As I approach middle age, I have given up blaming my belly fat on pregnancy, particularly because my youngest is now 14. Over the years, I have made attempts to rid myself of the excess fat around my waistline. I’ve done sit-ups, tried running, and there it sits, not budging a bit. While I long for the rock hard abs of a Victoria’s Secret model, I have learned that getting rid of a belly bulge is important for more than just vanity’s sake.
Even if, like me, you’re not heavy, belly fat can affect your health. Many people don’t realize that excess abdominal fat called visceral fat — which surrounds your organs — churns out stress hormones like cortisol and inflammatory substances called cytokines that affect the body’s production of insulin. “Belly fat is on the outside, visceral fat is caked around our internal organs,” said Dr. Ashwin Mehta, medical director of Integrative Medicine at Memorial Healthcare in Hollywood. Visceral fat can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and some cancers. “Belly fat is a killer. We don’t see it as that, but it is,” Mehta said.
Around me, I see my peers struggling with belly fat as they age, too. A trim waistline becomes more of challenge as we grow older because our bodies change how they gain and lose weight. Muscle mass typically diminishes as we get older, while fat increases. On top of that, for many women the increase in belly fat may be related to menopause. With menopause comes a drop in estrogen, which changes how the body distributes fat and makes women more prone to gaining weight in their tummy.