The Worst 10 Habits That Cause Belly Fat, According to Science

Many obvious reasons make losing belly fat a challenge. 

Those are the things like eating too many fast food meals and lack of exercise. 

While others are just as harmful as those but more subtle yet habitual. 

Those bad habits can be the rock that trips us over and contribute to abdominal obesity, which just won’t go away.

They can lead you to gain body fat, but following good habits can do the opposite.

So the solution is simple: Identify your bad habits and make a change in the direction of positive habits that can result in health benefits.

Now on to discover the worst habits that keep you from having the tummy of your dreams.

The Worst Habits for Belly Fat

10 worst habits for belly fat

1. You’re Drinking Sugary Drinks

I bet you don’t think about it, but most sugary drinks have calories. 

Often in the form of simple sugars such as fructose and glucose, typically found in fruit. 

Although in moderate amounts fructose and glucose are important for your health, in excess amounts it can contribute to that stomach fat that persists 1, 9).

Sometimes these sugary beverages become a staple in the home and your diet. 

They are often overlooked as the culprits of abdominal fat.

Sugary beverages can be soda, juice, homemade drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, milk, tea with added sugar. 

But believe it or not, the most overlooked sugary beverage is coffee (5).

Despite coffee being a low-calorie drink of about 4 calories, the new trend is to sell coffee with flavor. 

Not knocking down any particular brand, but a simple cafe latte with whole milk of the smallest size can be 450 calories. 

That is the equivalent of about two snacks.

Now the largest cup of a cafe latte with whole milk can be a whopping 1245 calories, that can be a whole two meals.

These types of drinks suppress your appetite, increase digestion of simple sugars converting these extra sugars to abdominal fat (5).

The good news is that now you can search for the caloric and nutrient value of your favorite drinks. 

Usually, they come with a food facts nutrition label or on the website of the company. 

I invite you to visit your favorite coffee shop’s website and look for the beverage nutritional facts, look up your favorite drink and prepare to be surprised.

The best way to help your body lose belly fat is to choose healthier drinking options such as:

  • water 
  • infused water (water with chunks of vegetables or fruits to flavor water)
  • black coffee
  • unsweetened tea. 

You may also like: The Major Effects Coffee Has On Your Health, Say Experts

2. Not Eating Whole Foods

If you are relying on packaged and highly processed foods you are not eating whole foods, simple as that. 

Staying away from fast foods, colorful and sugary cereals, candy, pastries, cakes is the step toward eating whole foods.

The closer your foods are to their natural state the healthier and more wholesome they are.

When at home and eating out, aim to eat whole grains which contribute complex carbohydrates to your diet. 

These carbs are essential to your body and brain functions. 

They also provide fibers that help regulate all other simple sugars in your diet, help with digestion and normal function of your intestines (7).

What is considered whole grain?

Any food that contains all naturally occurring parts of the entire grain seed and if crushed, rolled, extracted, or cooked must deliver the same nutrients as the original grain seed. 

List of Some Whole grains

  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Wheat

Gluten-free 

  • Buckwheat 
  • Corn 
  • Oats
  • Quinoa 
  • Rice 

Whole foods also include a variety of colorful vegetables such as leafy greens, tomatoes, olives, avocado, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, eggplants. 

And a variety of fresh fruit like bananas, mangoes, oranges, mandarins, kiwis to name a few.

Healthy fats derived from plants are a better choice than animal-derived fats. 

Also choosing plant-based protein is a much better choice but if you can’t stay away from animal protein, choose lean protein.

Some people opt-out of whole foods and rely on supplements as insurance to their health, but the reality is that you can’t always put into pills that come in perfect doses provided by nature.

3. Not Enough Protein In Your Diet

The protein of animal or plant sources helps with feelings of fullness and satisfaction. 

By having a limited amount of protein in your diet, satiety becomes difficult to achieve and appetite can persist (7).

You risk eating more carbs and gaining that belly fat. 

Protein, can improve your metabolism and help guarantee that you consume fewer calories.

List of some Proteins:

  • Animal Protein
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Plant Protein
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Important to note that when choosing protein, animal protein should be lean protein. 

This means you should not be able to see the fat between the meat muscle or around the meat (7).

When cooking, choose to remove the skin of the chicken or cut away any visible fat, whenever possible. 

Also, try to avoid deep frying, 

These types of choices will shift you toward having fewer calories in your diet. 

4. Lack of Physical Activity

Sitting all day at work, or just having a sedentary lifestyle places you at risk to snack often but not have anywhere to use those extra calories on.

Every body is different and responds to food intake and physical activity differently. 

A good example is how the body accumulates body fat, some people tend to carry a lot of their weight on their belly. 

Others will carry their weight mostly on their hips and thighs. 

But in either instance, the type of belly fat you have can affect your health. 

Abdominal fat is special in that it is the only place in the body where you will find two types of belly fat.

You have the fat accumulation that is right under the abdomen skin called the subcutaneous fat (3).

Subcutaneous fat is the most visible and the type of belly that is the most unwanted.

The fat accumulation deeper in the abdominal cavity called visceral fat surrounds the organs.

Visceral fat is unseen but is the most dangerous to your health. 

It can also live in the arteries and be the fat that contributes to a variety of health problems, as already mentioned (3)

A lack of exercise can make weight loss difficult, never mind losing that abdominal fat. 

The best way to increase physical activity is remembering to stand every hour, doing some easy in-office workouts or stretches is a start. 

Going to the gym for some aerobic exercise, crunches, or other types of abdominal exercises to strengthen your abdominal muscles can help with burning belly fat, but also boost your endorphins and make you feel happier.

Hiring a personal trainer can be an investment worth making, most people know how to do crunches and planks as abdominal exercises, but maybe unsure about other types of exercises. 

A personal trainer can guide you with appropriate workouts that target the whole body. 

They can help improve your metabolism and help you further reduce excess fat. 

Personal trainers can help you focus on resistance training and strength training that will be tailored to you and your needs while avoiding injury to your body. 

Resistance training can be performed using resistance bands, exercise machines, and swimming machines.

Strength training is a specific workout that helps improve strength and endurance and can be performed using weight stacks, plates, or dumbells.

Both are known to have health benefits beyond just weight loss.

Exercising reduces inflammation, controls blood sugar levels, improves overall health. 

5. Large Portions

Large portions can lead to increased health risks and contribute to the growing obesity problem. 

When you eat large portions it is typically when eating out. 

At first, you may not notice much weight gain and may only notice 1 to 2 pounds of weight gain per year, yet as time goes by those pounds add up. 

You also need to keep in mind that weight gain is not the same for everyone. 

Some people gain weight in their abdomen only, typically named apple shape for the roundness of the torso.

Others, gain weight in their lower body like their hips and thighs, also called pear shape for the roundness in the lower part of the body. 

Caring about having abdominal fat can seem vain. 

But the health risks of having a midsection that is bigger than the recommended waistline of fewer than 35 inches for women and less than 40 inches for men can cause a variety of health problems.

Of course, you are not going to stop eating out, but you can help yourself keep a healthy weight by adding more veggies to your plate and reducing carbs and protein on your plate. 

Also, Improving habits by eating only half of the meal, sharing a plate with a friend, or ordering appetizers as a main meal.

6. Stress and Cortisol

Being in the habit of not planning, being rushed, or simply stressing yourself out can make your weight loss goals that much more difficult. 

The commonly known stress hormone cortisol is released in moments of stress and contributes to abdominal fat (2).

Having healthy habits during your routines can help control your stress and manage your cortisol levels. 

Also, if you are stressed you are more likely to overeat and add to the belly fat that you are trying to manage (2).

Other hormone changes that can affect body mass index are menopause and PCOS. 

Women going through both situations tend to struggle with their reproductive endocrine organs. 

In these stages, doctors may recommend hormone therapy for the control of symptoms. 

In order to manage stress, mindfulness is a good idea to get started in your journey to reduce stress. 

The first thing you need to do is identify your stressors and come up with ways to reduce your stress. 

List of Stress Reducers:

  • Make morning routines 
  • Make evening routines
  • Assign specific days for specific tasks
  • Delegate tasks to others in your home
  • Have healthy snacks handy, in case you get stressed

7. You’re Not Tracking What You Eat

To be on a weight loss journey or simply wanting to get rid of that extra fat on your abdomen, you need to know what you are eating. 

I don’t mean you need to measure and weigh all of your food. 

Tracking what you eat can help with mindfulness of foods consumed, but also help you see where you may be struggling.

It can be quite easy to go through your day and lose track of what you ate.

Being able to identify when to stop eating is the strength of keeping track of your food.

This also includes drinks, avoiding sugary drinks, and tracking your water intake will encourage you to be consistent. 

When tracking your food intake, things to keep track of is the time you ate, the portion or amount of food eaten, what you drank, and how you felt after eating (hungry v. satisfied). 

Tips to track your food

  • Journal
  • Apps on your phone
  • On your phone calendar

8. You Eat Foods High In Trans Fats

Trans fats can come in two ways, naturally occurring and artificially. 

Naturally occurring trans fats happen in small amounts in the gut of animals that we consume, as well as the products they produce like milk (10).

Artificially made trans fats are the ones that have been found to cause health problems because of the large amounts that are included in foods like doughnuts, cakes, pie crusts, frozen pizza, packaged cookies, crackers, and kinds of margarine (10).

Studies show that Trans fats raise your bad cholesterol (LDL), and lower your good cholesterol (HDL). 

It also increases your health risk of having heart disease or type 2 diabetes (10).

Ways to reduce trans fats:

  • Use polyunsaturated fats known as vegetable oils: canola, olive oil, sunflower
  • Choose healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados
  • Avoid fried or frozen foods
  • Use soft margarine instead of harder stick forms
  • Always read the nutrition facts label for hydrogenated vegetable oil (another name for trans fats)

9. You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

For your body to repair and reset itself, you need to sleep. 

How many hours of sleep you get, will determine how rested you are.’

But also how many extra pounds you accumulate, not getting enough sleep can contribute to your waistline growing. 

Studies have shown that people gain less visceral fat over time when they sleep between 6-7 hours (6).

Research also shows that lacking sleep can have hormone changes that affect hunger, feeling of fullness, and how the energy is stored in your body (4).

Tips to help you get to sleep:

  • Commit to a bedtime routine
  • Sleep at least 8 hours a night
  • Have a moment of no screen time at least 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Take a 20-minute nap to recharge during the day

10. You Are Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Wanting to lose those extra pounds but you enjoy that glass of wine at dinner time or the beer with friends, guess what? 

Weight loss may be a struggle when drinking alcohol. 

Alcohol consumption is another source of calories, known as “empty calories” because there aren’t nutrients that the body can use for its benefit. 

Include those fancy cocktails, and even more, sugar is added. 

It is also burned for fuel first, displacing the use of carbs and fats. 

With these extra calories that we’re unable to be used, the body converts them and stores the energy in fat cells (4).

The “beer belly’ is a very real thing, if your alcohol consumption is high enough. 

Simple sugars found in alcohol can also be stored in your fat cells. 

Your hormones can also be affected by alcohol, it affects the testosterone hormone. 

This hormone is important in the fact that it helps regulate your metabolism.

It affects your ability to sleep, studies show that alcohol can increase moments of being awake during sleep cycles (4).

Alcohol relaxes your inhibitions and affects your judgment in a lot of ways, including your food choices. 

This is where you throw caution to the wind and dive into those greasy tacos (4).

With the trendy new 0% alcohol beverages, you may think it’s safe. No, the calories are still there as sugar for flavoring. 

Final Take

Identifying your bad habits is not enough, you must also take action. 

Knowing your habits that cause belly fat can help you reduce your waist size. 

Reflecting on how to make changes to target visceral fat can also decrease risk factors. 

Ultimately having a balanced intake of whole foods and regular exercise helps, but being habitually consistent matters as well. 

References:

  1. Bray, George A. “How Bad Is Fructose?” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 86, no. 4, 2007, pp. 895–896., doi:10.1093/ajcn/86.4.895.
  2. Epel, Elissa, et al. “Stress May Add Bite to Appetite in Women: A Laboratory Study of Stress-Induced Cortisol and Eating Behavior.” Psychoneuroendocrinology, vol. 26, no. 1, 2001, pp. 37–49., doi:10.1016/s0306-4530(00)00035-4.
  3. Fukuda, Tatsuya, et al. “Ratio of Visceral-to-Subcutaneous Fat Area Predicts Cardiovascular Events in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes.” Journal of Diabetes Investigation, vol. 9, no. 2, 2017, pp. 396–402., doi:10.1111/jdi.12713.
  4. Geoghegan, Pierce, et al. “Investigation of the Effects of Alcohol on Sleep Using Actigraphy.” Alcohol and Alcoholism, vol. 48, no. 1, 2012, pp. 126–127., doi:10.1093/alcalc/ags131.
  5. 5. “Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Mar. 2021, www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html.
  6. Hairston, Kristen G., et al. “Sleep Duration AND FIVE-YEAR Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: The Iras Family Study.” Sleep, vol. 33, no. 3, 2010, pp. 289–295., doi:10.1093/sleep/33.3.289.
  7. “Healthy Eating Tips.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Feb. 2021, www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/features/healthy-eating-tips/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fnccdphp%2Fdnpao%2Ffeatures%2Fnational-nutrition-month%2Findex.html.
  8. Ostman, C., et al. “The Effect of Exercise Training on Clinical Outcomes in Patients with the Metabolic Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Cardiovascular Diabetology, vol. 16, no. 1, 2017, doi:10.1186/s12933-017-0590-y.
  9. Stanhope, Kimber L., et al. “Consuming Fructose-Sweetened, Not Glucose-Sweetened, Beverages Increases Visceral Adiposity and Lipids and Decreases Insulin Sensitivity in Overweight/Obese Humans.” Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol. 119, no. 5, 2009, pp. 1322–1334., doi:10.1172/jci37385.
  10. 10. “Trans Fats.” Www.heart.org, www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat.

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