ATLANTA - It's the challenge, and the curse, of middle age.
"Belly fat is actually the most dangerous fat," Dr. Taz Bhatia of CentreSpring MD says.
Doctors call belly fat "visceral fat," and Dr. Bhatia says it the fat we store away in and around our organs.
"It sits on our heart, it sits on our liver," Bhatia says. "There's a condition called fatty liver that a lot of menopausal women will suffer from, where the liver has a layer of fat around it that is affecting liver function."
Studies show too much belly fat can raise your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders may even speed up cognitive decline as we get older. It tends to creep up about 40.
"There is a hormone change, there is a gut change, and the entire metabolic rate just starts to slow down," Bhatia says. "So, you go into storage mode."
Bhatia advises to keep their waists at 38 inches or smaller, women 30 inches or smaller.
If your waist is larger than that, she says, there are some things you can do.
"Think about belly fat holistically," Bhatia says. "It's not going to be one factor that suddenly makes it disappear. I've got patients that work out for hours a day and it doesn't budge. I've got people who starved themselves and it doesn't budge."
So, instead concentrating on doing hundreds of crunches, she says, look at what's driving your belly fat.
"The number one factor is gut health," Bhatia says. "If you're not going to the bathroom regularly, you don't have the right balance of bacteria in your gut, you're not going to digest well and you'll have a higher insulin level."
Next, Bhatia says, rethink your eating.
"If you're eating the wrong foods for you, if you're eating a lot of sugar, you're eating a lot refined carbohydrates, additives, preservatives, we found it research that raises insulin levels," she says.
Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are packed with fiber, which can lower insulin levels.
And, she says, pay attention not just to how much you're eating, but when you're eating.
"Remember, the more we eat towards the evening, that's our lowest metabolic rate," Bhatia says. "So, if we're eating a lot in those later hours, the majority of that we know is stored. So, again, shifting your intervals."
Eat during the morning and afternoon hours and then stop a few hours before bedtime. Getting more active can help you fight body fat, too. But, Dr. Bhatia says, don't rely on the workouts alone.
"Getting active help, but only if you've done this work first," she says.