain is likely.
Read more: 3 Best Exercises To Lose Belly Fat After 50.
What Causes Belly Fat in Females Fast? (Calories and Food)
Two major causes of belly fat in females are high-calorie intake and a sedentary lifestyle(2). We will now look at particular dietary choices that lead to excess calorie intake.
3 Dietary Causes of Belly Fat
What causes belly fat in females in terms of calories? There are three reasons calories cause you to gain weight around the waist (2).
Binge Eating May Add Belly Fat
Binge eating and excessive food intake in short periods may cause belly fat. Nigerian, North American, and Chinese researchers have examined the effects of binge eating disorder on metabolic syndrome (16). They found a high percentage of people with binge-eating disorder to have metabolic syndrome characteristics, one of which is central adiposity, or excess belly fat.
Too Many Calories Daily May Cause Gains
Consuming too many calories and leading a lifestyle that is generally inactive are serious reasons for belly fat. WebMD suggests swapping high-calorie foods for nutrient-dense foods (25). You should change fried foods, ultra-processed food, and sweets for fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Unhealthy Gut Bacteria May Influence Belly Fat
Did you know that you have trillions of bacteria and an entire ecosystem in your gut (22)? WebMD suggests that these organisms can influence weight gain (25). Eating probiotic foods such as yogurt and kimchi, or prebiotic fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can facilitate the promotion of a healthy microbiome with more beneficial bacteria.
6 Specific Foods That May Cause Belly Fat
Certain foods may increase visceral or abdominal fat. Here, we will examine them and recommend some you can use to avoid weight gain around the middle.
Alcohol May Cause Stomach Fat
Japanese scientists studied the effects of alcohol on fat deposits and found higher alcohol consumption to be associated with increased visceral fat (1).
Limited Fiber Intake May Result in Belly Fat
Too little soluble fiber may be another reason for belly fat. Researchers from Colorado, Canada, and North Caroline determined certain lifestyle factors that affected abdominal fat over five years (12). For each 10-gram increase in soluble fiber intake, the rate of visceral fat accumulation decreased by 3.7%.
Low-Quality Protein Intake May Cause Excess Belly Fat
University of Oklahoma researchers found quality protein intake to be inversely related to the percentage of central abdominal fat (15). Quality protein was defined by the ratio of essential amino acids to total protein.
Added Sugar May Increase Stomach Fat
Researchers at the University of Minnesota found excessive sugar consumption over a long period of time to be linked to higher visceral fat deposits (5). Their focus was on sugar consumption from sugar-sweetened beverages and sugars added to foods.
Sugar-Sweetened Beverages May Cause Belly Fat
Researchers in Minnesota examined the effects of sugar-sweetened (SSBs) and diet beverages on visceral fat (18). Diet drinks were found not to make much difference in visceral fat. However, a regular intake of sugar-sweetened beverages was found to be linked to increased waist circumference and a greater proportion of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat with no change in total body fat.
Trans Fat Foods May Result in Bigger Bellies
Trans fat may cause belly fat. Brazilian scientists analyzed the fat tissues of men who had undergone bariatric surgery (7). They found more trans fatty acids in the visceral fat than in fat from other areas of the body, a fact they found to be worrisome. The good news is that many countries have now banned artificial trans fats in foods, including the United States.
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6 Lifestyle Causes of Belly Fat in Females
If the cause of belly fat in females is all you can think about, you’ll find the answers you need here. Certain lifestyle habits may play a role in weight gain around the middle and they will be looked at more closely here.
Bad Habits Might Cause Visceral Fat Gain
WebMD explains how smokers have a tendency to have more visceral fat deposits (25). Nicotine and vaping may also cause excess weight around the middle, even in those with a normal BMI.
Inactivity Might Cause Weight Gain Around the Midsection
Scientists at the University of Minnesota performed an examination of the relationship between sedentary lifestyles, physical activity, and visceral fat (17). The results unsurprisingly found that participants who spent more time watching television and did less physical activity had more visceral fat.
Poor Sleep Hygiene May Cause Belly Fat
Poor sleep is another lifestyle factor that may result in belly fat. The Mayo Clinic found that poor sleeping habits often increase calorie intake and can lead to increased visceral fat (11).
Prescription Medication May Increase Belly Fat
WebMD explains how certain medications notoriously cause weight gain, particularly around the middle (25). Some diabetic, steroid, epilepsy, and antidepressant medications may lead to weight gain, and beta blockers are renowned for causing belly fat.
Why Am I Skinny But Have a Big Stomach? It’s in Your Head, Literally!
Stress and poor mental health may cause belly fat, even if you are quite thin in other places. Medicine Net suggests that stress may cause weight gain around the middle (27). The stress hormone cortisol may also influence how your body distributes fat.
Conditions associated with high cortisol levels may result in excess fat deposits in your mid-section, such as severe depression and Cushing’s disease.
Stubborn Belly Fat in a Female Might Be Genetic
The Cleveland Clinic explains that environmental, lifestyle, dietary, and genetic factors determine the amount of visceral fat you possess. However, genetics determine the way in which your body stores and distributes it (23).
Therefore, following an active lifestyle, eating correctly, and sleeping well may help. However, genetics can still interfere with how stubborn belly fat remains. WebMD says genetics also influence the way your body burns calories and how quickly you feel satisfied (25).
What Is the Best Way for a Woman to Lose Belly Fat?
Losing fat around the stomach is possible and is highly recommended. So, let’s use the information we have learned to formulate an action plan for shedding belly fat. Follow these tips and you will ensure you embark on belly-burning weight loss.
Control Calories and Keep a Healthy Gut to Lose Belly Fat
To lose belly fat, start by cutting out binge eating, limiting your calorie intake, and eating food that feeds the microbiome exactly what it needs (16, 25). Harvard recommends probiotic foods for the promotion of beneficial gut bacteria, including (22):
- Fermented foods
- Kombucha tea
The Mayo Clinic also recommends limiting your portions and daily calorie intake (2). Medicine Net suggests reducing your daily calories by 500 (9). A focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help you achieve a reduction in calories without feeling that you are restricting yourself too much.
Eat the Right Foods to Burn Belly Fat Naturally
Start by limiting your alcohol intake as this may cause belly fat, in addition to contributing excess calories (1). The CDC recommends one drink or less each day (6). At the same time, you should add more fiber to your diet, as this can influence visceral fat accumulation (12). Healthy sources of fiber include:
Next, you should start eating more good-quality lean protein (15), adding more of these lean proteins to your diet every day:
- Chicken breast
- Grain-fed beef
- Lean pork
- Low-fat dairy
- Moderate amounts of nuts, fish, and vegetable oils
- Plenty of water and unsweetened beverages
- Drinks to burn belly fat
Get Active to Combat Belly Fat
The Mayo Clinic recommends physical activity for burning calories, even if you also reduce your calorie intake (2). Every week, you should perform a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate or aerobic exercises to lose belly fat, such as running, walking, or swimming. Alternatively, you can do 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week, such as HIIT programs.
In addition, strength training can be used to tone the muscles in your stomach. The National Institute on Aging says strength and resistance training may slow muscle loss that is associated with aging (8).
Hormone Therapy May Help Menopause Belly Fat
Hormone replacement therapy may help combat belly fat. Swiss researchers found women taking menopause hormone replacement drugs to have less visceral fat in the belly (13).
Lifestyle Changes May Reduce Belly Fat
Medical News Today explains how simple lifestyle changes can help reduce belly fat (26). Reducing stress, managing mental health conditions, and stopping smoking cigarettes are all factors that may go a long way and reduce belly fat, in addition to making you much healthier and happier.
Why Do I Gain Weight on My Stomach Only?
Stomach-only weight gain may be a result of hormonal imbalances. Canadian researchers suggest that abdominal visceral fat is hormonally active (21). Medicine Net suggests that PCOS, menopause, stress, or hypothyroidism are belly-only fat gain culprits (27).
What Causes Belly Fat in Females Over 40?
Menopause is the most likely cause of belly fat in the over-40s. Los Angeles researchers found that women begin storing fat differently during the menopause transition (3). When they are younger, women tend to gain weight on the thighs and hips. However, as they age, they adopt the apple shape with rounder bellies.
What Food Causes Belly Fat in Females?
Various unhealthy foods may result in excess visceral fat in the abdomen. Alcohol, limited soluble fiber, a low-quality protein diet, and added sugar may all be contributors (1, 12, 15, 5). In addition, sugar-sweetened beverages and trans fat may be causes (18, 7).
What Causes Hanging Belly Fat?
Medical News Today suggests the apron or hanging belly is a result of extreme weight changes, pregnancy, or childbirth (14). The pannus stomach is basically extra skin and fat that hang down after giving birth or losing a large amount of weight.
What Causes Lower Belly Fat in Females?
Los Angeles scientists found that women start to gain lower belly fat due to the natural transition in the menopause (3). In addition, the Mayo Clinic suggests eating too many calories and an inactive lifestyle can contribute to abdominal weight gain (2).
The Bottom Line
Belly fat is a nightmare that can make you shy when you shouldn’t feel that way. Instead, you should find ways of combating the specific reasons for your belly fat, whether they be lifestyle, age, or dietary-related. Exercise is an excellent means for burning visceral fat to win the war against stomach fat.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Association of Alcohol Consumption With Fat Deposition in a Community-Based Sample of Japanese Men: The Shiga Epidemiological Study of Subclinical Atherosclerosis (SESSA) (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Belly Fat in Women: Taking – and Keeping it Off (2022, mayoclinic.org)
- Changes in Regional Fat Distribution and Anthropometric Measures Across the Menopause Transition (2021, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Does Estrogen Allow Women to Store Fat More Efficiently? A Biological Advantage for Fertility and Gestation (2009, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Excess Sugar Linked to a Dangerous Heart and Abdominal Fat (2020, sph.umn.edu)
- Facts About Moderate Drinking | CDC (2022, cdc.gov)
- Higher Content of Trans Fatty Acids in Abdominal Visceral Fat of Morbidly Obese Individuals Undergoing Bariatric Surgery Compared to Non-Obese Subjects (2005, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
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- Sugar-Sweetened and Diet Beverages in Relation to Visceral Adipose Tissue (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
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- Why Do I Only Gain Weight in My Stomach and Back? (2022, medicinenet.com)