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Explained: 7 reasons why you only gain weight in your stomach

How to target belly fat.

Why Do I Only Gain Weight in My Stomach? 7 Potential Reasons | Juniper

Noticed a bit of extra weight around your midsection? Aside from perhaps not loving its appearance, you may be wondering what caused it and if it poses any danger to your health.

There are actually several reasons why you’re gaining weight in your stomach and, depending on the source, it may or may not come with health risks.

Here’s what you need to know about abdominal fat, the factors behind it, and how to get rid of it.

The difference between abdominal fat and bloating

First things first is whether or not the weight gain around your mid-section is really fat or simply a result of bloating.

Bloating is when your digestive organs are stretched due to either a build-up of food, liquid or gas or because your tummy muscles are weak. When you’re bloated, you might feel that stretchy sensation, you might feel overly full or you might just be generally uncomfortable [1].

On the other hand, abdominal fat is exactly as the name suggests: body fat that sits around your abdominal area.

There are a few easy ways to tell the difference between belly fat and bloating:

  • Bloating tends to happen quickly — usually after eating a meal or a day of meals — whereas belly fat creeps up slowly [2]
  • Bloating can also fluctuate throughout the day; belly fat remains constant [3]
  • You can physically hold belly fat, but you can’t grip a bloated tummy

What are the different types of abdominal fat?

While any fat around the midsection is referred to as abdominal or belly fat, there are actually 2 types of fat that can crop up in this area: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.

The former sits just under the surface of your skin and makes up about 90% of all the fat in your body. Subcutaneous fat is soft, you can pinch it with your fingers, and it’s usually found around your thighs, hips, buttocks, and tummy [4].

It also plays a key role in your body’s functioning, like providing padding around your organs, bones, and muscles, and regulating your body temperature [5].

The latter makes up the remaining 10% of your overall body fat. Visceral fat can’t be felt or seen, because it lies deep within your body around organs like your intestines, stomach, and liver.

Visceral fat can also be potentially problematic for your health. We’ll get to why a little further down. 

7 potential causes of abdominal weight gain

There are several reasons why you might have gained weight around your middle. These include:


Most women store fat around their hips and thighs, however, the distribution of body fat changes as they age. 

When women approach and go through menopause, their estrogen levels drop fairly significantly. As a result, they often start storing weight around their mid-section.


Being overweight or obese can be hereditary, so if you have parents or several other blood relatives who fall in either category, you’re more likely to be overweight or obese yourself. In fact, having 2 obese parents increases your likelihood of obesity by as much as 80% [6].

The same goes for related characteristics like your metabolism, appetite, cravings for certain foods, and where fat is distributed in your body. This means that if you’ve got a family history of excess weight around the midsection, you may be more likely to carry it there, too.

Poor diet

Eating a poor diet can cause you to put on weight across your whole body, but there are certain foods that may specifically trigger abdominal weight gain.

Sugar is one of those foods. Sugar prompts your body to generate an inflammatory response, and when this happens, your body opts to store fat around your midsection [7]. The reason it does this is because it puts the fat closer to your liver, so if your body requires energy, it can quickly convert it.

Trans fats — found in fried foods, processed foods, and commercial baked goods — can also encourage your body to increase its storage of visceral fat, which we know is the harmful fat found around your belly.

Heavy drinking

Alcohol is pretty high in calories, most of which are empty. This means that the calories in alcohol offer very little to no nutritional benefit.

If you’re drinking excessively, you’re consuming a high number of additional calories, and this can lead to weight gain [8].

But, there’s also a link between alcohol consumption and abdominal weight gain more specifically. A 1996 study found that even drinking moderate amounts of alcohol was associated with fat around the midsection, potentially because alcohol intake increased the area of visceral fat in the body — which we know is concentrated in the abdomen [9].


When you’re stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is useful during stressful periods because it helps trigger the fight or flight response. 

But, if you’re chronically stressed, your body might start producing too much cortisol for too long. This overproduction causes your blood sugar and insulin levels to rise, which can, in turn, make you gain weight around your middle.


Besides cortisol, other hormonal imbalances that can cause you to put on weight around your middle include insulin resistance and leptin imbalance.

Insulin resistance is when the cells in different parts of your body don’t react properly to insulin, a hormone necessary for regulating your blood sugar levels and helping you get energy. When you have insulin resistance, it can prompt your body to store more fat, particularly in the belly [10].

Leptin is another important hormone, responsible for signalling when you’re full (thus also being a crucial part of weight maintenance). If your leptin levels are too high, your body may have trouble telling when you’re full, potentially leading to weight gain.


It’s incredibly common to gain weight during pregnancy. At the same time, your uterus, skin, and abdominal muscles are stretching to accommodate your growing baby.

After your baby’s born, it’s normal to still look pregnant. Much of this is due to retained fluids, and the fact that your muscles, skin, and uterus are still contracting. There’s also likely to be some extra fat sitting in your mid-section.

It usually takes several weeks or months for the belly to reduce to its original size. But, it’s also completely normal for a pregnant belly to stick around long after your baby is born, along with some of the fat around it.

What are the risks of belly fat?

Having too much fat across your midsection isn’t exactly ideal for your health. Chances are, a significant amount of that fat is visceral fat, which lies around your organs.

Excess visceral fat is problematic because it makes your body secrete inflammatory molecules known as adipokines [11]. Having too many adipokines floating around your body increases your chances of developing a number of health problems. 

In fact, adipokines and abdominal fat are linked to a bigger risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and heart attack [12][13]. Excess belly fat is also linked to a higher likelihood of developing some cancers, dementia, kidney disease, and neurological disorders [14].

And while subcutaneous fat doesn’t necessarily cause the same problems, those with too much of it often have an excess of visceral fat too. This is why having too much abdominal fat can be an issue. 

How to reduce unwanted stomach fat

Now, how can you work on getting rid of stomach fat? There are several ways to approach it.

Address your diet

If your diet needs a bit of an overhaul, try adding foods that are plant-based and high in fibre. These include vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Protein-rich foods like lean meat, chicken, seafood, and eggs are also valuable additions. In fact, eating more of both food groups has been shown to decrease waist circumference — a key indicator of excess belly fat [15].

And because high-sugar and high-trans fats foods are closely related to abdominal weight gain, see if you can eliminate or just reduce your consumption of them. Doing so may produce a noticeable reduction in belly fat [16][17].

Increase your exercise

Exercise is equally crucial when it comes to losing weight. Incorporate a mix of aerobic activities (those that get your heart rate up, such as jogging, walking or dancing) and resistance training (think weight lifting, sit-ups, lunges, and crunches). 

The former helps boost your metabolism and burns energy, while the latter builds your muscle mass. Muscle mass is important, as it helps your body burn fat.

You don’t have to go super hard at the gym every single day. Around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (think power walking or swimming) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (running, for example), plus 2 sessions of weight training, combined with a healthy diet, is beneficial for your health and can help you lose weight [18].

Decrease your drinking

If drinking could be behind your abdominal weight gain, see if you can moderate it. You could skip alcohol a few days a week, and when you do go out, try and alternate your drinks with glasses of water.

Also, going for lower-calorie drinks like clear spirits and low or no-sugar mixers (such as soda water) can reduce your overall calorie intake on a night out.

Curb stress

As we know, cortisol is one of the primary causes of abdominal fat. By working on your stress levels, you may reduce your chronically high cortisol and, as a result, potentially lose some of the weight around your midsection.

There are lots of great ways to curb stress, including breathing and relaxation exercises, yoga, going for a walk, playing relaxing music, using positive affirmations or simply having a laugh [19].

Look at other hormonal causes

There could be a hormonal reason behind your belly fat. To figure out if that’s the case, chat with your doctor about having your hormone levels assessed. They can then suggest ways to address the imbalance, such as hormone replacement therapy, medication or lifestyle changes.

Try a weight loss programme

Sometimes, despite your best efforts to lose weight on your own, it can be a difficult journey. If you’re struggling to lose belly fat, consider signing up for a weight loss programme — like Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme.

The programme combines expert advice and guidance from a team of health professionals, including dietitians, clinicians, and health coaches, who can support you with overhauling everything from your diet and exercise regimen to your mindset.

The programme also provides you with breakthrough weight loss medication delivered discreetly to your door, helping you with losing weight (including around your belly) and keeping it off for good.

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