April 29


3 Primary Causes of Belly Fat

By Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS

April 29, 2019

Belly fat. What do you think when you read that? Glad I don’t have it? Or I really wish I could get rid of mine?

Most people have some amount of fat around their belly. And some spend a lifetime trying to get rid of theirs. Here’s the deal, it’s not that easy to get rid of. I know…you’re saying “Yeah…I know!” But it’s not for the reason you’re thinking of.

When people try to lose weight or reduce belly fat, they tend to eat less and exercise more. That’s rarely the correct response. Why? Because belly fat isn’t always about overeating. Or just being overweight.

It’s a sign something else is happening in the body. And we’ve got to play detective to figure out the cause.

In this blog, I’ll discuss the top 3 reasons people accumulate belly fat. And, I’ll give you some tips to get it under control.

Why Does Belly Fat Matter

Look…I’m all about body positivity and health! You can be bigger than was society deems as “normal” and be perfectly healthy! I have larger clients that are much healthier than my smaller clients. That’s not what this blog is about.

Increased belly fat can lead to health concerns down the line. Having more fat around the middle can cause insulin resistance in the body. When your insulin doesn’t function the way it should, it’s a quick path to Type 2 Diabetes.

Increased belly fat can also throw off your waist to hip ratio. If you have a high hip to waist ratio, you’re at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes, or struggling with fertility.

If you have a larger midsection, your hips should be larger to compensate for it. But if your hips stay the same but the belly expands, that’s when you run into problems.

Now…on to why we accumulate belly fat…outside of genetics.

Reason #1 – Excessive Eating

Okay…so maybe this one is a calories in versus a calories out thing. But slightly different. Each time you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks it down into energy (aka glucose). You use what you need and store the rest.

Storage sites include the liver, muscles, and a few other organs. You use stored energy for times of fasting (sleeping) or increased need for energy (exercise or stress).

But what happens when you eat and you’re not working out, stressed, and your energy stores are full? The food you ate has to go somewhere. That somewhere is the belly in the form of fat.

When your storage sites are full, the excess glucose is sent to the liver. In the liver, it’s turned into triglycerides. Triglycerides are mistakenly thought to be cholesterol. They’re actually fat. And we tend to store this type of fat around the belly and hips.

So, if you have high triglycerides, looking at your diet is a great place to start. Are you eating too many refined carbohydrates? Are you consuming far too many calories for your body’s needs?

Reason #2 – Stress

I talk about stress a TON. You can read some of my other stress-related blogs below:

How Stress Creates Insulin Resistance

9 Ways to Reduce Stress

3 Reasons You Crave Sugar

5 Crucial Parts to Weight Loss

I write about it a lot because it’s usually the last place you look when you’re having health concerns. In reality, it should be the first place you look.

When you’re stressed, you release several hormones…one being cortisol. Cortisol does two primary things:

Shuts off insulin release from the pancreas

Floods the body with your stored glucose

It does that so if you’re outrunning a lion, you have plenty of energy to escape. The problem is, no one is really worried about being a large cat’s afternoon snack these days. You’re likely stressed from work, kids, commutes, bills, relationships, politics, etc. None of those need a large amount of energy to get through.

Regardless of the reason for stress, cortisol has the exact same response. Now that you have all this energy you can’t use, it has to go somewhere. Like you learned in reason #1, it gets stored or is turned into triglycerides.

Here’s a catch though…you can’t restore previously stored energy. The only option remaining is to become triglycerides and get stored as fat around the belly.

There are also implications with the liver in this process. I see fatty liver in high-stress individuals because of this. But that’s a story for another time.

Reducing your stress the best that you can is the only way to go here.

Reason #3 – Hormones

When I say hormones, I’m specifically referring to estrogen and progesterone. Cortisol is a hormone. But we talked about that under stress. And other hormones can cause weight fluctuations as well. For the sake of this blog, let’s keep it simple…mkay?

Estrogen and progesterone levels vary throughout the month. But it’s a delicate dance between the two that keeps things running the way they should. If there’s a slight imbalance, you will feel it. If you’re curious about the symptoms, you can read about them here.

Hormones help regulate fat storage as well. Too much estrogen or too little estrogen can cause excess fat to be stored around the abdomen. Balancing estrogen and progesterone out isn’t the easiest thing to do.

You first have to find out when your estrogen is too low. Or find out why it’s too high. A lot of the times, it has to do with the liver. Meaning, it’s not processing hormones they way it should. Or you’ve got too much stress in your life and the liver is focused on bigger fish at that time.

If you suspect hormones are the cause of your belly fat, I’d work with a qualified practitioner to help balance them out.


There are more than 3 reasons you might have more belly fat. Inflammation is another one. As is genetics. But these are the 3 most common reasons people tend to have excess belly fat.

Sometimes, people have more than one reason. All would need to be addressed before any long-term decrease in belly fat could be achieved.

Do you have excess belly fat? In the comments, tell me why you think you have a little more love around the middle than you’d like.

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