Chances are, you’ve seen the guy (or gal) at the liquor store with the gut that just can’t be contained.
“That will never be me!”, we think to ourselves as we wind along the aisles in search of our favorite clear tequila. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Even if you prefer sticking with lite beers or low-calorie vodkas. In time, overconsumption of alcohol can lead to weight gain. And eventually, that weight gain can accumulate in just the right areas to form the infamous beer belly.
I can tell you this from a place of experience. Before I dove down the rabbit hole of alcoholism I was a thin size 2 and hovered around 130 pounds. At the height of my drinking, I gained over thirty pounds in one year, most of which rested firmly in the midsection. Of course, alcohol isn’t the only bad health decision that led me there, but I can say that after I quit drinking my waistline started to shrink.
My story isn’t unique. Millions of people experience weight gain caused by excessive alcohol consumption. And despite the name, beer bellies don’t rely solely on the consumption of beer.
All forms of alcohol are loaded with empty calories. Alcoholism also tends to lend itself to other unhealthy lifestyle choices and habits that can contribute to weight gain. Days spent skipping to work to lay around the house and nights spent scarfing down greasy burgers at the Waffle House only make the problem worse.
Let’s dive into exactly what a beer belly is, the different types of fat involved, how it affects different ages and genders, and a few steps you can take to tame the growing beast.
What Is A Beer Belly?
This is the easy part. A beer belly is simply a buildup of fat in the midsection. It tends to be uncharacteristically large when compared to the relative frame of the person, but that’s not always the case.
There’s nothing inherently different about a beer belly and general fat in the belly caused by unhealthy eating choices. But a beer belly gets its name because its owners tend to drink a lot of beer. Though, as we’ve pointed out, all types of alcohol can contribute to the formation of a beer belly.
A beer belly is more than just an eyesore. It is actually linked to a variety of serious health problems. These are mostly the same health risks that are associated with severe obesity. They include:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heart Disease
- Fatty Liver Disease
Having a beer belly is linked to a higher mortality rate because of these health conditions. These conditions are linked to the various formations of fat inside the body and the negative impact they have. There is a significant difference between gaining 100 pounds of lean muscle and 100 pounds of alcohol-induced belly fat. One of them can help you live longer while the other is just going to slow you down in more ways than one.
Different Types of Fat
The fat inside our bodies comes in two primary forms that you need to be aware of. Unfortunately, consuming too many empty calories from alcohol will lead to the formation of both types of fat. There is no way to control where those wasted calories land or what type of fat they create.
The first type of fat is known as subcutaneous fat. This is the fun, jiggly fat that sits just beneath the skin. It’s by far the most common type of fat we gain and some studies suggest that small amounts can actually have health benefits. The keyword there is “small amounts”.
By the time you have achieved a formidable beer belly you are well beyond this healthy milestone and are within the dangerous territory. Subcutaneous fat can be responsible for high blood pressure, heart diseases, and even lead to stroke.
The second type of fat is called visceral fat. There is nothing cute or jiggly about visceral fat. It’s often referred to as “the dangerous fat” and for good reason. Visceral fat lives deeper within the body and wraps itself around our important organs. From the outside, a person may look thin and healthy, yet they can still have unhealthy amounts of visceral fat.
Risks of Visceral Fat
Visceral fat packs itself together very tightly and tends to accumulate much faster than it is burned away. It causes the firm abdominal wall to push outward.
Have you ever felt a beer belly and been surprised by how hard or firm it felt? It’s not because they’re secretly muscular beneath their outer layer. It’s because they have an unusually large amount of visceral fat pushing out on the abdomen from the inside.
Visceral fat comes with some of the same risks as subcutaneous fat but to a much more severe degree. It greatly increases your likelihood of developing those unwanted health conditions mentioned earlier. It’s also responsible for producing proteins in the body that cause a variety of problems. It can inflame your organs and constrict your blood vessels, which in turn raises your blood pressure and wreaks havoc.
An unhealthy amount of subcutaneous fat almost always means that there is an unhealthy amount of visceral fat hidden deeper within. You may not yet be at the point where your beer belly is rock solid, but that time will eventually come if you don’t quit drinking.
Visceral fat can be roughly estimated using the circumference of your waste. Experts suggest that women with a circumference above 35 inches and men with a circumference above 40 inches are in the danger zone for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
What Causes A Beer Belly?
So what’s the secret ingredient in alcohol that eventually leads to the beer belly? It’s all about the calories. The same culprit is responsible for all forms of weight gain. This is why combining overindulgence of alcohol with overindulgence of fast foods is a great way to speed up the process and earn yourself a beer belly in record time.
There are a few other elements in play that make alcoholism more likely to result in a beer belly compared to a fondness for cheeseburgers. One of those elements is the liver. The liver is an incredibly important organ tasked with filtering toxins and burning fat. Unfortunately, it’s not very good at doing both of these at the same time. So when it has to choose between filtering alcohol (which it sees as a toxin) and burning fat, guess which of the two it chooses? The alcohol.
This results in greatly reduced fat-burning activity any time you are consuming alcohol. It also means that plenty of excess fat gets stored in the liver itself. This leads to a condition known as fatty liver disease. There are plenty of other bad things that could happen to the liver due to excessive alcohol consumption ranging from liver cancer to complete liver failure.
Another element that contributes to the beer belly is our level of physical activity. Have you ever tried to run on a treadmill at night when you’re drunk? I have. Once. It wasn’t fun. What about in the morning when you’re hungover? That’s not much better. The fact is, the more that we stay under the influence the less time we spend exercising. And if you reach a point of dawn-till-dusk drinking, then you’ve probably given up on the gym entirely.
Beer Belly In Women
You may have noticed that beer bellies are primarily a male feature. A woman can most certainly develop a beer belly, but they take more work and are far less common.
This isn’t a sign that they are healthier or that it’s safe for them to drink just as much without consequence. Instead, it’s just a matter of genetics and how the body decides to distribute its weight gain.
Fat storage is influenced by age, hormones, and sex. At a young age, there isn’t much difference between the fat storage of a boy or girl. That changes drastically as we get older. Women tend to develop more subcutaneous fat, which is deposited in other areas of the body. This results in a fat buildup in the arms and thighs long before it begins to accumulate in the belly.
Beer Belly In Men
Men, on the other hand, have a greater tendency to accumulate visceral fat in the abdominal region. Even if they have the exact same weight gain amount as a woman in the same age range, the vast majority of fat goes going straight to the belly. This is why beer bellies are considerably more common in men compared to middle-aged women. Keep in mind that this changes once again in the post-menopausal era, when beer bellies become more common in women.
College Beer Bellies
The body slows down its fat burning as we age and our caloric intake becomes lower. This makes it much easier to form a beer belly in our later years. Yet, if you take a look at some of the most well-known party schools out there you will likely see plenty of college students rocking the beer belly? Why does this happen?
It’s simply accredited to a greater accumulation of bad choices. College students aren’t afraid of weight gain and if they came to school to party, then that alcoholism is a badge of honor. Combine that with incredibly poor food choices and this evens the playing field between the young and the old. The only advantage of college students is that they have more time and energy to change their lifestyle and burn the fat away.
Why Does Alcohol Cause Bloating?
You may have noticed the beginning steps of a beer belly after only one short drinking binge. Or maybe you’ve noticed it come and go with each wild weekend. This is most likely a form of bloating caused by alcohol. And while it certainly won’t make you look any more fit, it’s not exactly the same as a beer belly and tends to go away more promptly.
Alcohol is considered inflammatory. This means it irritates your body from the inside and leads to swelling. In particular, it can irritate your gastrointestinal tract and lead to bloating. Bloating can be pretty uncomfortable and will often lead to gas the following day.
How To Get Rid Of A Beer Belly?
1. Quit drinking.
This is the tip that nobody wants to read but is bound to have the most significant impact if adhered to. Overconsumption of alcohol is the primary cause of the beer belly. Even if giving up drinking altogether is a bit too much. You can make a difference simply by cutting back. Think about each drink and how many calories it contains. How many calories have you burned that day? And how many calories have you consumed elsewhere?
2. Exercise more.
Cardiovascular exercise is your friend. It may not feel friendly when you’re running on the treadmill, but it’s one of the best tools available for shedding unwanted belly fat. It’s important that you get your heart elevated and you actually burn enough calories to make a difference. Five minutes of a brisk walk is a commendable start but it’s not enough to overcome the iron gut.
3. Control your caloric intake.
Alcohol may make pizza sound glorious, but unhealthy eating can contribute to your beer belly just as much as alcohol. In addition to quitting (or severely cutting back) alcohol, you want to improve your nutrition. Foods with fewer calories, more protein, and minimal sugar will help chip away at that unwanted beer belly.
Bottom Line on Beer Bellies
Now that you know there is nothing magical about the beer belly you can start taking steps to get rid of it or avoid it entirely if you’re part of the lucky group. Getting rid of a beer belly can actually be easier than losing excess weight for a genetically obese person because there’s one clear source of unwanted weight gain that you can remove: alcohol.