A common question some patients ask is: What causes the excess growth of belly fat in females?
For many women, growing more fat along the waistline and abdomen could be a product of age. As women enter menopause, their abdomens tend to collect belly fat that is difficult to lose with diet and exercise alone.
A big belly can diminish your appearance and take away from the attractiveness of your profile. Whereas it may have been fashionable to be a larger female in the Renaissance period, these days the big stomach woman look is not en vogue. Excess fat can cause your clothes to fit tighter and your self-esteem to plummet. However, the risks involved with a large belly go beyond looks, comfort, and confidence.
If you are a woman with a larger stomach than you would prefer, ask yourself the following questions.
How Many Calories Do You Eat Per Day?
Our society has demonized the calorie. Everyone knows that weight gain is inevitable if you consume too many calories, but what is a calorie, really? A calorie is nothing more than a unit of heat measurement. One calorie is the amount of heat it takes to raise a kilogram of water a single degree Celsius. The more calories a particular food has, the more heat energy our bodies receive. The thing is, your body only needs so many calories to operate each day. The more muscle you have, the more calories you require. If you eat more than your daily allotment of calories, you can gain troublesome fat. If your belly is getting bigger, check your calorie intake and consider tapering back to see if that causes the excess fat to budge.
How Many Calories Do You Burn?
Every move your body makes requires energy. Your body receives energy from the foods you eat. Your body only burns so much energy throughout the day. Exercising can increase the amount of heat energy your body burns. If you can manage to consume fewer calories than your body needs to operate, you will lose weight. However, even if you exercise, if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.
How Much Muscle Mass Do You Have?
The more muscle your body has, the more calories you burn at rest. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to build muscle. But if you don’t work your muscles, you can lose them. Most of us lose muscle as we age. The more muscle you lose, the fewer calories you burn. Your calorie intake could stay the same and you might still gain weight purely due to the natural muscle atrophy that comes with age.
In women, lower belly weight gain is a common symptom of aging. If your calorie intake is too high, and you don’t exercise enough, and you fail to conserve or build muscle mass as you grow older, you could experience even greater amounts of belly weight gain.
However, that’s not the whole story.
What is Belly Fat, Really?
When your belly expands outward due to weight gain, you might assume that you have packed on a large amount of fat. You’d only be partially correct.
When you see your belly become rounder, you are looking at subcutaneous fat. This is fat that exists just below the skin. It’s a padded layer that protects your body and keeps you warm. Underneath that is visceral fat, which exists deeper within your abdomen. Visceral fat surrounds and protects your organs.
It’s understandable to want all that fat gone, subcutaneous, visceral, or any other kind. But it’s a curious thing. As a woman, it’s the subcutaneous fat you see. But the visceral fat is what you need to worry about. The problem is, losing visceral fat isn’t so easy.
Why is Excess Visceral Fat a Problem?
Studies show that visceral fat is directly associated with your health. Having more of this type of fatty tissue around your abdomen makes you more susceptible to ailments like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Greater levels of belly fat are also associated with premature death.
Even if your BMI is within a normal range, an expanding waistline increases your risks of disease and early dying.
How Do You Know You Have a Big Stomach?
Weight gain is odd in that sometimes you don’t realize you’re putting on so much weight. The increase in ounces and pounds occurs gradually, often while you sleep. Before you know it, your clothes fit tighter, and you feel worn out, even with slight activity.
To measure your weight gain, it’s best to start with your waist. Use a tape measure and stretch it across your bare stomach just above your hip bone. Pull the tape so it fits snugly around your body but not so hard it pushes against your skin. As long as the tape measure is level, you should get an accurate reading.
Women with bellies measuring more than 35 inches are considered to have unhealthy amounts of visceral body fat. This leaves you at greater risk to your health.
Have You Been Gaining Body Fat?
Stopping weight gain in its tracks is key if your belly has been growing larger. It is important to pinpoint the reason for your weight gain if you hope to maintain or reduce your weight.
Watch Out for Sugar
You may not realize how much sugar you are consuming day in and day out. Look at the ingredients of your average processed food and you’ll notice high fructose corn syrup or plain sugar are one of the first ingredients. Beverages are subject to the same problem.
Sugar is high in calories. Consuming large amounts of sugar contributes to higher calorie consumption and weight gain.
Drinking Alcohol Contributes to Weight Gain
Scientists have long said that moderate amounts of alcohol can be healthy for adults. Drinking alcoholic beverages like wine and liquor and even beer can lead to a lowered risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Drink too much, however, and you can develop problems. Inflammation and liver disease are only two ailments that can make your life more difficult as an excess consumer of alcohol.
Drinking heavy amounts of alcohol also suppresses your body’s ability to burn fat. Your body is so busy processing alcohol that it puts fat burning aside. The calories you drink that don’t get processed have no option but to be stored as abdominal fat. Hence the term “beer belly”.
Trans Fats Can Also Lead to Belly Fat
Fats come in several different types. Trans fats are added to foods like muffins, crackers, and other processed foods to help them last longer on the shelf. Our bodies have trouble processing trans fats. The more you eat, the more inflammation can occur in your body. This, in turn, can lead to insulin resistance, heart disease, and an accumulation of belly fat.
Sedentary Lifestyle Can Lead to More Fat
The more advanced technology we develop as a society, the less moving around we need to do. Many of us are used to sitting down and watching Netflix during our leisurely hours. At work, we may sit at desks in front of computers or otherwise remain stationary as we satisfy our duties. The more sitting you do, the greater the risks to your health. You are also more likely to have belly fat than someone who remains active throughout the day.
Not Enough Protein in Your Diet
A key staple of healthy eating is to consume only natural foods, and nothing processed. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats would then comprise most of your meals. The latter – lean meats, along with other proteins – are helpful in keeping you healthy and in your efforts to lose belly fat.
Eating a high protein diet holds several important benefits for the body. The more protein you eat, the easier it is to build muscle. Protein-rich meals make you feel fuller faster while eating. Protein also increases your metabolic rate while decreasing your caloric intake. Eat more protein and you’ll be less likely to have an accumulation of pesky fat on your abdomen.
Age & Menopause
As a female with belly fat, menopause can contribute to your weight gain. When you hit puberty as a teenager, a surge in the hormone estrogen told your body to begin storing fat in key “feminine” places, such as your hips and thighs to prepare for pregnancy.
Having subcutaneous fat in these areas is healthy and a natural part of being a woman. It’s when the fat builds to an excess that it becomes unhealthy.
When menopause happens a year after the woman has had her final menstrual period, her estrogen levels plummet. This causes fat to be stored around the abdomen instead of the hips and thighs.
The amount of belly fat you have will vary depending on genetics and your age when menopause begins. Younger women who reach menopause tend to gain a minimal amount of belly fat while older women are susceptible to larger bellies.
Higher Levels of Stress Can Lead to Weight Gain
When you feel stressed, the anxiety you feel is caused by cortisol, a hormone produced by your adrenal glands. Cortisol serves an important role as your body’s alarm system. When cortisol is activated, your body goes on high alert. This is meant for tense moments and short periods of time. When we become stressed for weeks or months at a time, all that cortisol can lead to health issues, one of them being excess weight gain.
Cortisol weight gain typically occurs in the belly area. To make matters worse, some of us tend to emotionally eat. Eating more calories than you burn during a time when cortisol is active in your body makes you even more susceptible to belly fat growth.
According to studies, women with larger waists compared to their hips tend to secrete more cortisol during stressful moments. If you have a higher waist-to-hip ratio and you’re constantly stressed, those factors could be to blame for your stomach fat problem.
The Wrong Type of Gut Bacteria Can Cause a Bigger Stomach
While it’s never appetizing to think about during meals, your gut is filled with hundreds of different types of bacteria. These millions of organisms live throughout your digestive system, many of them within your colon. A majority of these bacteria are beneficial to your health in one way or another. However, there is a type of bad bacteria that can cause problems.
Studies have shown that people suffering from obesity have higher concentrations of Firmicutes bacteria when compared to those of a healthy weight. These bacteria may increase the number of calories absorbed by your body from the foods you eat. This can lead to a “weight gain in the stomach area only” female problem.
Scientists refer to gut bacteria as your microbiome or gut flora. We rely on these bacteria to keep our immune system strong in its fight against sickness and disease. If you have an imbalance of gut flora, you are at higher risk of developing ailments like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
A gut health imbalance can also lead to weight gain. More specifically, you are at a higher risk of gaining more fat along your abdomen.
Low Fiber Diet
Eating foods rich in fiber can help you maintain good health. A high-fiber diet is also one of the keys to controlling your weight. Consuming fibers has the curious effect of stabilizing your hunger hormones. This causes you to feel full while reducing your caloric consumption.
Unfortunately, many of us are used to eating diets high in refined carbohydrates and low in fiber. These foods have the opposite effect on satiety. You can feel hungrier after eating these foods, leading to unhealthy amounts of belly fat.
Pregnancy Can Lead to Weight Gain and More Difficult Weight Loss
Becoming pregnant is a miracle of life. It’s amazing how much a woman’s body changes to accommodate the new life growing inside her. Unfortunately, some of these changes can be permanent. After childbirth, you may find that fat is more difficult to lose, and muscular strength is harder to regain. These factors both during and after pregnancy can cause a woman’s belly fat to become more prominent.
Higher Belly Fat May Be in Your Genes
Your familial DNA has a lot to say about where you gain weight the most. Growing more belly fat may be rooted in your genes. This would follow the science, as experts believe that gene receptors for hormones like cortisol and leptin, which regulate caloric intake and fat storage respectively, could have genetic components. In 2014, researchers found three new genes linked to a higher waist-to-hip ratio and greater amounts of belly fat. Two of those weight gain genes are only found in women.
Lack of Sleep Could Contribute to Belly Fat Gain
Not getting adequate amounts of sleep each night is terrible for your health. Not only are you at higher risk for weight gain when you become sleep deprived, but your mood can suffer also. Anxiety, depression, and more belly fat are all in your future if you continue to lose valuable sleep.
If you feel you are getting enough rest each night but still feel tired and experience weight gain, you could suffer from a sleep disorder. A common sleep disorder is sleep apnea, which causes you to quit breathing during the night. Suffering from sleep apnea puts you at greater risk for being a fat stomach woman.
Are There Any Solutions Available for Your Big Stomach?
As you can see, many factors can contribute to a growing abdomen in females. If you are a woman and want to lose your belly fat, there are steps you can take.
While you can’t change your genetics or the way your body reacts to life events like pregnancy and menopause, you can become more active. You can choose to lower or eliminate the amounts of sugars and trans fats you consume. And you can do wonders for your waistline by de-stressing once in a while and by cutting back on drinking alcohol.
Even if your efforts are sidelined by pregnancy or menopause that prevent the weight from shifting, taking active steps toward maintaining your weight, or losing weight, can make all the difference.
If you consider yourself a big belly woman and would like more information about popular bariatric surgeries like the gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, gastric balloon surgery, and others, contact Healthy Life Bariatrics. You can schedule a consultation with world-renowned bariatric surgeon Dr. Moeinolmolki (Dr. Moein) in Los Angeles, California by calling (310)694-4486.