Gaining weight solely in your stomach may be the result of specific lifestyle choices.
The two S’s — stress and sugar — play a significant role in the size of your midsection.
Certain medical conditions and hormonal changes can contribute to abdominal weight gain.
Do you ever feel like your stomach takes on a life of its own? From bulging and bloating to flat and firm, the shape of your midsection changes daily. But what happens when the size of your stomach seems to keep growing, without any relief in sight?
If you’re gaining weight in your stomach, it could be related to your diet or it could be the result of a new medication or other health issues. INSIDER spoke to experts to determine the more common reasons you’re gaining weight in your stomach.
Genetics plays a role in body type.
You can’t talk about the size and structure of your body without factoring in genetics. Dr. Khalid Saeed, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, told INSIDER that genetics definitely plays a role in where you store fat.
“If your family tree shows a tendency towards apple-shaped individuals, then you may have to be extra diligent about getting enough physical activity and limiting your caloric intake,” he explained. So, how do you know if you are apple-shaped? Well, if you have a larger waist and tend to carry a lot of your weight around your abdomen, there’s a good chance you’re considered apple-shaped.
Stress leads to increased fat storage.
Stress is a normal part of life. That said, it’s important to find productive ways to manage stress, so it doesn’t negatively impact your health
Registered dietitian Michelle Shapiro, RD told INSIDER that one of the root causes of abdominal weight gain is stress, and in order to address the issue, you need to target stress first.
When you experience stress, you release cortisol (the fight or flight hormone). Shapiro said repeated excess circulating cortisol could lead to increased abdominal fat storage.
“Cortisol enables the body to mobilize fat and energy from other areas and direct them to the abdomen, where cortisol can make energy readily available for vital organs,” she explained.
Excess sugar quickly leads to fat gain.
Shapiro explained that when our cortisol levels are elevated, we tend to crave sugar because our body wants quick energy in case of an emergency. This added sugar, however, could increase central weight gain.
“So, we get stressed, release cortisol, gain weight in our abdomen and crave more sugar, eat more sugar, and gain more weight,” she said. Her suggestion? Get adequate sleep, eliminate foods that you may be intolerant to (including sugar), manage stress through mindfulness and meditation, and turn to something besides sugar (like friends) when you’re feeling stressed or emotional.
Protein is important for balance.
If your diet is lacking adequate levels of quality protein, you may see a few extra pounds find their way to your stomach. The good news is that you can easily shift your macronutrients to increase your protein. “When you increase your protein intake you can balance out your blood sugar while reducing insulin levels to promote a much faster metabolic rate,” Vince Sant, lead trainer at V Shred, told INSIDER.
Sant said protein also helps to control hormones that increase your appetite, which can help you lose weight naturally. Just how much protein do you need? Well, that depends on your activity level and body size. Consult a registered dietitian or check out one of the websites online that explains protein requirements.
Hormones can control weight.
Around menopause, Sant said even people who carry most of their weight on their hips and thighs often notice that their bellies start to grow.
“A drop in estrogen, coupled with your metabolism naturally slowing a bit as you age, is likely to blame,” he explained. “Building more muscle through strength training (and concentrating on your core) can help make a difference.”
Certain medications have side effects of weight gain.
One of the more common complaints when taking prescription medications is weight gain, especially in the stomach. Several medications may cause weight gain including anti-psychotic drugs, antidepressants, blood-pressure reducing drugs, and drugs for epilepsy or diabetes.
Processed foods can lead to inflammation.
We’re surrounded by heavily processed foods at the grocery store, our favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and staff lounges at work. Registered dietitian Rachel Fine, RD told INSIDER that a high intake of heavily processed foods, especially those high in high-fructose containing sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, can cause weight gain in your stomach.
In addition to highly processed sugars like high fructose corn syrup, Fine said trans fats (commonly found in packaged baked goods) could also increase inflammation that may drive insulin resistance and the accumulation of belly fat.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is characterized by higher than normal testosterone levels.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects many people with ovaries. Saeed said people with PCOS can have higher than normal testosterone levels and subsequently gain weight.
“It is thought these high levels of testosterone might cause this typical ‘male’ pattern of weight gain,” he explained. He recommended speaking with your doctor if you suspect you have this condition.
Sleep deprivation can slow metabolism.
It’s no secret that the average American is not getting enough sleep. But if you’re starting to gain size around the middle, you might want to consider your sleep or lack thereof.
Saeed said sleeping five hours or less each night has been linked to an increase in abdominal fat. “Sleep deprivation decreases your metabolism to preserve energy and stimulates our bodies to store fat,” he explained.
Interestingly, he also pointed out that getting more than eight hours of sleep can also lead to weight gain. “We’re not sure why this happens; however, the most common explanation is that more time in bed is less time being active,” he added.
Everyone’s sleep needs are different. However, the right amount of sleep is usually somewhere between seven to nine hours per night.
Food sensitivities can be shown by weight gain.
Could a food sensitivity be a reason you’re gaining weight in your stomach? Registered dietitian, Courtney Mosser, RD, CSO, LDN, CLT, concierge dietician at IV Lounge Orlando told INSIDER that you might have a sensitivity to certain food and not even know it.
“This is because unlike food allergies, food sensitivities are usually limited to digestive problems(like bloating, inflammation, lethargy), and the symptoms don’t always show up immediately, making it even harder to pinpoint which ingredients are upsetting your body,” she said.
Mosser recommended taking a food allergy test and utilizing that information to create a comprehensive food reintroduction plan.