If you have made a priority to get rid of tummy fat, congratulations! People who gain weight around the middle have a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes type 2 than people who gain weight in the hips and thighs.

Where does fat go?

When we eat more calories than we burn, the body converts most of the excess to fat. Where does the fat go?

The first place where it goes is to the fat cells (also called adipose cells). And here is where the problem starts. Fat cells secrete more than a dozen proteins (hormones) that trigger changes throughout the body.  Here are four proteins that have an impact when you diet:

  1. Leptin. This hormone was discovered in 1994 by Dr. Jeffrey Freidman’s research team at Rockefeller University. It controls fat stores and it sends signals to the brain whether to boost or curb appetite.  In theory, leptin should curb appetite and burn more calories, but the fatter you get, the fewer leptin works. When you lose weight, your fat cells release less leptin. That makes you eat more and burn fewer calories, which makes it tougher to keep the weight off.
  2. Adiponectin. This hormone enables insulin to take sugar from the bloodstream into your body’s cells, where it is stored or burned for fuel. The more fat you have the less adiponectin your fat cells produce. Adiponectin is low in anyone who is overweight, but it is especially low in people who are insulin resistant. This suggests that higher levels of this hormone facilitate insulin to introduce glucose into the cells, which means lower insulin resistance.
  3. Ghrelin. When you lose weight, your stomach (not your fat cells) releases more ghrelin, which makes you hungry and makes it tougher to keep the weight off.
  4. Inflammatory Proteins. The larger your fat cells, the more they upset the immune system. Fat cells produce cytokines that increase inflammation.

What happens when fat cells are stuffed?

Cells that can’t get any bigger look for extra storage. When we keep consuming more calories than we burn, our body makes more fat cells. If new fat cells are not enough, then the fat starts going to places such as the liver, muscles, and maybe the pancreas. The fat that goes to the muscles seems to lead to insulin resistance. In fact, people with diabetes have low-density muscle because so much fat is stored there. People with more fat stored in muscles, the liver, and the heart, have more abnormalities in those organs.

Stomach fat is more harmful

Fat stored in fat cells is less harmful than fat stored in muscles, the heart, and other organs. But where those fat cells also make a difference and people who gain weight around the middle have a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes than people who gain weight in the hips and thighs.

Researchers are trying to figure out why people who have accumulated fat in their tummy are at greater risk. On average, 80 to 90 percent of our body fat is subcutaneous, or just under the skin. The remaining 10 to 20 percent is the visceral fat that is deep inside the abdomen and in tissue like muscle, liver, and heart. It seems this type of fat is very active and releases free fatty acids that cause inflammation and insulin resistance. It also produces inflammatory agents.

Strategies to Lose Tummy Fat

A study conducted by Duke University showed that overweight men and women who averaged 30 minutes of vigorous exercise six days a week for six months, lost eight percent of their visceral fat.

In this case, vigorous was considered walking on a treadmill on an incline at a brisk pace or used an elliptical trainer, an exercise machine that is even less stressful than a treadmill. The intensity was equivalent to jogging, although Dr. Slentz, the lead researcher, does not recommend jogging to people who are overweight.

What really surprised the researchers was not the fat loss in the exercisers, but the fat gain in the sedentary people who formed part of the control group. According to Slentz, visceral fat of the “controls” jumped six percent in the men and 12 percent in the women and gained two pounds during the six months the study lasted.

Also, the people who gained weight showed an increase in insulin resistance and an increase in LDL cholesterol, the one most likely to clog arteries.

People think exercise is not that important and can wait, but if you gain two pounds in six months, think about what you would gain in 10 years. Losing weight and keeping it off is not easy, but if we can prevent gaining it, that is half the battle.

In another study conducted at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine, Alice Ryan and her co-workers put 37 overweight or obese women on a lower-calorie diet for six months. The women also walked at moderate intensity on a treadmill for 45 minutes three times a week. This was not a crash diet.

People in the group lost 10 percent of their body weight in six months, about half a pound a week. Along with the weight, the women also lost 17 percent of their visceral fat. What is more, Ryan indicated, the levels of pro-inflammatory proteins fell, which may explain why their insulin resistance dropped.

According to obesity researcher Xavier Pi-Sunyer of Columbia University, between the ages of 20 and 40, Americans gain about two pounds a year. That is 40 pounds over 20 years and it shows.

Is liposuction a solution?

When you lose weight, you lose both visceral and subcutaneous fat. And that lowers your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Not so when the fat is vacuumed out of you.

In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, 350:2549,2004, Klein and his colleagues used liposuction to remove roughly 20 pounds of subcutaneous fat from the bellies of 15 obese women. According to Klein, the procedure improved only the cosmetic problem; losing 20 pounds of fat had no impact on their insulin resistance or inflammatory proteins.

It did not improve either their blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, or any other risk factors for heart disease. On the other hand, Klein said, that losing as little as five percent of the weight by eating less and increasing physical activity can lower insulin resistance, blood pressure, cholesterol, and the risk of diabetes.

Final Thought

Exercising and reducing the calories in your daily meals cause fat to leave your fat cells, which makes them shrink. At the same time, you remove fat from your muscles and liver, which will help in your overall health. If you reduce your fat by sucking it out, you change the amount of fat in your body but not the size of fat cells. The bottom line is that the easiest solution to tummy fat or any type of fat for that matter is keeping the weight off


I am Andy Carpenter and I would start by saying that I have a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition Science conferred by California State University, Los Angeles and that I am certified as a Registered Dietitian.

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