The older I get, the more sit-ups I do, and the more I just can’t kick my own belly fat. I’m constantly asking myself: Is it my slowed-down metabolism? The greasy pizza I like to practically inhale? Or just plain old genetics? I can’t tell what is causing that stubborn fat around my belly that just doesn’t seem to go away.
Ginger Hultin, a registered dietitian, says it’s a bit of a combination of all the above. “Belly fat occurs when excess calories are consumed and fat is deposited in the belly area,” she says. “It’s also called abdominal adiposity, and the reason this happens has to do with both lifestyle and your genes.”
Much to my own surprise, there are three different types of belly fat out there, and all of them have a different reason for clinging to our tummies, even when we commit to tough ab workouts. Here’s what you need to know about each of them.
The first type of belly fat to know about is intra-abdominal fat, which Dr. David Greuner, a New York City surgeon, describes as fat that’s closely related to your glucose and insulin metabolism. “Intra-abdominal fat is that inside the peritoneal cavity, made up of fat on and within the organs (liver and intestines) and the omentum (an apron of fat that hangs off the stomach),” he says.
“Visceral fat is a dangerous material that exists near your organs and is responsible for a rounded stomach,” Dr. Greuner says. “It grows when there is a continuous buildup of saturated fats.”
Subcutaneous fat is present directly under the skin, and Dr. Greuner says it’s much easier to burn than the other two types. “It is simple to rid yourself of, as it burns quickly but serves two important purposes: to be a cushion for the rest of your body and to supply the skin with oxygen through its blood vessels,” he says. “All fats can be prevented through diet and exercise, but visceral and subcutaneous are the most crucial to shed, as they can be the main cause of disease.”
So what can we do to reduce the fat around our belly, no matter the type? Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a physician who is board certified in obesity medicine, says it is quite simple. “To lose belly fat — or fat anywhere, for that matter — you need to eat fewer calories than you burn,” Dr. Seltzer says. “It is really that simple. You cannot ‘spot reduce.’ Where the fat comes off first is largely based on your genes.”
Seltzer adds that in addition to reducing your calorie intake, you should make sure to have good methods of managing stress, which can be anything from getting enough sleep at night to doing meditation throughout the day. “We do know that if levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) are high, any excess energy you consume will be preferentially deposited around your middle,” he says.