Having an excess amount of belly fat is unhealthy and is responsible for a host of health problems such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and cancer. 1

The unhealthy fat in the belly or “visceral fat” in medical terms refers to the fat which surrounds the liver as well as other organs and this excess belly fat goes on to increase the risk of diseases even for people with normal weight.

Here are 12 things that make you gain belly fat.

  1. Sugary foods and beverages – It is not an unknown fact that many people take high sugar foods such as cakes, candies, muffins, frozen yogurt, etc. which is one of the main causes for weight gain.

A 10-week study had shown that though overweight people experienced a decrease in insulin sensitivity, belly fat tended to increase when they consumed 25% of calories in the form of fructose-sweetened beverages on a weight-maintaining a diet. But a second study has reported a reduction in fat burning and a reduced metabolic rate among the people who followed a similar high fructose diet.

Too much sugar – be it in any form – will lead to weight gain in which sugar-sweetened beverages are the main culprit. Sweet drinks make it very easy to consume sugar in the large amount in a short period. Apart from that, it has also come to light that calories found in liquid form don’t have the same effect on appetite as calories from solid foods since drinking calories doesn’t make you feel full as it can’t be compensated by eating less of other foods instead.

  1. Alcohol – This has harmful effects. When consumed in excess quantity may lead to some diseases such as liver 2inflammation, liver disease, among others.

Some studies have shown that alcohol suppresses the burning of fat and at the same time the excess calories from alcohol are stored as belly fat. Other studies have also linked high alcohol intake to weight gain around the middle, while some other studies have also found that consumption of high alcohol more than three drinks per day was likely to result in increased belly fat for men as compared to those who are known to consume less alcohol.

  1. Trans fat – Created by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats to make them stable, Trans fat are the unhealthiest fats known to mankind on the planet. 3


Extending the shelf life of packaged foods such as muffins, crackers, etc, they cause inflammation which leads to insulin resistance along with heart diseases and a variety of other health problems.

  1. Inactivity – Today, people have become less active than they had been a few decades ago and it goes without saying that a sedentary lifestyle plays a big role in the rising rates of abdominal obesity worldwide. 4

    Various surveys have the result to prove it.  A survey from 1988-2010 in the US has found that there has been a significant increase in weight and abdominal girth in both men as well as in women.

Another study compared women who watched more TV to their counterparts who watched less TV and needless to say, the group which watched more TV had the risk of “severe abdominal obesity” in comparison to the other group.

One study has also suggested that inactivity is the main culprit which aids in regaining belly fat after losing weight. While this particular study has found that people who performed aerobic exercise for 1 year after losing weight were able to prevent abdominal fat regain as compared to those people who didn’t exercise and had a 25-38% increase in belly fat.

  1. Low protein diets – One of the most vital factors in preventing weight gain is to receive the adequate dietary protein as high protein diets make us feel full and satisfied along with increasing our metabolic rate leading to a spontaneous reaction in calorie intake against low protein intake which no doubt will cause us to gain belly fat over the long term. 5


Studies have found out that people consuming a high amount of protein are unlikely to have excess belly fat. Moreover, animal studies have found that a hormone known as neuropeptide Y, also known as ‘NPY” leads to an increased appetite as well as promotes belly fat gain.

  1. Menopause – After a woman has her last menstrual period, menopause occurs and during this time, the estrogen levels drop and the fat gets stored in the abdomen. Genetics may have an important role here, but during this time, some women may gain more weight as compared to other women who complete menopause at a younger age.

  1. The wrong gut bacteria – The bacteria living in our gut – gut flora or microbiome – benefits our health in many ways but any imbalance in gut bacteria can lead to serious consequences such as type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and in extreme cases, cancer. 6


Researchers have found out that an excess amount of unhealthy gut bacteria may lead to weight gain as well as increase a number of calories absorbed from food.

Studies had found out that bacteria-free mice gained more fat when they received fecal transplants of bacteria related to obesity as compared to mice having received bacteria related to leanness.

  1. Fruit Juice – Fruit juice too, contains sugar and though it provides vitamins and minerals, it drives insulin resistance and helps in promoting belly fat gain. 7


But though a solid source of liquid calories, it still fails to satisfy the appetite in the same way as solid food.

  1. Stress and Cortisol – Cortisol is a hormone needed for survival and produced by adrenal glands known as “stress hormone” which helps our body to respond to stress but it can also lead to weight gain when produced in excess.

 Cortisol, during stress, promotes fat storage in the belly as stress causes people to overeat but it only gets stored as fat all over the body.


     10. Not enough sleep – Getting enough sleep is vital for our health as inadequate sleep is associated with weight gain as well as body fat.

A study of 68, 000 women has shown that women who slept 5 hours or less were more likely to gain weight than those who slept 7 hours or more.

Apart from that, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, a condition where breathing during the night stops repeatedly due to soft tissue blocking the airway, is also linked to weight gain. Certain studies showed that overweight men with the condition sleep apnea have excess abdominal fat as compared to their counterparts who don’t have the disorder.

All these information point to the direction that there are various factors which can lead to belly fat. But yes, there are many factors, which we can control and it is entirely up to us as to what to eat and what we don’t eat along with how much we exercise and above all how we manage stress.


Marcelo is the co-founder and Director of Exercise Physiology at Intense Health, Perth's #1 Private Strength Training and Nutrition Clinics.


Marcelo is the co-founder and Director of Exercise Physiology at Intense Health, Perth's #1 Private Strength Training and Nutrition Clinics.