Last updated on February 2nd, 2023
Not all body fat is created equal. Visceral fat is the part of adipose tissue located in the abdomen, under the muscles of the abdominal wall: it differs from subcutaneous fat, stored under the epidermis, and intramuscular fat, which is distributed among muscle fibers.
Being overweight poses a health risk. Being overweight can alleviate one’s chances of getting diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many other serious health problems. It also makes one more vulnerable to Covid-19. This is especially true with visceral fat, which can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease more than fat stored elsewhere. But why is she so dangerous?
What is Visceral Fat?
Visceral adiposity surrounds internal organs (liver, stomach, and intestines): its particular location is why this type of fat is potentially more dangerous than others.
Now that we know what is visceral fat? Let’s read about why is it dangerous. In 2019, the International Society of Atherosclerosis and the International Chair on Cardiometabolic Risk presented the results of their research on visceral fat: it is the adiposity most closely linked to chronic diseases, regardless of body weight. In addition, the researchers wanted to alert the scientific community: this type of “invisible” fat is proving difficult to diagnose and manage, which is why it is essential to raise public awareness of this subject.
Why is Visceral Fat Dangerous?
Fat produces chemicals that can be healthy or unhealthy for the body. This cocktail of bodily chemicals varies depending on where the body fat is stored. Visceral fat, in particular, produces pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These are associated with serious illnesses like Covid-19 and increased blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, which can contribute to the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
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Therefore, it’s dangerous to have a physique in the shape of an “apple”, that is to say, to have an excess of fat around the belly, than to “pear” and to have a fatty excess on the buttocks and thighs.
How to Measure Visceral Fat?
Visceral tissue can be challenging to diagnose due to its internal breakdown. According to the British Heart Foundation, some of the most commonly used methods that give a rough idea are:
- Body mass index (BMI): Divide your weight (kg) by your height (m2). A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered a healthy weight. However, according to the World Health Organization, BMI should only be used as a guide, as it does not consider whether excess weight comes from fat, water, or muscle.
- Waistline: Using a standard tape measure, measure your waist, starting at the navel and loosely. A healthy waist measures (at most) 88 cm for women and 102 cm for men. This visceral fat measurement is more accurate than BMI, although it is still an estimate and may not work for everyone.
- Waist/hip ratio: It is the ratio between the waist circumference (at the bottom of the ribs and the top of the hips) and the circumference of the hips (at the widest point of the buttocks). The higher this number, the more fat is stored around the abdomen. To calculate it, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. It is considered risky if it measures more than 0.9 for men and more than 0.8 for women.
- Smart scales: Some scales give not only weight but also the percentage of body fat. They send small electrical impulses through the body and measure the speed at which they return. Current flows better through parts of the body that are mostly water (such as muscle and blood) and less well through fat or bones.
- Assisted tomography and magnetic resonance: The first determines the visceral adipose tissue area and helps develop treatment strategies in the area covered by fat. As Harvard Medical School reports, these two techniques are the most accurate, although they are also the most expensive and the least available.
What are the Causes of Visceral Fat?
Usually, visceral obesity is caused by poor eating habits and being sedentary. However, there are many factors beyond your control that can promote the development of visceral fat. These include your genes, aging, and hormones.
Visceral fat, for example, can increase after menopause. Stress also plays a key role. Studies have shown that stress can increase the chances of becoming obese from cortisol, a hormone released in response to periods of chronic stress. Cortisol causes increased visceral fat deposits and has been shown to increase appetite and preference for energy-dense foods.
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How to Get Rid of Visceral Fat?
As you know, processed industrial foods are very high in calories compared to other types of preparations. It is therefore imperative to reduce their consumption to reduce visceral fat and to favor “homemade” cooking and a balanced diet, consisting in particular of:
- Fruits and vegetables: to provide the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals and to promote good intestinal transit.
- Fibers: which accelerate digestion and facilitate transit.
- Good fats: such as those contained in oily fish (tuna, salmon, and sardines) and vegetable oils (walnut oil, olive oil, soybean oil). These fats are rich in Omega-3, Omega-6, and Omega-9, which respectively help the body protect cardiovascular function, balance blood lipid levels and regulate blood sugar.
- Practice a regular sport activity
- Exercises like sit-ups tighten the abdominal muscles but do not target visceral fat. The best way to eliminate it is to combine a healthy visceral fat diet with increased physical activity to build muscle mass at the expense of fat mass. Sport on an empty stomach can eliminate fat faster. Still, it has been shown that with 80 minutes per week of aerobic exercise (cardio, HIIT) and resistance, it is also possible to reduce visceral adiposity significantly.
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Exercises to Lose Visceral Fat
To lose visceral fat, following a low-calorie diet without exercising will not be compelling enough.
Indeed, sport and physical exercise are essential to modify the body composition of men and women. During a non-exercise diet, you lose less fat and potentially leaner mass, including muscle. Conversely, by doing physical exercises, you lose more fat while maintaining or increasing your muscle mass.
In addition, losing weight through sport prevents the recovery of extra pounds in the long term, i.e. the YoYo effect. To lose visceral fat, three types of exercises are recommended:
Cardio or endurance exercise (200 minutes per week)
Cardio or endurance activities such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, running, elliptical. These are activities with a moderate level of intensity. You should be able to talk while you exercise. So walking is a great start. You should do a total of 200 minutes per week, spread over your entire week.
Muscle-strengthening exercise (2 times 30 minutes per week)
This corresponds to all bodybuilding movements, those that work your muscles. The more you build your muscles, the more you increase your metabolism. Your body will then naturally burn more calories. If you eat the right amounts, you will lose belly fat!
No need to lift weights; exercise with your body weight.
Intensive interval exercise (HIIT in English, once or twice a week)
High-intensity interval training has proven to be a great way to burn fat in a short period. It helps to improve your fitness quickly and lose belly fat faster.
High-intensity interval exercise combines short, intense efforts with repeated slow recovery phases. Everything is linked during a short session of 10 to 20 minutes.
For example, you can climb stairs quickly for 30 seconds to 1 minute, feel short of breath, and then slowly descend until you catch your breath. Then you start again and this for at least 10 minutes. You can do the same by walking uphill; by making sprints while running, swimming or cycling.
On top of that, it is recommended that you exercise your abs and core strap. For this, leave the classic abs aside (bad for the back and ineffective) and do core exercises for the abdominal strap.
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Improve Your Lifestyle
Tobacco, alcohol, and certain medications can cause obesity. Cigarette smoking, and more precisely nicotine, in addition to being one of the potential causes of diabetes, also influences hormonal balance: hormones are responsible, among other things, for the distribution of fat in the body. Thus, the consumption of tobacco would lead to weight gain in the abdominal area.
The reduction of alcohol consumption can be an excellent way to reduce the waistline. Alcoholic beverages indeed contain a significant amount of sugars. Consumed regularly, they can raise blood sugar levels and, consequently, different fat formation around the belly.
Reducing stress levels and getting enough sound sleep can also help you lose weight. As stated previously, cortisol, the hormone produced by our body during stress, promotes weight gain. For this reason, getting enough sleep is essential, as reducing sleep hours disrupts the hormonal system.
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Get Help From a Specialist
If all the solutions listed above help fight weight gain, you should also be aware that losing weight is not as easy as miracle slimming remedies suggest. It is not enough to follow an extreme diet to lose a few pounds. It is a real work on yourself that will test your will, which involves questioning yourself and changing your lifestyle. This is a long-term job that can sometimes take a long time to show a convincing result.
You might also find yourself in a situation where, although you are aware of the need for weight loss because of the risks it poses to your health, it is simply difficult to move on and start this work.
Know that there are many of you in this situation, that there are many methods to achieve your ideal weight, and that one is the best for you among these methods.
If you do not know where to start or if traditional diets do not seem to work, the best is perhaps still to be accompanied by a specialist fat doctor who will advise you and direct you towards the care corresponding to your nature.
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Get Medical Treatment
Have you adopted a healthy diet and started a new sporting activity, but the results are not there? Be aware that your state of health may require specialized care and appropriate treatment.
This treatment can be drug or surgical such as bariatric surgery. For example, if visceral fat is caused by menopause, a Swiss study shows that hormone therapy can also be considered. To find out more about all the existing treatments, seek advice from a specialist who can guide you and present the different options available to you, depending on your state of health.
Visceral fat is not visible. We don’t always know it’s there, which makes it all the more dangerous. Fortunately, it is generally preventable. Maintaining a healthy, active, low-stress lifestyle can prevent visceral fat from building up in the abdominal cavity.
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What are the different types of body fat?
The 6 types of body fat are brown fat, beige fat, essential fat, subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat, and white fat. Out of all these types subcutaneous and white can be good and bad both for the body, but the visceral is the worst of all.
Is it possible to overcome it?
To get rid of this invading fat, you can remove certain products from your diet. Pasta and rice, for example, promote abdominal fat when taken in too much. You can therefore reduce their consumption. Other foods not recommended: sweet and ultra-processed products. Consequently, we remove cookies, cakes and other industrial foods. You can also reduce your consumption of sugary and alcoholic drinks. By changing your eating habits, you can get rid of belly fat. In particular, favour starches, legumes, fruits and vegetables. The resumption of regular physical activity also helps to remove visceral fat.
Why does belly fat enhance the risk of suffering from health problems?
Visceral fat can alleviate the creation of inflammatory substances in the body, raising the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Located near the liver and pancreas, fat can also raise bad cholesterol levels and prevent the body from breaking down fat and managing blood sugar.
What causes abdominal fat to build up?
The primary cause of visceral fat is poor diet, particularly high in simple carbohydrates and added sugars. This leads to weight gain that is very often difficult to lose, especially in the abdomen.
What is the visceral role of fat?
Healthy visceral fat is the white fatty tissue that is stored in the abdominal cavity. However, the fat associated with increased visceral fields obesity is linked to metabolic disorders and inflammation, where changes in visceral fat can increase the chances of developing metabolic syndromes.
Last Updated on by Dr. Damanjit Duggal
The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.