21 Worst Habits for Belly Fat

Updated: Apr. 14, 2021

Belly fat is the most dangerous kind of fat since it settles around your organs and affects your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health issues. These bad habits can increase your chances of developing belly fat or prevent you from losing it.


You’re a social media junkie

If you can’t stay away from Facebook and Instagram, you may start to notice yourself packing on the pounds. A large study found that if participants had a friend who became obese, their chance of also becoming obese rose by 57 percent, according to Harvard Health Blog. Scientists suspect that social network influences what people perceive as normal and acceptable—if you see your high school friends getting heavier, you feel like it’s OK if you do too.


Fruit juice is a diet staple

If drinking fruit juice is how you get your daily serving of fruit, you’re doing more harm than good. “Your body needs fiber to help regulate how much and how fast sugar gets into the bloodstream,” says Rasa Kazlauskaite, MD, an endocrinologist at Rush University Prevention Center in Chicago. “Too much sugar causes inflammation within the belly and contributes to belly fat.” Fruit juice in general is high in calories and sugar, plus it lacks the fiber and other vitamins and nutrients you’d get from an actual piece of fruit. Plus, the number of cups of orange juice you’d have to drink to reach your daily serving exceeds how many sliced oranges it would take to get there.


You’re a snack addict

“People treat their bodies like a garbage bin and that can really contribute to belly fat,” says Dr. Kazlauskaite. Not only does snacking all day long mean you’re ingesting extra calories that can be hard to keep track of, unless you’re munching on veggie sticks or almonds you packed the night before, but you’re also likely reaching for sweets or processed foods lying around the office, which can be high in fat, sugar, and salt. Here are some healthy alternatives that you don’t have to feel guilty about snacking on.


Your exercise routine is irregular

Aside from diet, exercise has the biggest impact on gaining or losing belly fat. “When you exercise, muscles use energy instead of it being stored in belly fat,” says Dr. Kazlauskaite. “That’s why when you start exercising, many people notice they lose inches from the waist first.” The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults engage in 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week. You can also try these exercises to lose belly fat.


You give in to period cravings

The hormones that go into overdrive when you’re menstruating can have an impact on your appetite. One study found that binge eating among women peaked during the premenstrual phase, likely because of the increased progesterone production, according to Psychology Today. But just because this only happens once a month doesn’t mean it’s OK to indulge those cravings. Try to stick to your regular diet no matter what else is happening to your body.


Your diet lacks probiotics

Gut bacteria plays a big role in weight gain or loss, and the probiotics found in yogurt and some supplements can help keep the good and bad bacteria in order. One study found that having too little of a certain type of gut bacteria was linked to being obese, according to Fitness magazine. Your gut bugs balance can also impact your appetite by affecting regulation of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Read up on these other ways to lose belly fat without exercising.


You don’t meal plan

Be a mindful eater instead of a mindless one. “When you don’t plan what you’re going to eat and when, you end up eating whatever is available,” says Dr. Kazlauskaite. “When you plan, you can make better choices.” Plan what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the night before. If you have the time, take it one step further and use your weekend to shop for groceries for the week or prepare some meals you can keep in the fridge.


You’re a fried food fanatic

If you can’t stay away from potato chips or fries, expect to see your waistline expand. Fried foods are filled with the worst type of fat, trans fat, which triggers weight gain around the belly. And unless you eat your burger and fries with a large helping of salad, the fat is almost immediately absorbed. “Fat goes fast into the bloodstream without a moderating effect. Vegetables help with digestion and metabolism because they have vitamins and antioxidants that help clean up the bad ingredients ingested,” says Dr. Kazlauskaite. Pay attention to these signs you’re eating too much bad fat.


You eat your feelings

Your mood can affect what you eat. Research from Cornell University found that students feeling negative emotions found indulgent food more appealing than when they were feeling positive.


You don’t eat enough veggies

If at least half your plate isn’t filled with vegetables (yes: potatoes or sweet potatoes count), you could be sabotaging your weight. Dr. Kazlauskaite advises starting your largest meal of the day with a hearty helping of fiber-filled vegetables, which leaves less room for other foods that aren’t as healthy. And be sure your diet also includes these foods proven to fight belly fat.


You’re a soda lover

A soda a day definitely won’t keep the weight away. It’s well documented that sugary drinks are linked to obesity, and the reason is clear: one can of soda is equal to 10 teaspoons of sugar and has 150 calories, all of them empty since you’re not getting any nutrients. Try flavored sparkling water, which gives you that fizz without the sugar.


You think fidgeting is a bad thing

Fidgeting gets lumped in the bad habit category, but it’s actually good for you. Bouncing your leg, tapping your foot, and fumbling with your fingers burns energy, and any little bit of activity helps! Make sure you know these myths about fat you need to stop believing.


You never get up from your desk

Being a workaholic can affect your belly fat. Sitting eight hours at a desk without breaks means you’re losing out on physical activity that can help you burn calories; it also decreases activity of the fat-burning enzyme lipoprotein lipase. Stand up and stretch every so often, take bathroom breaks, grab water from the kitchen, or walk around the block at lunch.


You rely on sit-ups to get a six-pack

Unfortunately, sit-ups or crunches aren’t the magic answer to a flat stomach if they aren’t accompanied by cardio. Those exercises tone abdominal muscles but don’t burn fat, which is key to eliminating belly flab. Find out how to lose belly fat, according to a personal trainer.


You skip meals

Whether you’re too busy to eat lunch or you think starving yourself will help you lose weight, depriving your body of food for long periods of time is just inviting belly fat to appear. Not eating slows your metabolism, which means you’ll burn less calories, and it can make you prone to poor food choices or overeating when it does come time to eat. “If we haven’t eaten all day, we’re famished and you can’t make rational decisions about what to eat when you’re that hungry,” says Dr. Kazlauskaite.


You don’t get enough sleep

Not getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night can cause your belly to balloon. Lack of sleep increases your chances of making unhealthy food choices the next day because you’re low on energy, and gives you another reason to skip the gym. Too little shut-eye can also mess with your metabolism, which affects how much fat you burn. Here are some more potential reasons your weight-loss plan isn’t working.


You let weight gain get you down

“We do fall off the bandwagon, but don’t stay in that rut. Get back into a good lifestyle as soon as possible,” says Dr. Kazlauskaite. The longer you don’t exercise or eat right, the more damage you’re doing to your body and the longer it’ll take to get rid of that belly fat, she says.


You can’t manage your stress

Stress is inevitable, but if you don’t learn how to manage it, you could find yourself with even more reason to fret when you start gaining weight. Studies suggest that stress can cause you to crave foods high in fat and sugar because it triggers an increase in the release of cortisol, which affects hunger. You should especially look out for the worst foods for your stomach.


You eat in front of the TV

Distracted eating, like watching television or working at your desk, can make you eat more, according to Harvard Health Blog. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that slowing down and savoring what you eat can help you eat less. Here are more tricks for busting belly fat in a single day.


You let your emotions take over

If you struggle to keep your emotions in check it could impact your weight and your mindset. Brigham Young University researchers found that middle-aged women who had “less-than-positive” emotional health were 59 percent more likely to gain weight than women who felt happier.


You can’t say “no” to dessert

If dessert if one meal you just can’t seem to give up, you’ll probably have to give up on ever having a flat belly. Sugar causes visceral belly fat to pile on, so a sweet treat every night can do a lot of damage. If your sweet tooth is overpowering, try substituting a piece of fruit for ice cream or cookies; while it still contains sugar, it also has fiber and other nutrients that help keep weight in check. To keep your diet balanced, make sure you avoid the unhealthiest foods you can buy at the supermarket.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest