Beer belly, spare tire, beer gut – no matter which endearing name you use to describe it, that excess abdominal fat that droops over our belt lines is dangerous to our health.
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And while it’s not a byproduct of beer alone, alcohol doesn’t help the cause.
Family medicine doctor Daniel Allan, MD, tackles some commonly asked questions about the belly bulge.
Q: How does a so-called “beer belly” form?
A: Too many of any kind of calories, whether they’re from alcohol or sugary foods or just from eating too much food, can increase belly fat. Since an average beer can be more than 150 calories, it doesn’t take long for the calories (and the belly) to build.
Beer can also interfere with fat burn, because your liver will preferentially burn alcohol instead of fat when it is consumed.
Q: Are men’s bodies more prone to carrying weight this way?
A: Genetics are involved, but in general women tend to store fat in their arms, thighs and buttocks, as well as their bellies. Men, however, tend to store more in their bellies. As both men and women age and their hormone levels decrease, they become more likely to store fat in their midsection. But women do tend to start with smaller bellies.
Q: What do we know about the potential harms associated with excess belly fat?
A: Beer bellies are linked with increased risk for a variety of health problems including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome and higher mortality.
Q: Why does a beer belly get hard?
A: A person with a very firm beer belly is at even higher risk for health problems. That is because it is typically caused by a high accumulation of internal organ (or visceral) fat. This is the fat that is located in the organs themselves and between the organs inside your abdomen. It is packed in tightly and, as it builds up, it will push the abdominal wall outward, exaggerating the appearance of the beer belly. The abdominal wall itself is made of muscle and tough fibrous tissues and is very firm; thus the belly will feel hard.
Q: What’s a good first step for someone who’s ready to lose the belly?
A: There is no magic formula. You must lose weight. It takes consistent attention to a balanced diet and appropriate portions, combined with regular physical activity.
Drinking less or lower-calorie beer is a place to start for beer drinkers. Doing crunches, sit-ups or planks will not speed the process beyond just burning calories associated with that activity. Weight loss via physical activity for losing belly fat is most effective by combining both strength and cardio fitness programs.
The good news is that when the weight does start to come off, you will likely notice it disappear in the midsection first, because visceral fat can be broken down quicker than other types of body fat.