An expanding waistline is a problem that many men face as they age and it is often difficult to combat.
Sure, you can follow conventional weight loss approaches, such as counting calories and making sure you get enough exercise.
But, this often doesn’t seem like enough. One reason is the connection between belly fat and testosterone.
As men age, their testosterone levels naturally decrease, often resulting in low testosterone. That outcome can lead to low energy and increased belly fat.
So, what are the implications for you? And, more importantly, how do you decrease belly fat?
The Dangers of Belly Fat
Regardless of location, excess fat is never good for health. Instead, obesity is associated with many different health risks, including an increased chance of heart disease, stroke, arthritis, sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes (1).
There are also other implications of excess weight, such as difficulty with movement and hygiene, along with the associated social stigma. But, belly fat also has its own specific issues.
To start off with, we have to consider the types of fat. The first of these is subcutaneous fat, which is just beneath the skin. This can be considered the outer layer of fat and is roughly the same in the belly as elsewhere in the body.
But, the more concerning aspect is visceral fat. This is sometimes considered a type of belly fat and sometimes viewed as independent. But, either way, this is where the true risk lies.
Basically, visceral fat is a deeper layer of fat that is less evident than other types of fat. In particular, this type of fat accumulates around the organs and can impede their function.
As a result, visceral fat has many additional health implications and is extremely risky (2,3). This includes the potential to increase the risk of conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and diabetes (4,5,6).
For males, visceral fat is even a strong predictor of overall mortality, independent of weight and BMI (7).
Visceral fat can also promote inflammation, which has other negative impacts on the body. Unlike other types of fat, visceral fat also impacts the way the body functions, which is why it is so dangerous (8). This is also why it is known as an active fat.
Now, visual belly fat and visceral fat aren’t directly associated. So, you can have a large belly and hardly any visceral fat, while the reverse can be true as well. This also means that BMI is an incomplete measure and may not correctly assess your risk of heart disease and other conditions (9,10,11).
This pattern is also why many studies have found links between abdominal circumference and health risk (17,18). Likewise, waist circumference can be a better indicator of health risk than BMI (19,20), although some recommendations suggest using both as measures (21).
Estimates also suggest that around 10% of total fat is stored as visceral fat. That isn’t going to be true for every single person but it is a good measure to work off. As a result, higher levels of body fat mean a greater risk of dangerous visceral fat.
Thankfully, the methods of decreasing visceral fat levels are the same as losing fat overall (22). This reinforces the significance of weight loss, especially if you have noticeable belly fat.
Dr. Mercola offers a detailed article that considers visceral fat itself and all of the implications for health. You can take a look at that for more details about the science.
But, in general, visceral fat is extremely dangerous and your waist circumference offers one indication of this (23). As such, finding ways to reduce belly fat is critical for promoting health.
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Belly Fat and Testosterone
So, what about the connection between belly fat and testosterone?
That idea isn’t strictly accurate but there is a connection between testosterone and belly fat. In particular, low testosterone often contributes to the development of belly fat. This is especially common as men age (24) and may be a key reason for the beer gut that many middle-aged men develop.
What’s more, this can create a dangerous cycle – because belly fat can decrease testosterone production as well (25). So, your belly fat ends up lowering your testosterone levels, which then promotes belly fat, which lowers your testosterone… and so on.
There would be a biological cutoff within that cycle – but the general pattern is still concerning.
As a result, increasing testosterone levels may be a critical component of weight loss for males with low testosterone. This may also be why testosterone supplements seem to promote overall weight loss and belly fat loss in some people.
But, there are some caveats to consider.
First, research into this relationship has primarily been conducted in males. Hormonal effects are very different between males and females, with optimal levels being different in both cases. Indeed, high testosterone may contribute to more belly fat in women (26,27), rather than belly fat loss.
The way that testosterone affects belly fat means that there is an upper limit too. So, you can’t simply keep increasing your testosterone levels to promote further belly fat loss. Likewise, taking a testosterone supplement isn’t likely to help weight loss if you’re not low in testosterone.
Ways to Reduce Belly Fat
Without a doubt, belly fat is very dangerous to overall health, especially for people who are overweight or obese anyway. But, how do you get rid of it?
Well, most research suggests that targeted weight loss or spot reduction isn’t actually achievable (28). This means that you can’t focus on exercises for your abs to blast your belly fat – despite what videos like this suggest:
Now, exercises like this do help with muscle development and can contribute to overall weight loss. This can make it seem like you’re directly reducing belly fat – even though that’s not really the case.
Thankfully, there are various approaches out there that do work.
Make Healthy Decisions
This is a fairly general idea but the first step for reducing belly fat is to simply make healthy decisions. This includes some of the following ideas:
- Get enough sleep
- Don’t smoke
- Establish routines
- Don’t rely on weight loss pills and fad diets
- Decrease intake of sugar and processed foods
- Cut back on the soda (or cut it out entirely)
- Lower your calorie intake
For that matter, there are many small changes that you can make that help with health and weight loss, such as this list from Hungry Healthy Happy. Those changes won’t all work for you and you may not agree with every example either (such as not skipping meals). But, the list is a good place to start.
Increase Testosterone Levels
As mentioned earlier, low testosterone can contribute to the development of belly fat. So, taking testosterone supplements, herbal alternatives (like Tongkat Ali or Ashwagandha root) or following a testosterone-boosting diet may help reduce belly fat gain for men with low testosterone.
In some cases, this may also help with overall fat loss.
Many people turn to testosterone supplements as a way of increasing testosterone. But, there are also dietary and behavioral approaches that you can turn to, such as the following few ideas. Starting with those is often best, especially as improving your diet and lifestyle will help with weight loss anyway.
Follow a High-Fat Lifestyle
There are various effective lifestyle changes that can help promote weight loss. But, for males with significant belly fat, a high-fat diet may be the most effective approach.
The key reason for this is that fat restriction ends up lowering testosterone levels. As a result, the traditional low-fat and high fiber diets decrease testosterone and can actually make weight loss harder (29).
On the other hand, high-fat diets are as effective for weight loss and don’t have the same negative impact on testosterone. What’s more, there are many different healthy fats that you can include in your diet.
To lose weight on a high-fat diet, you do need to decrease your carb intake. You can do so dramatically and follow the ketosis approach, or you can try a less strict low-carb diet. Both approaches can potentially help you increase testosterone (30), as long as you’re getting enough nutrients.
There are also specific testosterone-boosting meal plans out there, such as this one from Simply Shredded.
High-fat diets are also powerful simply because they are easy to follow. After all, low-fat diets are often difficult, leaving people constantly hungry and stressed. In contrast, a high-fat diet means that you’re focusing on meals that are filling and satisfying.
Choose Foods Carefully
A high-fat diet is a general approach and it can be effective. But, if you’re concerned about testosterone, you may also want to pay attention to the specific foods that you choose.
In particular, there are some foods that have been linked to decreased testosterone and others that may help to raise testosterone. Research into this area is still ongoing and the connection between specific foods and testosterone isn’t always clear.
Nevertheless, focusing on foods that may increase testosterone and avoiding ones that may decrease it can be a good decision.
For example, the site Anabolic Mean offers 7 Foods That Can Lower Testosterone Levels, which includes processed vegetable oils and soy. Likewise, Dr. Mercola has a list of 7 Testosterone-Boosting Foods.
Getting enough exercise is also important for weight loss.
For a long time, diet and exercise have been considered partners in weight loss, with both being critical. This may be true – but for most people, diet plays the most significant role.
For that matter, some people even end up gaining fat when they start exercising because they increase their calorie intake and overestimate how many calories they are burning (33).
But, this doesn’t make exercise redundant.
Instead, exercise is critical for ensuring muscle development and that alone promotes a large range of health benefits (34). Additionally, exercise may be relevant for improving testosterone levels and it can offer other benefits, including positive outcomes for disease and a reduction of depression symptoms (35).
For testosterone and muscle development, all exercise is not equal.
Instead, resistance training and exercises with intensity tend to be more powerful. This includes short bursts of exercise, such as high intensity interval training (HIIT).
You don’t have to be obsessed with exercise or with the gym to get benefits from exercise. For many people, it’s a simple matter of putting a little time in and moving away from cardio exercises.
Belly fat is a significant problem for overall health and it doesn’t look so great either. Many of the ways to resolve this are similar to weight loss overall, including following a healthy lifestyle, getting enough sleep and not overdoing it with the calories.
But, for many men, increasing testosterone levels is a critical aspect of losing belly fat. A high-fat diet can help in this area considerably, as can choosing the food you eat carefully.
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