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Different types of belly fat and how to target it

The belly is one of the most common spots for fat to accumulate.

Different Types of Belly Fat and How To Target It | Juniper

Carrying a bit of extra weight around your middle? You’re not alone. In fact, the belly is one of the most common spots for fat to accumulate. Belly fat also doesn’t discriminate; it can affect both men and women at different ages and life stages.

But what exactly causes belly fat, is it unhealthy to have fat around your abdomen and what can you do to lose weight? And is all belly fat equal, or are there multiple types?

Here’s what you need to know.

What's the Four Body Type theory?

There’s a theory that body types and abdominal weight gain can be broken down into 4 categories. The concept was created by Dr Eric Berg, a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC), who specialises in weight loss.

He believes each body shape can be classified based on the hormonal imbalance that lies behind it. He also says that by knowing which category your body falls into, you’ll have a better understanding of how to restore healthy hormone levels and lose weight in a way that works for your body.

While these are the four categories defined by Dr Berg, it’s worth noting that many bodies are a combination of different body types.

Adrenal body and adrenal belly

When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol. On top of controlling blood pressure and reducing inflammation, cortisol helps your body respond to stress by triggering the fight or flight response.

Typically, your body produces a healthy amount of cortisol to keep things in balance. But chronic stress can generate an overproduction of cortisol, leading to weight gain around your abdomen and face [1].

Signs that belly fat is caused by excess cortisol include weight that sits in your mid to low abdominal area, and other symptoms of chronic stress like insomnia, low energy and emotional changes [2].

Thyroid body and thyroid belly

Thyroid problems are particularly prevalent among women, especially in the phase between puberty and menopause. Often, these problems are due to high oestrogen levels [3].

When your body is producing excess oestrogen, it can indirectly lead to an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism. As a result, those with a thyroid body tend to gain weight across their whole body, including the belly.

Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include brittle nails, thinning hair, exhaustion, heavy periods and headaches, among others [4].

Liver body and liver belly

Your liver plays a really important role in your body: it regulates the majority of chemicals in your blood, filters toxins out of your blood and produces bile, a substance that supports digestion by breaking down fats and getting rid of waste.

Your liver also processes alcohol and fatty foods, so an overconsumption of either or both can lead to liver problems [5].

This can lead to a liver body, which is characterised by significant weight gain around the abdomen and thin arms and legs. Often, weight gain is accompanied by pain in the shoulders and knees, irritability, tummy problems and increased hunger.

Ovary body and ovary belly

The ovary body only affects women. Like the thyroid body type, it’s caused by excess oestrogen production — this time, by the ovaries.

On an ovary body, weight is typically stored in the lower abdomen, along with the hips, thighs and lower back. Other signs of an ovary body include fatigue, heavy or erratic periods, low mood, low sex drive and headaches.

What are the different types of belly fat?

Aside from belly shapes, there are 2 types of belly fat: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. 

Subcutaneous fat — also known as subcutaneous adipose tissue — sits under your skin and feels soft to the touch. About 90% of total body fat is subcutaneous, and women typically have more subcutaneous fat than men.

Visceral fat sits much deeper in your body — it surrounds organs like your intestines and liver. It’s also referred to as ‘hidden fat’ because, unlike subcutaneous fat, it can’t be felt under your skin [6].

Can belly fat be harmful to the body?

Subcutaneous fat is generally pretty innocuous and is actually a vital way for your body to keep warm. But excess amounts of it can increase the probability of issues like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and some cancers.

While visceral fat only makes up 10% of your overall body fat, it carries far greater risk. Visceral fat produces harmful chemicals and hormones and is a key sign of metabolic syndrome.

This is the collective name for conditions like obesity, high cholesterol, insulin resistance and high blood pressure, all of which raise your likelihood of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke [7].

With excess visceral belly fat, you’re also more likely to get certain types of cancer, liver disease, dementia and fertility problems, among other disorders.

So, what’s the link between the different types of belly fat and the Four Body Type theory?

The hormonal imbalances we mentioned earlier are strongly connected to visceral fat. Research has shown that things like menopause, high-stress levels, hypothyroidism and liver problems can increase the amount of visceral fat in the body [8][9][10][11].

How do I know what kind of belly fat I have?

Because it sits just under your skin, subcutaneous fat tends to be soft and jiggly, and you can pinch it with your fingers.

Visceral fat, on the other hand, envelops your internal organs. It can’t be felt but instead can be detected using your waist measurement. For women, a circumference of 80cm or more means a higher risk of chronic disease.

In general, an excess of subcutaneous fat means your body is storing too much visceral fat as well.

What contributes to belly weight gain?

There are lots of different factors behind excess belly fat, and often, weight gain around your middle can come about due to a combination of causes. Some of the most common include:

  • Genetics. If there’s a family history of being overweight or obese, there’s a higher likelihood of developing either yourself. The same goes for where fat is distributed in your body, such as around your midsection.
  • Poor diet. A diet that’s too high in sugar and trans fat, and low in protein and fibre, can contribute to weight gain around your tummy.
  • Exercise levels. If you’re not doing enough physical exercise or leading a very sedentary lifestyle — that is, spending too much time sitting at your desk or on the couch — it can increase your risk of being overweight or obese.
  • Drinking alcohol. Alcohol is high in empty calories, plus it can affect certain functions in your body that stop you from burning fat. Both of these things mean that drinking too much alcohol can lead to excess belly fat.
  • Menopause. Throughout most of a woman’s life, fat is stored around the hips and thighs. Come menopause, though, weight tends to accumulate around the belly as a result of dramatically lower estrogen levels.
  • Stress. As we know, excess cortisol production can lead to abdominal weight gain or adrenal belly.

Healthy ways to reduce or lose belly fat

Keen to shift the weight around your abdomen? The good news is that, while it can be difficult, reducing belly fat is entirely possible. The process will take a bit of work and several lifestyle changes, but there are different strategies you can try to lose belly fat the healthy way.

Remember that no single tactic will guarantee weight loss; in many cases, you’ll need to adopt multiple approaches to lose weight around your belly.

Adopt a healthy diet

A healthy diet is the cornerstone of weight loss. Increase your intake of high-fibre plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, along with protein-rich ones such as lean red meat, chicken, fish and eggs.

In fact, research shows that eating foods from both of these food groups can help decrease your waist circumference [12].

On the flip side, excess consumption of foods and drinks high in sugar and trans fats can cause an increase in abdominal fat [13][14]. Reducing or even eliminating these from your diet may help to get rid of the weight.

Get moving

Exercise is another important part of the equation. Aerobic exercise or cardio — that is, anything that gets your heart rate up — is great for weight loss as it burns energy and boosts your metabolism both during and after your workout. It doesn’t have to be super high-intensity; even moderate exercise can make a difference.

The most important thing is that you exercise regularly and for a decent amount of time. A 2015 study showed that 300 minutes of exercise per week was more effective at reducing weight among post-menopausal women than 150 minutes per week [15].

Curb your drinking

It’s fine to enjoy a glass of wine from time to time, but we know that alcohol is high in empty calories and also affects your body in such a way that it struggles to burn fat. As well, drinking too much can lead to unhealthy food choices.

To reduce belly fat and for your overall health, try to avoid drinking excessively and choose lower-calorie options. You could decrease the number of days per week that you drink, or alternate between a drink and a glass of water on nights out.

You could also swap wine and beer for clear spirits and low or no-sugar mixers to cut down on your energy intake.

Look at hormonal factors

If you’re showing the signs of any of the Four Body Types we mentioned earlier, addressing a potential hormonal imbalance may help to reduce belly fat.

Your doctor can assess your hormone levels and look at possible causes like hypothyroidism, high oestrogen, liver issues and chronic stress, and provide solutions. They may suggest medication or other treatments like hormone replacement therapy, or they might advise certain lifestyle changes.

Sign up for a weight loss programme

A dedicated weight loss plan like our Weight Reset Programme provides the support you need to lose excess belly fat. 

Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme combines proven medication, health coaching and ongoing support to help you lose weight and keep it off. We prescribe Wegovy, a GLP-1 medication containing the active ingredient, semaglutide.

Semaglutide is clinically proven to reduce your appetite and make you feel fuller for longer, while also reducing cravings by targeting the rewards centre in the brain. For long-term success, changing your eating and movement habits is also crucial, which is why we offer a comprehensive programme that includes 3 core pillars of lifestyle change with the assistance of our UK clinicians.

We can help you break habits that might be impacting your weight and help you hit your weight loss goals sooner.