Join 3,554 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Why is my stomach so big?
April 24, 2009 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I am a small woman - 5 '4', around 100lbs. I don't have kids, I don't drink an obscene amount of beer. Why is my stomach so big?

Ummm, it gets really big and tight feeling after meals even if I don't eat a lot. I look pregnant!! And I have small breasts! I have always been on the underweight side and therefore never really exercised because I thought I would end up losing weight.

How can you gain weight in one targeted area but not target that same area to lose weight. Why didn't any of this extra fat go to my boobs or butt?

Oh - and just to be sure, even though I have not had sex in over a year, I took a pregnancy test. In the off chance I sleep walk and pick up random men.It came out negative. Yay!
posted by mokeydraws to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
How do your parents look?
posted by pompomtom at 7:26 AM on April 24, 2009


Are you, um, regular? Because if you're not having regular bowel movements or are constipated, it can cause your stomach to look bigger.
posted by amro at 7:26 AM on April 24, 2009


When I was smaller than I am now my belly would stick out after big meals. My theory at the time was that because there wasn't much fat covering my stomach, when it was full it pushed against my skin, leading it to stick out. Now that I have more fat there, it seems like the belly just extends into the fat.
posted by odayoday at 7:29 AM on April 24, 2009


Do you have a gluten intolerance or other food sensitivity? Because you say your stomach gets "really big and tight feeling" after meals, a trip to the doctor is in order to rule out gluten sensitivity or other food issues. It sounds like bloating rather than actual weight gain. Talk to your doc, and get a referral to a gastroenterologist and/or allergist if necessary.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:31 AM on April 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, maybe doing stomach-specific exercises would cover that area with muscle, which would help keep your stomach in? I know "spot reducing" doesn't work, but it doesn't seem like fat is your problem.
posted by odayoday at 7:32 AM on April 24, 2009


How's your posture? If you have an exaggerated curve in the small of your back, it affects your shape. You may also have weak back & abdominal muscles; it's really a good health move to strengthen them.
posted by theora55 at 7:34 AM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


This could be the way you're built.

Even when I was 120 pounds (I'm 140 now), I had a belly. I likely have IBS too (not diagnosed, but it runs in my family), and I get a bit bloated sometimes. Try eating more fiber to keep things moving.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:36 AM on April 24, 2009


Many women gain weight in their stomachs, even when they're otherwise thin. I've always been quite thin as well (5'6", 125) but have a bit of a "pooch". When I started belly dancing and doing Pilates regularly and developed some great muscle in that area, it seemed to sort of "hold it in" a little better. Likely, you don't have very good core strength, particularly if you don't work out because you're already thin and don't need to lose weight.

You won't lose weight by exercising--you'll probably gain numbers on the scale since you'll be gaining muscle, which weighs more than fat anyway. You should probably start working out--not running on a treadmill or other cardio-heavy, calorie-burning-centric stuff, but things like Pilates and abdominal workouts to build muscle. While you can't target a specific area to do fat-burning, you CAN target a specific area to strengthen and build muscle. It's also a common misconception that being naturally thin means you don't need to work out, but that's really not the case, especially as you get older. Working out increases endorphins, blood flow, corrects posture, increases flexibility, builds strength, protects your bones and can help keep your metabolism steady.

If I were you, I would do the following--

Get checked for gluten or other food sensitivities. Change your diet if necessary. Start working out on a regular basis with the intention of building muscle strength in your abdomen.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:47 AM on April 24, 2009


Do you have any other problems that might cause nerve damage, like diabetes? The description reminds me of gastroparesis; I know people who suffer it because their stomach nerves aren't working right, and their bellies end up swollen because the food just doesn't move down the pipeline.
posted by cadge at 7:49 AM on April 24, 2009


My belly sticks out because I have no abdominal muscle tone (as a consequence of two pregnancies in my case). Probably crunches would fix it.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:54 AM on April 24, 2009


I mean, crunches would probably fix my belly. I don't know about your belly---the big and fat after eating seems strange to me.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:55 AM on April 24, 2009


Have you always had a pot belly or is this a new development? I've been thin with a pot belly my whole life, even when I was a little kid and skinny as a rail. Some people are just built that way. However, if it's a new development, you might want to see a doctor to see if you've developed some sort of dietary condition like those mentioned above.
posted by emd3737 at 8:05 AM on April 24, 2009


I'm about your size, as was my long time best friend, and we both had the same tendency. It could look ridiculous sometimes. I've also read this same question on other fora many times, so it sounds pretty common.

I'm all for making sure it isn't anything serious, as others here have suggested. But it might also be useful to just look into your eating habits - in the absence of weight issues, many of us skinny people don't pay half as much attention to the health side of things as we probably should. Are you getting enough fiber? Do you eat lots of refined carbs? Sweets? Junk food? Dairy? Do you tend to respond to stress with stomach symptoms in general? Even if the medical check up reveals nothing unusual about your digestive system, a nutritionist might be able to help.

I'm fortunate enough not to have to watch how much I eat, thanks to dad's skinny genes, but I do have to mind what it is I stuff myself with, unless I want to end up with a muffin top or quizzical "is she or isn't she" looks towards my stomach.

In my case
1 - avoiding sugar and refined carbs
2 - avoiding excess salt and
3 - keeping dairy to a minimum
was the answer to a flat stomach.

Refined carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice, seem to be a pretty common cause of bloating. The explanation I heard was that they break down into sugar quickly, which in turn, when worked on by acids, ferments and creates gas. (I've also heard people mention sugar malabsorption as a potential cause for bloating, but I don't know much about that.) When you're naturally skinny, the effect is just easier to see.

Salt, on the other hand, causes your body to retain more water. And dairy is my personal enemy - my body can't deal with lactose too well, so it might be that.

(And sometimes I say to hell with it, spend a relaxing evening with a bag of crisps and wear a tunic the next day.)
posted by sively at 8:29 AM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


To follow on emd3737's comment: if it's recent, see a doctor, and ask about the possibility of a uterine fibroid or cyst.

It's unlikely; but I have an active friend who went from slim to potbellied within a couple of years because of one.
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 8:32 AM on April 24, 2009


Hi, I am roughly your size and I had this whole bloaty belly going on for awhile too. I never could figure out if it was fat or bloat. I hated it and it was my goal to get rid of it. I theorized that it was because I wasn't digesting something very well. I did what I guess was an alternating raw vegan and Paleo diet. It took several months, but it went away and even though I sometimes eat the problem foods those diets eliminate, it hasn't come back. The problem with raw vegan is that most people following it eat too much sugar / fructose, which can't help.

I have a flat stomach and now eat 95% paleo. The rest is stuff that is relatively easy to digest like rice or beer (its been fermented, which means less work for your own digestive system). I never ever ever eat bread or pasta unless it is sourdough (also fermented) or dairy unless its very low in lactose/milk proteins. I don't drink soda and I very rarely eat candy. I eat lots of big green salads.

This is completely different from my past diet when I had the bloaty belly, which included lots of bread, milk, soda, and desserts. However, my fiber intake isn't much different, which makes me think that it didn't have much to do with fiber.

I'd also look at the False Fat Diet and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

Complex carbohydrates that are not easily digested feed harmful bacteria in our intestines causing them to overgrow producing by products and inflaming the intestine wall. The diet works by starving out these bacteria and restoring the balance of bacteria in our gut.
posted by melissam at 8:36 AM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Skinny fat
posted by desjardins at 8:48 AM on April 24, 2009


I should have added that I'm 5'0" and 95 lbs yet have little muscle tone because I don't exercise. I don't have the belly problem, but I am getting love handles despite my low weight.
posted by desjardins at 8:49 AM on April 24, 2009


Try colon cleansing. The pills, not the apparatus. You have to take them for a month. Colon cleansing can take off the weight around your mid-section you can't lose through the aforementioned proper diet or exercise.
posted by Zambrano at 8:57 AM on April 24, 2009


Colon cleansing doesn't work at all. I don't recommend following Zambrano's suggestion.
posted by Meagan at 9:04 AM on April 24, 2009


I had to laugh at this part: Oh - and just to be sure, even though I have not had sex in over a year, I took a pregnancy test. In the off chance I sleep walk and pick up random men.It came out negative. Yay!

And then I read this. Maybe another pregnancy test?

Just kidding. Sort of .

Anyway - I have a friend that was about your weight/height and after meals she could totally make herself look pregnant without any effort. Just adding some food to her already little stature had quite the effect.

Is this a constant thing or only noticeable after meals? If it's just after meals, I'd simply chalk it up to food in me belly. If it's constant, I might just get it checked out - especially if you are constantly feeling bloated.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:10 AM on April 24, 2009


Have you always looked this way? Not to alarm, but it's worth getting checked out by a doctor if this is a recent thing. A friend had similar symptoms to this and it was ovarian cancer. Bloating and abdominal fullness is the most common symptom. But again, best to always get checked out and not trust alarmist suggestions on the internet.
posted by meerkatty at 9:14 AM on April 24, 2009


I have always been on the underweight side and therefore never really exercised because I thought I would end up losing weight.

You should exercise. Whether you gain or lose weight, and what type of weight you gain or lose, depends on what/how much you eat and what kind of exercise you do. I've always been skinny, and I gained around 30 pounds of muscle through exercise in the past year.

How can you gain weight in one targeted area but not target that same area to lose weight.

I'm not entirely sure how to parse this question, but you can't control where fat gets stored or burned -- that's genetic. You can target specific muscles for hypertrophy (e.g. your butt). However, trying to isolate muscles is not going to be nearly as effective in an untrained individual as doing compound movements that work many muscles at once.

Also, maybe doing stomach-specific exercises would cover that area with muscle, which would help keep your stomach in?

My belly sticks out because I have no abdominal muscle tone (as a consequence of two pregnancies in my case). Probably crunches would fix it.


This is not how it works. Plenty of people have very strong rectus abdominus muscles and yet still have flabby stomachs. The fat covers the muscle, and while having a strong core is good, doing abdominal exercises is not going to make your stomach less fat.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:14 AM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you being a wee bit body dysmorphic perhaps? Have you had any unbiased, independant and unprompted opinions given?

(Oh and the fat distribution in your breasts/butt has no bearing on what's right for your tummy. That's just not how it works. I'm pretty sure it was mentioned already but yeah - look at all the members of your family. Most likely there's your answer.)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 9:19 AM on April 24, 2009


Have you always looked this way? Not to alarm, but it's worth getting checked out by a doctor if this is a recent thing. A friend had similar symptoms to this and it was ovarian cancer. Bloating and abdominal fullness is the most common symptom. But again, best to always get checked out and not trust alarmist suggestions on the internet.

Here to second this...not to scare you, but a friend of mine had this symptom for months (tall, skinny woman who just thought her metabolism was slowing down when her belly began to bloat). She didn't see a doctor, and therefore the ovarian cancer wasn't diagnosed until it spread to her lung area.
posted by availablelight at 9:24 AM on April 24, 2009


1. Go to the doc & get an exam / belly ultrasound. I went to university with a fit, petite woman who always had a potbelly, and it turned out to be some sort of tumour on her reproductive organs. I didn't know her well enough to ask questions, but I recall her missing a little school for surgery then coming back chipper, so I'm assuming it was benign and didn't result in the loss of her fertility.

2. Do situps and pilates. Maybe your abdominal muscles are weak and they're not keeping your guts in tight. If you strengthen them, they act like a corset and keep your loose jumbly innards neatly contained. If they're weak, they tend to stretch and spill out easily, and your gut will protrude.
posted by twistofrhyme at 10:03 AM on April 24, 2009



Try colon cleansing. The pills, not the apparatus. You have to take them for a month. Colon cleansing can take off the weight around your mid-section you can't lose through the aforementioned proper diet or exercise.


This, as has been well-established on Metafilter before, is nonsense. Please don't do this.

posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:18 AM on April 24, 2009


As someone at the gym explained it to me: your body wants to put fat on one particular area more than anywhere else. It will be the FIRST place you gain it and the LAST place you lose it. You would have to take every possible bit of extra flesh off your legs and boobs and butt before anything comes off your waist if that's where your body wants to gain it.

Unfortunately in your case (and mine), that is the case.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:24 AM on April 24, 2009


Assuming it's not just bloated (good advice from Rosie and Peanut above), situps or crunches would probably help build a "belt" of muscle to hold it taut and hide it.

But you may not want to. A cute little pot belly can be sexy.

("Normal face, normal legs, normal hips, normal ass, but with a big, perfectly round pot belly.")
posted by rokusan at 11:30 AM on April 24, 2009


Nthing that this sounds more related to diet and/or a medical condition than exercise, but if you do decide to try tackling this issue with more exercise, I would recommend deep core work over situps/crunches. It's true about the fat sitting on top of (and in between) your abs, covering them. So, since crunches work the "6 pack" muscles in the very front, increasing their mass may actually accentuate the pooch by pushing out the fat. Instead focus more on plank variations and lower back work, which may help give your stomach some shape other than just round. Aim for 30 minutes of just core work 2x or 3x per week. If you pair that with 30-60 minutes of general strength training (especially plain old push ups) once a week, you should be able to put in a weekly hour or two of cardio work to burn off the fat without losing much weight.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 12:43 PM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


How old are you? As you get older, what weight you do gain tends to show up in some pretty specific places.
posted by hermitosis at 12:56 PM on April 24, 2009


Polycystic Ovary Syndrome involves a hormone imbalance that can result in a disproportionately large abdomen/gut. Reportedly 1/10 women of childbearing age have it, and the onset is gradual. Worth checking to see if you have any of the other symptoms...
posted by unknowncommand at 1:43 PM on April 24, 2009


Mokeydraws, are you gaining fat on your stomach (ie, stomach has soft fat on top of the muscle), or is the stomach just sticking out (little fat on the muscle, but stomach goes outward, though still looks fairly taut - this is the pregnancy-ish look).

If it's the former, you probably need to decrease your bodyfat percentage to reduce it. Since you're already underweight, you'll probably want to gain some muscle along with losing fat so you don't look too thin. Doing ab exercises won't help with this - it'll build up the muscle below the fat, but not change the amount of fat (unless you also lose weight).

If it's the latter, it's not bodyfat. Like some of the suggestions say, that could just be the food sitting there, it could be evidence of a gluten or other food intolerance, or it could be something else. Doing ab exercises may help with this, since a stronger core will help hold your muscles flatter when your stomach is full.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:29 PM on April 24, 2009


Definitely check for gluten intolerance/celiac disease. Both your thinness and your bloating after eating point to this. It is a potentially very damaging condition, as it means that gluten causes inflamation of your small intestine--chronically. Since gluten is in LOTS of things - anything with wheat, for starters - if you don't consciously avoid it, you are constantly inflamed. And this leads to serious risk of serious diseases...

Another thing to look into is candid albicans over-run. The book The Yeast Syndrome will help you decide if this is an issue.

And you can have both.

I have had the candida situation, and do have the gluten intolerence.
AND now I have excellent health and normal weight, and a slim midsection.

Find out what's going on and you can take the steps you need to. If you have Candida over-run, take oregano in capsule form and acidophilus to rebalance your intestine. A gluten free diet isn't as difficult as people imagine, as long as you are interested in eating really healthfully!

All good wishes!
posted by sparrowdance at 7:28 PM on April 24, 2009


Thank you all for the responses - I LOVE Askmefi!!

To answer a few questions - I am 28 and people definitely comment on the size of my belly. I've always had a belly that would pop out a bit after eating but it is very much exaggerated right now. My core is definitely not strong, and I've been called skinny fat before since I am NOT fit. Just your basic New Yorker rushing around and walking. I'm going to be incorporating strength training, with core exercises...

I also have a curve in my lower back - If I lean against the wall my lower back never touches the wall. Sway back or scoliosis was what the doc told me when I was 14. She told me to do crunches.

I don't think I have any food intolerance issue but I just eat what I like - which happens to be lots of cheese, bread, pasta. I don't eat a lot of processed food but definitely not healthy. I do eat small portions and I get full quickly.

Thanks again for all the responses - I'm going to make an appointment with my doc just in case and in the meantime get my exercise on!
posted by mokeydraws at 5:35 PM on April 26, 2009


I am 28 and people definitely comment on the size of my belly.

Who the f--- are these people? That's just bizarre.

Sway back or scoliosis was what the doc told me when I was 14. She told me to do crunches.

Be sure to ask your doctor about this. I have severe scoliosis and it can cause problems in adulthood.
posted by desjardins at 2:33 PM on April 27, 2009


I also have a curve in my lower back - If I lean against the wall my lower back never touches the wall. Sway back or scoliosis was what the doc told me when I was 14. She told me to do crunches.

Sounds like lordosis.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:53 PM on April 27, 2009


« Older My replacement hard drive went...   |  NORTHERN EXPOSURE Halloween Ep... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.