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How You Gain Belly Fat

author image Jill Corleone, RDN, LD
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.
How You Gain Belly Fat
Sugary drinks such as soda cause an expanding belly. Photo Credit Jennifer Smith/Moment/Getty Images

If you're having a tough time buckling your pants these days, it may be time to make some lifestyle changes. Your food choices not only affect the number on the scale, but also where those extra fat pounds end up on your body. Certain foods more readily contribute to belly fat, which is not only uncomfortable, but also unhealthy. Consult your doctor to discuss which foods may be causing your belly to grow.

Foods That Expand the Belly

You may not be surprised by the foods linked to belly fat gain, given their general connection to poor health. Most of them not only contain unhealthy substances, but they're low in essential nutrients, so they fit the definition of junk foods.

According to a 2011 study published in PLoS One, foods linked to a growing belly include processed meats such as bacon and sausage, white bread, margarine and soda. Foods with a high glycemic index are also associated with belly fat gain, according to a 2010 study also published in PLoS One. In addition to white bread and soda, other high-glycemic foods include waffles, bagels, white rice, graham crackers, boxed macaroni and cheese, pretzels, fruit leather and mashed potatoes.

Carbohydrate-rich foods aren't the only contributors to belly fat, though. Trans fat-laden foods not only contribute to disease, but they're linked to larger belly circumference. Avoid foods with hydrogenated oils -- which signal trans fat -- such as store-bought baked goods, frozen pizza, biscuits-in-a-tube, snack crackers and store-bought frosting. High intakes of alcohol are also associated with belly fat gain.

Why Belly Fat Is Bad

While you may not like fat on your body no matter where it is, belly fat, also known as visceral fat, is linked to more health problems than subcutaneous fat, which is located just under the skin. Visceral fat, associated with the apple shape, is the fat deep in your abdominal cavity surrounding your organs. Subcutaneous fat, which is associated with a pear shape, is fat you can grasp and tends to accumulate in various places on the body.

Carrying excess fat in your mid-section may increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. In addition, it may increase a woman's risk of breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery. According to Harvard Health Publications, excess abdominal fat may interfere with hormone function and balance. The belly fat also triggers the release of cytokines, which are immune system chemicals associated with an increased risk of heart disease and may play a role in insulin sensitivity.

Food to Eat to Shrink Your Girth

Limiting belly fat gain not only makes it easier for you to button your pants, but it also reduces your risk of chronic illness and improves health. Instead of focusing on foods that grow your belly, fill your diet with foods that may help shrink it, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans and dairy.

The 2011 study in PLoS One found that people who ate more fruits and dairy products gained less belly fat. Getting more fiber in your diet from vegetables, fruits and whole grains also helps lessen belly fat gain. Fill your diet with low-glycemic foods, including 100-percent whole-grain bread, oatmeal, barley, quinoa, chickpeas, kidney beans, hummus, peas and carrots.

Controlling portions is also an important part of decreasing your girth. Eating large portions may lead to an excess in calorie intake and fat weight gain. Take it a step further and reduce your caloric intake by 250 to 500 calories a day to help lose 1/2 to 1 pound a week. Eating fewer calories than your body needs is essential for dropping fat weight.

Exercise and Belly Fat

In addition to poor food choices, a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise may contribute to belly fat gain. If you're trying to whittle your waist, you need to do more than sit-ups, which will tone your tummy muscles, but burn very little fat. Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as swimming laps or a bike ride, is especially helpful at trimming the middle, according to Harvard Health Publications. To help lose fat, up your cardio to 60 minutes, five days a week. Strength-training at least two days a week to build muscle with free weights, weight machines or body weight exercises, is also beneficial. If you're not sure where to begin, consult a professional fitness trainer to help you design a program that fits your needs and fitness level.

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