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Upper belly fat: Common causes and tips for reducing it

Upper belly fat — which typically appears between your rib cage and navel — is a fairly common concern.

Upper Belly Fat: Common Causes and How to Reduce It | Juniper

Noticing a bit of excess fat around your upper abdominal area? You’re certainly not alone. Upper belly fat — which typically appears between your rib cage and navel — is a fairly common concern that affects people for all kinds of reasons.

Like lower belly fat, weight that appears around your upper belly can be fairly stubborn, but that’s not to say it’s entirely impossible to get rid of.

Here, we explore exactly what can cause upper belly fat and how to try and blitz it.

What causes upper belly fat?

There are several reasons why body fat can crop up around your upper belly. These are some of the most common.

Diet

While a poor diet can make you gain weight, some foods may actually make you put on excess weight around your belly.

These include sugar (which triggers an anti-inflammatory response that leads to abdominal weight gain), refined carbs and trans fats [1]. All of these are often found in processed foods.

Lack of exercise

Leading a sedentary lifestyle can lead to overall weight gain, especially if you’re not burning off the energy you’re consuming.

Poor sleep

When you’re not getting enough sleep — or the sleep you are getting is rubbish — it can affect your metabolism and hormones.

When these are out of whack, it may lead to weight gain around your middle.

Stress

Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that supports the fight-or-flight response.

When you suffer from chronic stress, an overproduction of cortisol can lead to weight gain around your midsection.

Genetics

These can determine where your body stores fat. Depending on your genetics, your body may retain fat around your hips and thighs, or it might accumulate around your mid-section — including your upper belly.

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do about genetic body fat distribution, because it's effectively hard-coded.

Age

Your metabolism slows down as you get older, which can lead to a change in body composition. Plus, where your body distributes that fat can change with age, too.

Until women hit menopause, they tend to store fat around their thighs and hips. Afterwards, though, fat tends to shift towards the midsection.

Hormonal changes

Aside from menopause, different types of hormonal imbalances can generate an accumulation of abdominal fat. These include thyroid problems and insulin resistance.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy does a lot of crazy things to your body, and putting on weight is often part of the territory.

Once the baby’s born, it’s very normal for the weight to stick around for a while — sometimes several weeks or months.

Why is excess visceral fat dangerous?

Here’s the thing with upper belly fat: it can lead to some pretty serious health risks.

There’s a difference between the fat around your hips and thighs and the fat around your midsection. The former is mostly subcutaneous fat, while the latter is a riskier type of fat known as visceral fat.

Most of the fat in your body (about 90%) is subcutaneous fat [2]. This kind of fat is found just below the surface of your skin and is soft and “pinchable”.

Plus, it actually plays an important role in your body: it insulates your organs, bones and muscles, and helps maintain an even body temperature [3].

Then there’s visceral fat, which makes up the remaining 10% and is located deep inside your abdominal cavity.

Visceral fat is stored around key organs like the liver, intestines and stomach. Having a small amount of it isn’t usually an issue, but too much visceral fat can increase your risk of several health problems.

These include metabolic syndrome (which can lead to serious disease), cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, insulin resistance (and eventual type 2 diabetes) and Alzheimer’s, among others [4][5].

The best exercises to target upper belly fat

Now that we’ve nutted out the potential root of upper belly fat, and why it poses a serious risk to health, how can you get rid of it?

Looking first at exercise, unfortunately, no single move or form of exercise  will make you lose fat around your abdomen (pity!). Rather, it’s about implementing a workout routine that helps you lose overall body weight, which may reduce belly fat too.

Here are some activities to consider.

Cardio

We’re talking any kind of cardio here: running, cycling, swimming, power walking, jogging, dancing or sweating it out in a kickboxing session.

Cardio is great because it increases your heart rate (good for supporting cardiovascular health), burns calories and fat, and boosts your metabolism.

Combined with resistance training (which we’ll dive into below), it can be a really effective way to lose weight.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio every week [6].

Resistance training

Resistance training involves using any kind of resistance to build muscle — think free weights, weight machines, resistance bands or even just your body weight.

Building muscle is a crucial part of weight loss because muscle supports your body in its fat-burning abilities. The more muscle you build, the more calories you burn when you’re resting.

In tandem with cardio, aim for a couple of resistance training sessions per week to lose weight.

You could use weights or machines at the gym, or even just do exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups and so on at home.

Core workouts

While no single exercise will target belly fat, you can include core workouts to help build your abdominal muscles and potentially decrease your waistline.

Ideas include planks, side planks, leg raises, bicycle crunches, Russian twists and mountain climbers.

Yoga and Pilates

In a similar vein, a number of yoga and Pilates moves may help tone your waist area and improve core strength.

The additional benefit of both is that they can help relieve stress, which we know is a key driver of upper belly fat.

You could try yoga positions such as boat pose, bridge pose and twisting chair pose, or Pilates moves like hundreds, leg circles and side leg lifts.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

HIIT involves doing brief bursts of intense physical activity followed by short rest periods.

Research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that interval training can actually deliver nearly 30% more fat loss than moderate-intensity exercise [7].

Sports

Not into working out by yourself? No worries! Team sports are a great option for raising your heart rate and burning energy, all while having fun (we promise it’ll barely feel like exercise).

See if there are any local sports teams in your area, like netball, football, hockey, softball or even quidditch.

Diet tips for reducing upper stomach fat

Diet plays an integral role in weight loss, particularly when it comes to targeting belly fat. This is because a number of foods can either help with abdominal weight loss or contribute to abdominal weight gain.

Below are some tips for improving yours.

Go for a balanced diet

Ensure your meals are packed with whole foods, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, lean proteins and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, virgin oils and avocado.

Whole grains, veg and fruit in particular are great because they’re high in fibre, which supports digestion and makes you feel fuller — potentially reducing the desire to overeat.

In fact, research shows that eating plant-based, high-fibre foods, as well as high-protein ones, can help decrease waist circumference [8].

Reduce your sugar and refined carb intake

A balanced diet also means limiting your intake of sweets, fizzy drinks, fried food and processed foods, because we know sugar and trans fats are linked to belly fat [9].

A treat once in a while is unlikely to do much damage, but ideally, you want to treat these as sometimes foods.

The same goes for refined carbs like white flour, white rice, white pasta and so on. These don’t offer a whole lot of fibre, plus they can cause blood sugar spikes, which can contribute to weight gain.

Increase hydration

Adequate hydration is crucial for weight loss. It keeps everything in your body running smoothly, allows fibre to work its magic, replenishes your body’s fluids after a workout, and even boosts your metabolism.

Aim for around 8-10 glasses of water per day.

Practise mindful eating

Mindful eating is all about paying close attention to your hunger cues, the food you’re eating and your feelings of fullness.

It may help with overeating and opting for foods that are more nourishing for your body.

Other lifestyle changes to consider

Diet and exercise are the cornerstones of weight loss, but they’re not the only factors in the equation.

Here are some other lifestyle tweaks to think about.

Manage stress

If stress is an issue for you, look into strategies that can help reduce it.

You could try meditation, deep breathing, yoga, somatic exercise, spending time with friends and family, or participating in your favourite hobby. Even a guilt-free night in front of the telly can do wonders!

Improve your sleep

Inadequate sleep can increase levels of a hormone called ghrelin, which is associated with higher appetite.

At the same time, it can lower your levels of leptin, another hormone that contributes to feelings of fullness [11]. To avoid sleep-related weight gain, aim for 7-9 hours each night.

Curb drinking

Among other ways it can contribute to weight gain, alcohol simply delivers a bunch of empty calories to your body — in other words, those that offer little to no nutritional benefit.

This just means excess energy that your body has to expend or, if it's not used up, retain as fat. 

Need help?

Losing weight doesn’t have to be a solo journey. If you’re struggling, know that help is at hand. 

Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme offers a powerful combo of expert support for diet, exercise and mindset, and a powerful GLP-1 weight loss treatment.

With such a multifaceted and effective regimen, Weight Reset participants experience up to 20% weight loss after just 12 months.

Beyond the weight loss programme, participants can also sign up for Juniper’s Strength Programme — a brand-new offering that specifically supports those looking to maintain their weight long-term. The programme helps you build up muscle strength so you can boost your metabolism and keep the weight off.