beer belly

Why does it seem that those who tend to quaff large quantities of beer are the ones blessed with large girths, or as it is colloquially referred to – a “beer belly”. This phenomena, a popular term for abdominal obesity, is also known as a potbelly, beer gut or beer pot. The terms stem from the tendency of habitual drinkers to develop a protruding belly over time. But is beer really the cause of a beer belly?

In actual fact there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that beer in particular causes any kind of obesity. Just pop down to your local and you may observe that beer drinkers come in all sizes and shapes. There are as many beer drinkers with athletic builds, as there are without. However a beer belly is much more likely in people who lead sedentary lives than those who do physical work.

So what really causes men, and some women, to develop the infamous paunch? As we all know, it is not only beer drinkers that have an extended waistline. Any excess of calories — whether from alcohol, sugary beverages, or oversized portions of food — can increase belly fat. Alcohol does appear to have a particular relationship with belly fat however, as when consumed it is easier for the body to burn this as fuel.  Additionally, beer is often held to be the culprit as it is the ease of drinking beer that is part of the problem. For example, when was the last time you were able to drink the equivalent amount of water as beer in a typical drinking session?  Alcohol can also increase your appetite, and that curry you grabbed after the pub, rather than the celery stick you ought to have, just adds to the calorie overload.

It is not only beer that causes a pot belly

Drinking large amounts of sugary drinks is also associated with significantly more belly fat and wider waistlines. There’s some evidence that the fructose content of the drink is to blame.  Soda, or soft drink, contains fructose, or High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is the high calorie creation that is easy to over consume. A study in the journal “Obesity” found that drinking sugary drinks was associated with an accumulation of more belly fat than the control group who drank water. Soda, and not beer, might be part of your belly expansion problem.

Even smoking has an influence!

Often smoking goes hand in hand with alcohol and can be a common trait in bigger bellied people, and has also been shown to cause smokers to store fat around their middle. Smoking is known to suppress hunger, but a 2012 study published by “PLoS One” found that smokers had more belly fat than their non-smoking counterparts.  A further study demonstrated that by quitting smoking, a small reduction in excess belly fat was observed.

What’s wrong with a beer gut anyway?

You may not gain weight as a result of smoking, but any fat you do have does more than reduce your chances of winning that he-man competition. There are two types of belly fat. The visceral fat found deep within the abdominal cavity, the solid “beer gut”, and the subcutaneous fat (the kind under the skin) that you can grab. This visceral fat surrounds the internal organs and excretes inflammatory chemicals. This is more dangerous than the extra pounds carried on the thighs or hips. Visceral fat is linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and higher mortality.

Why does fat collect in the belly?

Your body stores extra calories as fat, and where this is stored is partly determined by your age and sex. While there are some women who may sport a pot belly, it is more common in men. This is because women tend to store the extra calories they take in, as subcutaneous fat in their arms, thighs, and buttocks, as well as their bellies. Men on the other hand, having less subcutaneous fat, store more in their bellies. Beer bellies also tend to be more prominent in older people because as you get older, your calorie needs go down, you often become less active, and you tend to gain weight easier.

Losing Your Belly

There is no magical way to reduce belly fat other than the proven method of cutting calories and increasing activity. Special “belly fat” diets won’t trim your belly faster! I personally promote a non-obsessive approach to diets and health. I believe we need to not only try to maintain a healthy lifestyle but also need to enjoy the life we have. Food and alcohol have, for many of us, an important social context. For many having a few beers at the pub as a social event or to maintain contact with friends is an important element of our life. Like everything though, it is something that many of us need to monitor to ensure it is still a healthy activity!

Drinking less alcohol, or drinking light beers, will help but so will drinking less soda and being mindful of the other high calorie foods that you eat. Finding an alternate social setting to the pub when meeting up with friends will also help in lessening the amount of alcohol consumed. If that is difficult to manage, having a glass of water between beers can make a difference too, a will making sure you have a healthy meal before going out so you will not feel like drinking too much. The extra exercise in walking or cycling to the bar will help somewhat, but sorry to say that doing sit-ups or crunches will not reduce your belly fat – they may help hold it in but will not get rid of it.

Finally however the good news is that once you start to cut down and begin to lose some of that extra padding, it tends to disappear from the belly first, with visceral fat breaking down faster than other fat.