A big belly is often seen as a sign of wealth and success.
But in reality, having too much belly fat is anything but healthy.
In fact, it’s been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and even some types of cancer.
Belly fat is a more dangerous fat.
So what causes this unhealthy accumulation of abdominal fat?
Here are five things that can make you gain belly fat:
1. Eating too many refined carbs
Refined carbs like white bread, pasta, and cookies are made from refined flour that has been stripped of its nutrients.
This leaves behind empty calories that can contribute to weight gain.
What’s more, refined carbs can spike your blood sugar levels, which promotes fat storage around your belly.
To avoid this, opt for complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
2. Drinking sugary beverages
Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, energy drinks, and fruit juices are a major source of empty calories.
They not only contain added sugar but are also often high in calories.
To cut back on sugary drinks, swap them out for water, unsweetened iced tea, or sparkling water.
3. Not getting enough physical activity
Physical activity is essential for maintaining a healthy weight.
But if you’re not active enough, you may gain weight, including belly fat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. (4)
But if you can’t fit in a structured workout, that’s OK.
Any form of movement — whether it’s going for a walk, doing household chores, or even fidgeting — can help reduce your risk of weight gain.
Learn more: 6 Exercises to Get Rid of Pot Belly Quickly
4. Not getting enough sleep
One of the consequences of not getting enough sleep is increased hunger and cravings, which can lead to weight gain, particularly belly fat.
The hormones ghrelin and leptin play a role in regulating appetite.
Ghrelin signals your body to eat, while leptin signals your body to stop eating.
Not getting enough sleep can increase levels of ghrelin and decrease levels of leptin, leading to increased hunger and cravings. (5)
Simply put, when you’re sleep-deprived, you may make poorer food choices and have less willpower to resist unhealthy snacks.
A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to gain unhealthy belly fat due to increased calorie consumption. (6)
The bottom line is that if you want to avoid gaining weight, especially around your belly, make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
Aim for 7–8 hours of sleep each night.
To get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, create a bedtime routine, turn off electronics before bed, and sleep in a dark, cool room.
Learn more: How to Sleep Better
One main thing that can make you gain belly fat, is stress.
When you’re stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol signals your body to store fat, especially around your belly. (7)
Besides promoting weight gain, stress can also lead to other health issues, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
To manage stress, try yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
Read more: 10 Simple Ways to Reduce Stress Quickly
When it comes to weight gain, not all fats are created equal.
Visceral fat, or belly fat, is more dangerous than subcutaneous fat, which is the kind you can pinch with your fingers.
There are a few things that can make you gain belly fat:
- Eating too many refined carbs
- Drinking sugary beverages
- Being inactive
- Not getting enough sleep
- Having too much stress
To avoid visceral fat and its associated health risks, make sure you eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and manage stress.
Also read: 17 Foods to Eat to Burn Stomach Fat