You may not aspire to have a flat washboard stomach like a fitness model. But I bet you wouldn’t say no to reducing the size of your tum. In this post, we look at some of the causes of belly bulge. You may find that more than one of these apply to you. Read on to find out.
Excess body fat
Body fat can be categorised as
- Subcutaneous – under your skin
- Visceral – around your internal organs such as your liver and pancreas.
Where you store your subcutaneous fat is mainly genetic. For example, you may store it on your hips, making you less likely to hold it on your stomach where it would cause your stomach to protrude.
Or you may store it on your stomach, making your stomach less likely to be flat.
You’re also more likely to store fat around your midsection as you get older. For post-menopausal women, a reduction in oestrogen influences fat distribution, so you become less gynoid and more android. And for men, lifestyle factors tend to lead to an accumulation of belly fat.
Your stomach may also stick out further if you have excess visceral fat. In this case, your stomach will feel firmer than if your abdominal fat was subcutaneous. That’s because the fat is deeper and underneath your stomach muscles. Excess stress and alcohol are two common reasons you might store visceral fat. It’s an accumulation of visceral fat that is partly responsible for the look of beer bellies.
Lack of abdominal tone
The deepest abdominal muscle is called the transverse abdominis (TVA). It’s like a corset that wraps around your body and attaches to the thoracolumbar fascia around the back. When you contract the TVA, it pulls you in just like it would if you were tightening a corset.
If you sit a lot and don’t exercise, you’re likely to have poor tone in your TVA. That makes it more likely that your intestines and internal organs will push against your abdominal wall and cause it to stick out or sag.
If your lumbar spine has excess curvature, it’s going to cause your stomach to dome, even if you are lean.
Excess curvature of the lumbar spine, called lumbar lordosis, is very common. It’s most often caused by lifestyle factors such as prolonged sitting. Sitting for long periods will tighten your hips, causing your pelvis to be tilted forward and your lumbar spine to be pulled out of shape. It will also cause your thoracic spine to stiffen and may lead to you over-recruiting the lower back to compensate. Hypertonic lower back muscles will tend to exacerbate lumbar lordosis.
If you also have excess stomach fat, this will exert some outward force on your lumbar spine, worsening any postural issues.
Bulging of the intestines is slightly different from bloating, which refers more to whole-body water retention. Intestinal discomfort or swelling may cause your intestines to swell, and there are many reasons why this might happen.
If it’s not getting out, it’s going to fill up your alimentary canal. You’re more likely to get constipation if you have a poor diet that is low in fibre.
For example, you may be intolerant to gluten, dairy, or FODMAPS. These will irritate the intestines and cause inflammation and discomfort, leading to a bulging stomach.
If you consume a lot of fizzy drinks or gulp your food, you’re going to swallow a lot of gas, either air or carbon dioxide. If you don’t burp it up, it will travel further down and cause a pressure bulge.
Consuming lots of fibre is healthy. But if you’re not used to it, it may lead to a lot of gas being created by the beneficial bacteria in your colon. Legumes, for example, are often cited as food that will cause flatulence. If you keep the gas in, it will make your stomach feel swollen.
You may also experience bulging from the sheer volume of food. If you are vegetarian or vegan, for example, a lot of your food will be low calorie, especially vegetables. You may need a lot of it to meet your calorie requirement. So, your meals will tend to be larger in volume and will swell your stomach and, ultimately, your small and large intestine.
There are numerous other less common reasons you might have a belly bulge. Here are two examples.
If you have been pregnant or lost a lot of weight, you may have excess skin around your stomach.
Excess abdominal pressure and a lack of abdominal tone may increase your risk of developing diastasis recti. This is where the space between your left and right stomach muscles has widened, allowing your belly to poke through. The most common cause is pregnancy, but it can also occur in men.
So what can be done about belly bulge?
Quite a lot!
Most of these causes can be dealt with by exercise and diet. Regular exercise and a healthy diet will help you lose fat around your stomach, tighten up your abdominal muscles and improve the health of your gut.
Suppose your exercise regime includes posture correction or disciplines such as yoga and Pilates. In that case, you also should be able to correct postural issues that cause your stomach to stick out.
We help our clients with all of the above and, in general, they finish their programmes with smaller and flatter stomachs.
Any cause that requires medical intervention, well, that’s not something for which we can offer help. But for the rest of it, that’s absolutely our bag.
You can improve most cases of belly bulge with lifestyle changes. Losing weight, exercising, and cleaning up your diet will go a long way to reducing the size of your stomach. If you can include some activities that improve your posture, too, then you’ll be well on your way to getting a flatter stomach.