Eli5: Why is “beer gut” fat firm and stored in one place when other fat (from over eating, etc) is stored throughout the body and appears more “loose”?

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Visceral fat feels firm because you’re not actually feeling the fat; it’s deep inside, in between your organs, so when you put your hand on it you’re actually feeling the abdominal muscles. Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is right under the skin, so you can feel its softness.


There are two types of fat deposits in the body. What you’re calling normal fat from overeating is subcutaneous fat. It’s just under the skin, but on top of the muscles underneath. “Beer gut” is visceral fat – far that is deposited around your organs, inside your body cavities. Beer guts feel firm because the fat is inside the abdominal walls. You’re feeling the ab muscles stretched over the surface of the fat within.


Not all swelling in the abdomen is fat, there a actually 6 common “F”s which can be the cause of abdominal swelling – Fat, Flatus, Foetus, Faeces, Fluid and a Flipping Big Tumour. “Beer Gut” is highly influenced by visceral fat, but also fluid. You develop something called Portal Hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the massive vein which runs from your gut to your liver. This is a really important vein, because all the nutrients your body consumes are carried to the liver through it, and as your liver gets larger, and fattier, the vein starts to spread fluid into the tissues of the abdomen. It’s a similar effect to when people with heart failure get really swollen legs. Because the tissue is saturated with fluid, it is a lot firmer than normal fatty deposits.


I have a follow up question after reading these replies. Why aren’t all alcoholics (those that drink liquor) over weight?


Depending on what you mean by beer gut, it is because a beer belly has an underlying sickness that quickly Leads to a large expansion of the belly. Which feels hard. A beer belly, in a definitive sense, and not just one that is “Oh that’s a round tummy of fat, must be a beer belly” is associated with its namesake. Beer. Assume we’re talking about an alcoholic. They typically have an extended number of years associated with far above the “acceptable” amount of alcohol consumed. When someone does this, the liver over time cannot keep up. It’s normal healthy cells get tired and as a result get shriveled up (more appropriately scarred, from continual battering). When the liver is damaged, blood cannot travel through it easily for filtering (this causes many other problems we wont touch on) and the liver itself cannot so it’s normal jobs anymore, due to this damage. (Normally it makes things our blood needs, and helps manage drug break down). The former being the important point here. Your blood needs “things” in it to keep all of itself inside it. When the liver cannot make its things (albumin) the blood loses some of itself (oncotic pressure from the alumin is lost) as a result, some of the blood party starts leaking out of the arteries and veins, this happens especially in the abdomen where there is a cavity for ‘stuff to collect’. This is what’s going wrong. This is what happens. In that belly, all this extra “blood stuffs” starts to gather and fill that space. At a point this happens rapidly (I have patients come in every week or two for 8-12 liters of fluid to be taken out of them) this fluid fills that cavity and feels hard as it presses against the belly. Disclosure: I am simply a pharmacist, and a physician could likely simplify and explain this more thoroughly/simply. I tried to simplify while maintaining what’s happening (in parenthesis). So I am open to corrections and criticism!