Visceral fat, also known as belly fat, is a type of fat stored deep inside the body that surrounds vital abdominal organs like the liver, stomach, and small intestines.
Excessive visceral fat can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
With the right diet and exercise plan, visceral fat can be reduced as quickly as a few months’ time.
Researchers have found that too much visceral fat is linked to high blood pressure, sleep apnea, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
But what is visceral fat, and why is it so dangerous to your health? More importantly, how do you get rid of visceral fat if you’re carrying too much?
This article discusses how to tell if you have too much visceral fat, how to get rid of it, and why it’s a good idea to put in the extra effort to do so.
What is visceral fat?
Visceral fat is just one of four types of fat you store on and in your body. What differentiates visceral fat from other types is mainly location and how unhealthy it is for you:
Visceral fat: This type of fat is what covers your internal organs and is found in your abdominal cavity. An excess of visceral fat can be dangerous, resulting in higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Subcutaneous fat: This fat sits just underneath the skin. It’s why you may notice cellulite on your legs. It generally doesn’t pose a health risk.
White fat: This is where the body stores energy it doesn’t need. So, for example, if you were to consume more calories than your body was burning it would turn into white fat.
Brown Fat: Brown fat, often found in babies and less so in adults, is a form of fat tissue that protects the body from the cold. Brown fat is considered healthy and research suggests it may help protect against obesity.
The dangers of visceral fat
The reason excessive visceral fat can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes is because of how close it is to a major vein – called the portal vein – that heads to your liver.
Excess fat produces fatty acids (or lipids) that hitch a ride through the portal vein to the liver where they can cause issues with insulin and cholesterol. This, in turn, can cause or exacerbate cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Moreover, belly fat is thought to manipulate some of the hormones, like leptin, that control our hunger. And people who are obese have been found to have elevated levels of leptin, subsequently causing them to feel hungry more often, which could lead to more weight gain in the long-run.
How to tell if you have too much visceral fat
Visceral fat is located under your muscles, so you can neither see nor feel it. Therefore, to tell if you have too much visceral fat you can either calculate your BMI or check your waist circumference.
It’s important to note that BMI isn’t always a clear indicator of how much excess body fat you’re carrying. Therefore, it’s important to also consider your waist circumference and consult a physician about whether or not you have too much visceral fat.
According to Harvard Medical School, you’re at high risk of excess visceral fat if you’re a man with a waist circumference of over 40 inches or a woman with a waist circumference over 35 inches or more.
It can be tricky to tell if you’re losing visceral fat, since you’ll likely be losing subcutaneous fat too. According to Michael Russo, MD, bariatric surgeon at MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center, keeping track of your BMI and waist circumference are the best ways to tell if you are losing visceral fat.
How to lose visceral fat
The best way to tackle visceral fat is to make long-term and sustainable lifestyle changes that focus on improving your diet and adding in exercise.
“Diet is about 80% of the equation. Exercise is also very important – getting your heart rate up for 30 minutes a day, every day,” says Russo.
The type of exercise isn’t as important as focusing on just getting your heart rate up and working up a sweat. Strength training, cardio, and other forms of exercise will do the trick. If you find yourself having trouble exercising regularly, start by taking long walks around your neighborhood to work yourself up to more rigorous exercise.
As for diet, long-term lifestyle changes like adding in more veggies daily, watching sodium intake, and moderating the amount of processed foods and sugar you eat, can help you lose and keep visceral fat off.
Outside of following a diet, individuals can monitor total calorie intake, limit refined sugar, and increase the number of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables they consume.
With these changes, it is possible to lose visceral fat at a reasonable pace. Though how your body may lose fat depends on factors such as genetics.
In general, visceral fat has been found to drop off more quickly with diet and exercise than other types of fat. Accordinging to Harvard Health, this is because it “metabolizes” more quickly into acids that the body can then discard (either through pee or sweat). Most doctors recommend that a healthy weight loss timeline works out to about 1-2 pounds a week.
Weight loss is individualized. It will depend on how much visceral fat you have to lose and how your body loses fat. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, cutting calories and exercising at least 30 minutes a day is the best way to approach losing visceral body fat. By sticking to a healthy diet and regular exercise, you should begin to notice a difference within a few months’ time.
Weight-loss surgery for extreme cases
If someone isn’t losing visceral fat with lifestyle changes, surgery is another option.
“The most effective way to reduce visceral fat if someone is carrying a large amount of it is bariatric or weight loss surgery, which alters you hormonally to a more normal hormonal profile, so your body doesn’t want to carry excess fat anymore. It’s like turning down the thermostat,” says Russo.
Other surgical options that aren’t quite as effective as bariatric surgery, include balloon-based therapies, which can help limit the amount of food you eat by making you fuller faster.
Losing visceral fat takes time and effort. A low-carb diet and moderate exercise will help you shed any excess fat around your midsection.
Actively working towards losing visceral fat and living a more active lifestyle will benefit you in the long run. Everyone has some visceral fat and having some abdominal fat is not necessarily a sign that you need to lose weight.
However, an excess of belly fat can cause long-term adverse health effects. It’s best to consult your physician to see if your belly fat is putting you at risk for heart disease or other health problems.