Skinny But Belly Sticks Out — Causes, Risks, and How To Fix It

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Collins dictionary defines ‘skinny’ as an extremely thin individual, often in a way that you find unattractive. We are all for body positivity and hence don’t agree with this explanation of skinny by this lexicon. However, we digress.

Many people are okay with being skinny, and since you’re reading this article, we assume so are you. However, the problem usually arises when a thin individual starts developing a protruding belly. An overextending gut not only takes away from your aesthetics but is also considered a sign of an unhealthy and inactive lifestyle.

Contrary to what most people think, you don’t have to be overweight to develop a bulging belly. Plus, belly fat on a skinny person indicates more than the fact that the individual in question has a sweet tooth. It can be a sign of something much more serious.

Although there is a lot of literature on how to fix a bulging belly, sadly, most of it is either ineffective or too complicated. For example, most people worried about being ‘skinny fat’ are advised to eat less and exercise more — a piece of advice doled out by gym bros by the dozen every day. However, you need to know the reason behind your belly fat before finding ways to fix the problem.

A belly bulge due to poor posture will require different steps than fixing a protruding belly caused by an unhealthy diet. Cutting out calories from your diet to fix a pot belly caused by a bad posture will only add to the problem. The calorie deficit might make you feel drained and exhausted throughout the day, leading to a bigger slouch.

This article goes over the causes, risks, and how to fix a belly that sticks out.

16 Causes of Belly Fat in Skinny People

The factors that can cause a belly bulge in a skinny individual include:

1. Genetics

If you are skinny but develop a pot belly, your genetics could be to blame. Different people store fat in different areas of the body. While some hold fat in the hip region, others carry it in their belly.

A study based on 412 subjects concluded that genetics were linked to abdominal obesity and waist-to-hip ratio. [1]

2. Excess Visceral Fat

Visceral fat wraps around your abdominal organs deep inside your body. While you can’t always feel or see it, it adds to your waistline. People with bulging bellies are at a higher risk of developing visceral fat, which can increase the risk of contracting diseases.

3. Skinny Fat

Skinny fat refers to having a relatively high percentage of body fat and low muscle mass, despite having a normal BMI. People with this body composition are at a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

4. Menopause

Menopause is the time that marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Before menopause, many women carry excess weight on their hips and thigh. However, after hitting menopause, their estrogen levels decline, and the fat starts accumulating in the belly region instead of the hips. [2]

5. Pregnancy

No, we aren’t talking about the nine months, dummy. We are talking about the post-pregnancy belly.

A woman’s abdominal muscles stretch and weaken during pregnancy, and might need exercise (cardio and strength training) to get back in shape.

Furthermore, diastasis recti is a common post-pregnancy issue. It involves the right and left abdominal wall muscle separation when the uterus stretches to accompany the growing fetus. You should consult with your doctor to treat this condition.

6. Beer Belly

The beer belly is common in skinny people who love their alcohol. A beer belly is not only aesthetically unappealing, but also a health hazard, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction.

The beer belly causes an uptick in your daily calorie intake. Your body shuts down your normal digestive process to metabolize these empty calories as soon as you take a sip of beer, resulting in a bigger waistline.

7. Smoking

While many people associate alcohol with belly fat, smoking flies under their radar. A study based on 269 healthy women found that smoking was associated with increased waist circumference. [3]

8. Bloating

Bloating causes a feeling of pressure or swelling in the stomach. The causes of bloating include constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), indigestion, trapped gas, celiac disease, and eating too quickly.

Bloating is usually caused by something a person has eaten and goes away relatively quickly. However, you should dial your doctor if you are facing extended bloating.

9. Unhealthy Gut Bacteria

There is a mix of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in your gut, prominently in your colon. However, when the good bacteria are overpowered, you will notice fat buildup in your belly region. It increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and gut disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. [4]

On the other hand, prioritizing your gut health can boost your immune system and decrease disease risk. Keep your gut bacterial health in check by eating nutrient-dense whole foods.

10. Food Intolerance

This is one of the most overlooked aspects while investigating belly fat buildup. If you have been experiencing bloating or an extended stomach even while eating maintenance calories, chances are you might be allergic to some foods that are a part of your diet. Gas, stomach pain, and diarrhea are a few common symptoms after you eat foods your stomach cannot tolerate. Gluten, lactose, and dairy are common food intolerances.

If you suspect you are intolerant to some food sources, you should eliminate them from your diet and document the results. You could also consult a nutritionist for interventions.

11. Stress

Your body releases cortisol when you’re under stress. This hormone can be a lifesaver in fight-or-flight situations as it delivers an energy boost. However, staying stressed for an extended period keeps a constant supply of cortisol in your system, resulting in an expanded waistline.

Cortisol not only causes stress eating but also makes your body store fat in the belly region instead of distributing it all over your body [5]. Furthermore, cortisol lowers your metabolic rate, making you burn fewer calories than usual and ultimately leading to fat gain.

12. Poor Posture

We know what you are thinking, and we agree — a poor posture doesn’t cause belly fat. However, a poor posture can make it look like you have a protruding belly when you don’t.

People with desk jobs or those who spend most of their days henced over their computers or phones are at a higher risk of developing slouched backs. Slouching can weaken your abdominal muscles and make your gut stick out.

Not sure if you have a bad posture? Stand in front of a mirror, straighten your back, pull your shoulders back, and open your chest. You need to fix your posture if you see your belly retract.

13. Lordosis

Lordosis is the medical definition for the forward curved spine in your neck or lower back. People with lordosis have protruding bellies due to the natural forward curve of their spine and lumbar spine. It generally causes the lower belly to stick out.

Your healthcare provider might suggest exercises and stretches to strengthen the muscles around your spine and fix lordosis. You could also use a customized brace to prevent your spine from curving further. Finally, extreme lordosis cases can be corrected through surgery.

14. Weak Abdominal Muscles

The transversus abdominis is the deepest of the six abdominal muscles. It extends between the ribs and the pelvis, wrapping around the trunk from front to back. Weak transversus abdominis muscles can cause your belly to stick out.

15. Age

People generally gain weight due to the hormonal changes associated with age. Kids experience weight gain when they hit puberty. Furthermore, people notice a spike in their waistlines with a fall in their testosterone and a rise in estrogen levels.

16. Standard Weight Gain

Lastly, if you notice a pot belly, chances are it is the result of staying in a caloric surplus for an extended period. Make sure you monitor the changes in your body whenever you make changes to your diet.

Risks of Belly Fat

You should pay close attention to your belly fat as it is indicative of visceral fat and can be dangerous if left unchecked.

Here are the risks of abdominal obesity:

1. Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes screws up how your body regulates and uses sugar (glucose) as fuel. A study proved that visceral fat increases your odds of contracting obesity. [6]

2. Heart Disease

Heart disease is more common in people with obesity. With time, fatty deposits might accumulate in arteries that supply the heart with blood, increasing the risk of a heart attack.

Plus, clots in narrow arteries can result in a stroke. Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is snapped.

3. Certain Cancers

Visceral fat can lead to some types of cancers as it produces certain proteins which convert non-cancerous cells into cancerous ones and give way to the formation of tumors. [7]

4. Higher Mortality Rate

Per a 2015 study, people with normal-weight central obesity had a higher mortality rate than folks with high BMI but no central obesity. [7]

How To Fix a Protruding Belly

To begin with, the causes behind the spare tire development will give you an idea of things you should fix to see the needle budge in the right direction.

If you are skinny and your belly sticks out, you need to make overarching changes, including:

1. Lifestyle Changes

Besides tackling stress and quitting smoking and alcohol, skinny folks with a pot belly can take the following steps to shed the excess fat:

  1. Sleep: You need seven to eight hours of eye shut time every night to ensure you give your body enough time to recover and recuperate from the stress you put it through each day.
  2. Hydrate: Drinking a gallon of water every day is essential to ensure optimal body functioning. Setting reminders on your phone to drink a glass of water every half an hour is an easy way to meet this goal.
  3. Stay Active: You should stay active throughout the day, especially if you have a sedentary lifestyle. Staying active ensures your metabolic activity stays in top shape and burns calories throughout the day.

2. Fix Your Diet

A nutrient-dense whole-food diet is essential to ensure you are in top shape. Given below are a few nutrition recommendations to improve your aesthetics:

  1. Enter a calorie deficit: If you gained some weight recently, it could be because you started eating more than usual. To shed weight, you need to enter a calorie deficit, meaning you need to expend more calories in a day than you consume. However, since we are talking about skinny individuals, ensure you don’t go overboard with this process.
  2. Eat more fiber: Adding fiber-rich foods to your diet will improve nutrition absorption in your body, giving you the best bang for your buck.
  3. Avoid processed carbs: You should stay away from processed carbs like white flour, white bread, white rice, pastries, sodas, snacks, pasta, sweets, breakfast cereals, and added sugars as they include mostly sugars and processed grains.
  4. Eat protein-rich foods: Eating high-protein foods will not only help build muscle mass and strength, but it will also keep you satiated for longer, reducing the chances of snacking on junk food throughout the day.

3. Training

It doesn’t matter what the most jacked guy at your gym tells you; you cannot spot-lose belly fat.

If you are skinny with belly fat, your workout regimen should include cardio and resistance training. While cardio will help shed belly fat, weight training will aid in toning your muscles and building muscle mass.

Cardio training can be a two-edged sword for skinny folks. Experts recommend following a HIIT regimen to ensure you don’t lose muscle, which could be the case with LISS cardio.

Workout

Here is a HIIT circuit designed to help you shed belly fat and tone your muscles:

i) Circuit: Two-rounds

*Spend 5-10 minutes warming up before starting the first circuit.

  • Jump rope: 40 seconds (20-second rest)
  • Mountain climber: 40 seconds (20-second rest)
  • Jump rope: 40 seconds (20-second rest)
  • Air squat40 seconds (20-second rest)
  • Jump rope40 seconds (20-second rest)
  • Burpee: 40 seconds (20-second rest)
  • Jump rope: 40 seconds (20-second rest)
  • Plank jack: 40 seconds (20-second rest)
  • Jump rope: 40 seconds (20-second rest)
  • V-Up40 seconds (2-minute rest)

ii) HIIT Cardio: 10 minutes

After completing the HIIT workout, perform a HIIT cardio routine on the equipment of your choice. Alternatively, if you hit the gym in the morning, you could do the HIIT cardio in the evening or vice-versa.

For the first minute of the cardio routine, use an average intensity. However, go all out for the second minute. Repeat this cycle five times.

4. Medication

You could also use medicines if dealing with an underlying medical condition causing a bulging belly. Some of these medications include:

  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause
  • Probiotics
  • Drugs for irritable bowel syndrome treatment
  • Fiber supplements and laxatives to relieve constipation

5. Surgery

You could undergo a surgical procedure like a tummy tuck or liposuction to shed the unwanted fat after all else fails. However, take this step only after consulting a doctor.

Also, you could undergo surgery to correct abdominal separation caused by pregnancy or some other type of abdomen strain.

Conclusion

There is no reason to blast the Bat Signal if you are skinny and have a little belly fat. Check the 16 causes listed in this article to inspect what could be behind your bulging waistline.

After you have ascertained the cause of your belly fat, use a combination of the five steps mentioned in this article to fix the condition. Getting rid of your belly fat might take some time but it will be worth the hard work, we promise. Best of luck!

Note: The content on Fitness Volt is for informative purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice to diagnose, prevent, and/or treat health problems. If you’re suffering from a health issue, are pregnant, or are under 18 years old, you should consult your physician before starting any new supplement, nutrition, or fitness routine.

References

  1. Yoneyama S, Guo Y, Lanktree MB, Barnes MR, Elbers CC, Karczewski KJ, Padmanabhan S, Bauer F, Boer Gene-centric meta-analyses for central adiposity traits in up to 57 412 individuals of European descent confirm known loci and reveal several novel associations. Hum Mol Genet. 2014 May 1;23(9):2498-510. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddt626. Epub 2013 Dec 17. PMID: 24345515; PMCID: PMC3988452.
  2. Lovejoy JC, Champagne CM, de Jonge L, Xie H, Smith SR. Increased visceral fat and decreased energy expenditure during the menopausal transition. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Jun;32(6):949-58. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2008.25. Epub 2008 Mar 11. PMID: 18332882; PMCID: PMC2748330.
  3. Ellberg C, Olsson H, Jernström H. Current smoking is associated with a larger waist circumference and a more androgenic profile in young healthy women from high-risk breast cancer families. Cancer Causes Control. 2018 Feb;29(2):243-251. doi: 10.1007/s10552-017-0999-3. Epub 2018 Jan 3. PMID: 29299723; PMCID: PMC5794810.
  4. Hills RD Jr, Pontefract BA, Mishcon HR, Black CA, Sutton SC, Theberge CR. Gut Microbiome: Profound Implications for Diet and Disease. Nutrients. 2019 Jul 16;11(7):1613. doi: 10.3390/nu11071613. PMID: 31315227; PMCID: PMC6682904.
  5. Dallman MF, la Fleur SE, Pecoraro NC, Gomez F, Houshyar H, Akana SF. Minireview: glucocorticoids–food intake, abdominal obesity, and wealthy nations in 2004. Endocrinology. 2004 Jun;145(6):2633-8. doi: 10.1210/en.2004-0037. Epub 2004 Mar 24. PMID: 15044359.
  6. Jung SH, Ha KH, Kim DJ. Visceral Fat Mass Has Stronger Associations with Diabetes and Prediabetes than Other Anthropometric Obesity Indicators among Korean Adults. Yonsei Med J. 2016 May;57(3):674-80. doi: 10.3349/ymj.2016.57.3.674. PMID: 26996568; PMCID: PMC4800358.
  7. Mauland KK, Eng Ø, Ytre-Hauge S, Tangen IL, Berg A, Salvesen HB, Salvesen ØO, Krakstad C, Trovik J, Hoivik EA, Werner HMJ, Mellgren G, Haldorsen IS. High visceral fat percentage is associated with poor outcome in endometrial cancer. Oncotarget. 2017 Oct 19;8(62):105184-105195. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.21917. PMID: 29285243; PMCID: PMC5739630.
  8. Sahakyan KR, Somers VK, Rodriguez-Escudero JP, Hodge DO, Carter RE, Sochor O, Coutinho T, Jensen MD, Roger VL, Singh P, Lopez-Jimenez F. Normal-Weight Central Obesity: Implications for Total and Cardiovascular Mortality. Ann Intern Med. 2015 Dec 1;163(11):827-35. doi: 10.7326/M14-2525. Epub 2015 Nov 10. PMID: 26551006; PMCID: PMC4995595.
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