Gaining weight in the stomach area can make you feel uncomfortable and unattractive, but if the fat isn't the "pinchable" kind just under your skin, it can also be dangerous. Visceral fat – the deep abdominal fat that gives some women an apple shape – has links to chronic illnesses like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The good news is that when you shed pounds through a combined program of healthy diet and regular exercise, you'll begin losing weight in the stomach first.
Women's Hormonal Changes
Your hormones fluctuate throughout the month, and many women experience stomach weight gain with their periods – anywhere from 3 to 10 pounds, says Blue Ridge Obstetrics. You can address this fluid retention by avoiding foods and drinks containing a lot of sugar, fat, salt or caffeine.
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More dangerous weight gain occurs for women as they approach and enter menopause. The combination of a decrease in estrogen and increase in testosterone shifts fat toward the stomach and away from the hips, making you less a pear shape than an apple. Your doctor may suggest hormone therapy, but diet and lifestyle changes can also help you trim your stomach fat.
Dietary Makeover for Stomach Weight Gain
You can't lose weight just in the stomach, but the best path to losing weight overall is to ditch unhealthy foods and to eat a nutritious diet filled with fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. When you're cleaning up your diet, sugary drinks like sodas and teas sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup should be the first to go, because they have a direct link to belly fat, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2009. Swap these beverages for water, either plain or sparkling, flavored with fresh lemon, lime or berries.
Lose the refined grains -- "white" foods like bread, rolls and pasta -- from your diet, too, to shed weight in the stomach. Substitute whole grains such as whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, millet and oatmeal, which are associated with reduced visceral abdominal fat, researchers reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010.
Two nutrients that help you lose stomach weight are lean protein and fiber. Having quality protein such as fish, lean meat, dairy or eggs at each meal has an impact on the percentage of central body fat, according to a small study published in Nutrition & Metabolism in 2012. And, for every 10 grams of soluble fiber you add to your diet, you could reduce belly fat by almost 4 percent, reported the authors of a large study published in Obesity in 2012. The best dietary sources of soluble fiber include beans, oats, Brussels sprouts, oranges, apples, pears and flaxseed.
Exercise Routine for Women
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to abdominal weight gain, but belly fat responds well to exercise and strength training, according to Harvard Medical School. You need at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day, says Harvard, and possibly as much as 60 minutes to lose weight. This type of exercise includes brisk walking; bicycling; water aerobics; doubles tennis; dancing; and golf, in which you walk and carry your own bag; everyday activities such as mowing the lawn and raking leaves. For strength training, use weights or resistance bands. While sit-ups may help you tighten your abs, they won't eliminate belly fat, says Harvard.
Stress Management for Stomach Weight Gain
Your belly fat may also come from stress. Losing a job, worrying about finances or taking care of an aging parent can send your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, through the roof. Fat cells are especially receptive to cortisol, and your stomach area has more of these cells than any other part of your body. Elevated cortisol levels can directly contribute to abdominal weight gain, especially if you respond to stress by eating unhealthy "comfort" foods like baked goods. Employ stress management techniques like yoga, deep breathing, walking, listening to music or coloring to help get you through patches of stress that may be fueling weight gain in your stomach.
- United Health Care: The Real Truth About Belly Fat
- Blue Ridge Obstetrics: How Hormone Fluctuations Are Associated with Weight Gain
- The Journal of Clinical Investigation: Consuming Fructose-sweetened, Not Glucose-sweetened, Beverages Increases Visceral Adiposity and Lipids and Decreases Insulin Sensitivity in Overweight/obese Humans
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Whole- and Refined-grain Intakes Are Differentially Associated with Abdominal Visceral and Subcutaneous Adiposity in Healthy Adults
- Nutrition &amp; Metabolism: Quality Protein Intake Is Inversely Related with Abdominal Fat
- Obesity: Lifestyle Factors and 5-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort
- Today’s Dietitian: A Soluble Fiber Primer
- Harvard Medical School: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- University of Illinois Wellness Center: What’s Moderate Intensity Exercise?
- Women to Women: Weight Loss and Adrenal Stress