Why Belly Fat is Bad

All Fat Is Not Equal
The fat that lies just below your skin in most of your body -- the kind you can grab with your hands -- is called subcutaneous fat. In your belly, it’s called visceral fat because it builds up in the spaces between and around your viscera -- internal organs like your stomach and intestines.

This visceral fat in your middle makes toxins that affect the way your body works, says Samuel Dagogo-Jack, MD, president of the American Diabetes Association. Among them are chemicals called cytokines that boost your chances of heart disease and make your body less sensitive to insulin, which can bring on diabetes.

Cytokines also cause inflammation, which can lead to certain cancers, says Eric Jacobs, PhD, a researcher at the American Cancer Society. In recent years, he says, scientists have uncovered links between belly fat and cancers of the colon, esophagus, andpancreas.

The Hidden Health Risk

Belly fat is sneaky. Because it’s tucked away inside your body, Dagogo-Jack says, you could have “a false sense of security” about how healthy you actually are. You may not be seriously overweight, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem.

How can you tell if your belly fat is putting your health at risk? That part is easy. No special blood tests or scans are required. All you need is a tape measure. The size of your waist says it all.

The higher the number, the greater the danger your tummy poses to your health.

  • For women, a waist measurement of 35 inches or more is cause for concern.

  • For men, a waist measurement of 40 inches or more could spell trouble.

If you have to move to a bigger pants size, even if your weight is considered normal for your height, or even if you haven’t noticed much weight gain, that’s an important sign it’s time to start eating better and exercising more.

A Tough Change to Make

Most of the time, that’s easier said than done. Is it worth the effort? Dagogo-Jack points to several studies that he says show the “spectacular” effects of even modest weight lossin preventing the onset of diabetes and other problems.

That should be great news for the 54 million people who have the high blood sugar levelsthat put them in the prediabetes category. Once you have it, type 2 diabetes is likely to follow within a decade.

Dropping belly fat can be a challenge. If you feel your efforts aren’t giving you the results you want, here are 7 ways to change things up:

Skip the fruit juice. It might seem like a healthy swap for sugary colas, but it’s not. All the fat-reducing fiber in the fruit has been removed, leaving only the pure fruit sugars that go straight to your waistline.

Eat your veggies. They should fill up at least half your plate, especially at your biggest meal. Choose more nonstarchy varieties (think leafy greens, broccoli, and beans) than their carb-filled kin (potatoes, corn, and carrots).

Go natural. Processed foods are not your friends. When you’re in a rush, it’s easy to overlook the fact that packaged foods are often loaded with trans fats, sugar, and salt -- all guaranteed to boost belly fat.

Bulk up. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more you have, the more pounds you’ll torch, even when you’re sitting still. Do strength training exercises twice a week. That’s on top of at least half an hour a day for 5 days a week of a moderate activity like walking or biking.

Stand up and move. Despite what Grandma said, fidgeting can be good for you. Sitting all day and all night isn’t. Even if you get enough exercise during the week, it won’t do as much for you if you’re on your rear end for 8 to 9 hours a day. If you sit too much:

  • Take short breaks every hour and move your body. Stretch at your desk or take a stroll around the office.

  • Gesture while you're talking and tap your foot when you’re sitting down.

  • Skip the elevator and take the stairs.

  • When you get home, keep the TV off and do something more active.

Don’t skimp on sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and other health problems. Four or 5 hours a night just isn’t enough. Try to get between 7 and 8 hours a night.

Keep your cool. The stress hormone cortisol can override your diet and workouts. When it goes through your body, fat deposits relocate to your belly area. Exercise and meditation can both be great ways to dial down your stress to nontoxic levels.

it comes down to personal choice. You have to decide that this is what you want to do. There’s no magic. You just have to make up your mind that you’re going to turn it around.