There are several factors that contribute to abdominal weight gain--some of them you have the power to change. Even for the fittest among us, getting a toned tummy or six-pack can be elusive. In some cases you may be putting in the type and amount of physical activity you need to lose weight or maintain it--yet your midriff still expands. Is it genetic? Are you doing the wrong workouts? The answers may surprise you.
Most Likely Cause of Abdominal Weight Gain
When you refer to gaining weight in your stomach, you’re really addressing “abdominal” weight gain. Your stomach is an organ in your body that helps to digest food. The abdomen is the area between your chest and pelvis.
Several factors contribute to abdominal weight gain. The most obvious is overall weight gain. If you’re consuming too many calories--especially from fatty food sources--and not getting enough exercise you’re more likely to pile on extra pounds.
Other Causes and Risk Factors
Some other possible causes of abdominal weight gain include:
1. Age and hormones. As you get older your metabolism slows down and you’re more likely to gain weight. According to the Mayo Clinic, fat distribution changes as women get older and weight gain begins to shift to the tummy area, especially after menopause when changes in sex hormones take place.
2. Diet. If you’re more likely to fill up on steaks, chicken and pork, you’re more prone to gaining weight in your abdomen. In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, meat eaters were more likely to gain weight in their abdomen than elsewhere on their body.
3. Depression. In a 15-year study conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers found that study participants who initially reported high levels of depression gained abdominal weight more quickly than those with fewer depressive symptoms.
4. Alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases your overall calorie intake, so you’re more likely to gain weight in general. In addition, a study in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who had more than three drinks of alcohol each day were much more at risk for abdominal obesity, even when taking into account factors such as physical activity and diet.
5. Stress. Even if you’re not overweight, you’re more at risk for abdominal fat, also called visceral fat, when you’re stressed due to the high levels of cortisol. This hormone produced by the adrenal glands changes the fat distribution in your body, causing it to be stored around the organs, explains researchers at Yale University.
Medically Related Causes
Sometimes abdominal weight gain may be a symptom of a serious disease such as Cushing’s disease. Or, extra weight around your tummy may be due to a medication such as prednisone, a corticosteroid.
The Genetic Connection
In some cases, gaining weight in your abdomen may be down to your genes, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. However, the Mayo Clinic points out that genetics are more likely to play a role in abdominal fat in women than in men. For guys, the cause is usually lifestyle and diet.
Reduce Your Risk
Abdominal fat is linked to several serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and high cholesterol levels. To help trim your tummy, limit alcohol intake and eat fewer calories and those from healthier food sources such as vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean poultry and soy products.
Effective lifestyle changes include reducing alcohol intake, getting more sleep and exercising at moderate intensity--including strength training--for 30 minutes or more at least five days a week. If you already work out regularly, increase the amount and intensity of your workout to cut down abdominal fat even more.