Surprising Habits That Shrink Your Visceral Fat — Eat This Not That

Visceral fat, also known as belly fat or abdominal fat, is a uniquely dangerous type of fat stored deep in the abdomen around organs such as the liver and intestines, and can lead to a host of concerning health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. “We now know that fat, particularly belly fat and visceral fat, is a source of inflammatory substances, such as C-reactive proteins and interleukin-6—what we call cytokines,” says Dr. Kerry J. Stewart, EdD, director of clinical/research exercise physiology and a professor of medicine in the cardiology division of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. “And those substances float around the bloodstream and begin attacking the blood vessels, particularly the blood vessels in the heart, which can make people more susceptible to clots.” While losing weight is not easy (and losing belly fat can feel particularly difficult), these five science-backed tips can help you get rid of abdominal fat quickly. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.

woman taking a bite of chocolate and enjoying her dessert
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Eating more calories than you burn off will cause weight gain—and many people are eating far more than they need to. “If people ate only when they were hungry, most dietitians would be out of business,” says Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN. “We eat for so many reasons other than hunger. We may be sad, depressed, anxious, bored, or tired. So changing the behaviors and how we deal with our emotions [means] people need to find life outside the kitchen. When you try to comfort yourself or relieve stress or anxiety with food, you’re going to have two problems: the original problem and the extra calories you just consumed in an attempt to relieve your stress. People need to retrain their habits and find other ways to release that emotion, such as with physical activity.”

Obese woman laying on sofa with smartphone eating chips
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Watching hours of TV every day is strongly linked with excess belly fat, studies show. “These findings are important because they have some implications for interventions to improve health,” says Kara Whitaker, PhD. “If we’re finding that television viewing is associated with abdominal fat, and we know that people with higher levels of abdominal fat are at higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, then it would be likely beneficial to people to reduce their television viewing time,” Whitaker said.

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It’s not enough to work out regularly—staying active throughout the day is important for reducing belly fat and keeping it that way. “It’s important to move more throughout the day. Unfortunately, technology has made our lives highly sedentary. Even simple things that we did years ago, we no longer do,” says Dr. Blake. “For example, people used to have to walk to the copy room to get a printout. Now, printers are so cheap that many people have their own printer in their office. That may not seem like a lot of movement, but it’s many steps that have been eliminated. Or people often take the elevator instead of the stairs. Or they order groceries online instead of going to the store. For a lot of people, going to the gym is just offsetting the activity that they’ve lost. We’ve forgotten how mobile we used to be.”

man sleeping in bright room
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Unless you have chronic sleep issues, this one is a simple—just make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep every night to help reduce belly fat. “Our findings show that shortened sleep, even in young, healthy and relatively lean subjects, is associated with an increase in calorie intake, a very small increase in weight, and a significant increase in fat accumulation inside the belly,” says Virend Somers, M.D., Ph.D., Alice Sheets Marriott Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine. “Normally, fat is preferentially deposited subcutaneously or under the skin. However, the inadequate sleep appears to redirect fat to the more dangerous visceral compartment. Importantly, although during recovery sleep there was a decrease in calorie intake and weight, visceral fat continued to increase. This suggests that inadequate sleep is a previously unrecognized trigger for visceral fat deposition, and that catch-up sleep, at least in the short term, does not reverse the visceral fat accumulation. In the long term, these findings implicate inadequate sleep as a contributor to the epidemics of obesity, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.”

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Achieving your goal to reduce belly fat is much easier if you have someone to hold you accountable. “Some people are very accountable to themselves, but not most people,” says exercise and obesity expert Dr. Tim Church. “In my years of working with thousands of people, there’s one thing that drives accountability more than anything else: If you want to keep people doing a behavior, get a buddy.” And to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast

Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more

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