There are two types of fat around the mid-section. The less dangerous fat is called subcutaneous fat or “surface level” fat, which contributes to the love handles you might not love. The second type of fat is called visceral fat, which accumulates around organs making it more dangerous.
Visceral fat wraps itself around the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. This type of fat secretes hormones and inflammatory substances which can impact appetite, weight, brain function, and disease risk. Visceral fat is associated with high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and other health problems.
Measuring your waist circumference can give you an idea if you might be at risk of having too much visceral fat. Place a measuring tape around your waist, level with your belly button. Men should measure no more than 40 inches and women should measure no more than 35 inches. Higher measurements place individuals at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. and should be discussed with your doctor.
Hormones play a big role in the way fat is stored in the body. People who get little sleep secrete more stress hormone called cortisol which causes more fat to be deposited around the mid-section. One study looking at over 1100 participants found those who slept five hours or less each night gained 32% visceral fat over five years compared to a 13% gain in visceral fat in those who slept six hours or more each night. To help reduce belly fat focus on getting at least six hours of quality sleep each night.
The type of foods and drinks you consume can also impact belly fat; refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, pretzels, desserts, juice, and sugar can deposit more readily around the mid-section and should be limited. Healthy eating, regular exercise, weight loss, stress management, and sleep are key components to reduce belly fat and for a healthy lifestyle.