Excess stomach fat, also known as abdominal or central obesity, is linked to impaired insulin action or insulin resistance. Consequently, abdominal obesity is associated with a higher risk for pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes (T2DM). Weight loss, particularly loss of stomach fat, can help manage diabetes and reduce the risk of pre-diabetes and T2DM. However, loss of body fat occurs all over when you lose weight, so it cannot be targeted to the abdominal area only. Methods to lose weight are focused on a nutritious, reduced-calorie diet with an increased level of physical activity.
Overall Weight Loss Effects on Stomach Fat
Body fat is categorized as either subcutaneous fat, found under the skin, or visceral fat that surrounds internal organs, including those in the abdominal cavity. While either type of fat can be found in the abdomen, visceral fat is linked to a greater risk of health problems such as prediabetes and T2DM. An article published in the January 2008 "International Journal of Obesity" reviewed results from 61 studies examining visceral and subcutaneous fat loss after weight loss interventions. Researchers found modest weight loss resulted in a preferential loss of abdominal fat, but this benefit is less or even negated in weight loss greater than 20 percent.
Diet and Loss of Stomach Fat
According to 2014 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 9 percent of the U.S. population suffers from diabetes, and 85 percent of people with diabetes are overweight. Loss of abdominal fat in T2DM, as part of overall weight loss, helps control T2DM by improving insulin action. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), a variety of eating patterns, as part of a reduced-calorie meal plan, can be used to lose weight. These patterns include the Mediterranean diet; Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet; and plant based, lower-fat and lower-carbohydrate plans. The ADA has found that significant reductions in weight are often accomplished through intensive lifestyle programs with ongoing follow-up. The review article in the "International Journal of Obesity" did not find evidence to support any specific weight loss method that targets visceral fat loss.
Exercise and Loss of Stomach Fat
A joint ADA and American College of Sports Medicine position statement published in the December 2010 issue of "Diabetes Care" recommended that adults with T2DM achieve a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise to improve blood glucose control and reduce heart disease risk. However, this amount of exercise is not likely to achieve weight loss in most people, and at least 1 hour daily may be required for success. An article published in the 2007 issue of "The International Journal of Obesity" reviewed 16 studies examining exercise interventions and a loss of visceral fat, and concluded that aerobic exercise helped in loss of visceral fat -- as the level of exercise increased, so did visceral fat loss. Strength training may also help, according to a small study published in the March 2005 edition of "Diabetes Care." In this study, men with T2DM lost more abdominal fat by incorporating two sessions of progressive resistance training per week.
Precautions and Next Steps
While diabetes is not known to cause abdominal obesity, extra stomach fat is linked to insulin resistance and the risk of pre-diabetes and T2DM. Weight loss efforts generally cause a loss of overall body fat, however, adequate exercise can cause a preferential loss of body fat. If you need help with weight loss, or if you plan to start an exercise program, talk to your doctor and diabetes care team. If your blood sugars are not well controlled, see your doctor.