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What Is Visceral Fat & How To Lose It? (3 Key Solutions)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: March 6, 2022

When it comes to fat storage, what matters the most is not the sheer percentage of fat but the location where it’s concentrated in the body.

As a personal trainer, I met countless clients who were not considered overweight by height to weight ratio but carried a disproportionate amount of fat in the abdominal area. This kind of fat is often referred to as visceral fat.

To give you the precise rundown on this subject, I did extensive research with the help of my dietitian. Below, we take a closer look at what visceral fat means exactly and how to target it efficiently.

Let's dive right in.

Quick Summary

  • Visceral fat is located in the abdominal area, close to the organs, and can be measured by MRI, BMI, or waist size.
  • Possible health risks of carrying visceral fat are high blood pressure, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, heart attack, heart disease, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer.
  • Lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, can effectively target visceral fat.

What Exactly Is Visceral Fat?

woman holding her stomach while in undies

Visceral fat is also called hidden fat since it's a kind of abdominal fat that pads the space between your abdominal organs deep under the skin [1].

As a general rule, 90% of the fat a person carries is subcutaneous fat (located right under the skin), and the remaining 10% is visceral fat (located right by the organs) [2].

Fat accumulated in the lower body area is subcutaneous fat, while the fat in the abdominal area (belly fat)  is, in most cases, visceral [3]. Where we store these extra pounds is determined by several factors, including genetics and hormones [4].

Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is not easy to spot since it's stored within the abdominal cavity. Since it is located so close to our major organs, storing this kind of fat has more health risks than storing it under the skin.

Related Article: How To Lose Belly Fat Fast

How It's Measured?

feet view of a person using a weighing scale

You may have a slim body and still have visceral fat. That's why only expensive CT or MRI scans can measure precisely how much visceral fat is stored in your body.

However, since medical scans are expensive and complicated, doctors usually use different methods to tell if you're at risk of storing too much visceral fat, including:

Body Fat Percentage

Since about 10% of our body fat is visceral fat, you can estimate approximately how much visceral fat you store in your body [5].

Related Article: Ideal Body Fat Percentage Chart

Measuring The Waistline

Another method to evaluate your visceral fat percentage and the general risks it poses to your body is to wrap a tape around the waist and measure it without sucking the belly in. According to studies for women, 35 inches or more is a sign of having visceral fat. For men, it's 40 inches [6].

Body Mass Index

Lastly, calculating your BMI( Body Mass Index) can also give you a good idea about your body fat ratio. If your BMI is 30 or over, you're considered overweight and may be at risk of storing a high amount of visceral fat [7].

Dangers Of Visceral Fat

woman in stomach pain and and a man in chest pain

Storing excess visceral fat in the body can cause immediate health problems, leading to severe, and in some cases, life-threatening conditions.

Visceral fat is located near several vital organs, including the:

  • Intestines
  • Liver
  • Stomach

And can also store up in the arteries. A higher visceral fat percentage can also contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes or heart disease [8].

Other possible health issues include [9]:

  • Insulin Resistance - Visceral fat contributes to insulin resistance even for those who never dealt with diabetes before [10].
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer Disease
  • Heart Attack And Cardiovascular Disease
  • Breast Cancer
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Colorectal Cancer

“Carbohydrates trigger insulin release from the pancreas, causing the growth of visceral fat; visceral fat causes insulin resistance and inflammation.” - William Davis,  cardiologist and author

How to Get Rid Of Visceral Fat?

couple doing push ups and another using a tape measure on waist

The good news is that because visceral fat is metabolized faster into fatty acids, it responds better to diet and exercise than fat on the lower body area [11]. The best way to lose it is to:

1. Exercise

Include 30- 40 minutes of aerobic activities in your routine such as biking, running, brisk walking, or swimming.

Alongside cardio, weight lifting can help you turn fat into lean muscles, which might support you in burning more calories over time.

That’s because muscle is "active tissue," whereas fat is "inactive tissue.” It means that while fat just sits on your body, muscles require your body to burn energy just to maintain them [12].

In general, cardio will help you lose pounds, but unlike strength training, it will only provide a temporary metabolic boost that will dissipate quickly in the aftermath of the run or aerobics class.

Reduce Stress

woman in a lotus pose

Stress creates fat. Studies have shown that stress and increased stress hormone (cortisol) can increase the visceral fat surrounding the organs [13].

It also means that reducing the stress in your life can make it easier to lose weight and reduce visceral fat.

To fight stress, make sure you get enough sleep each night and try including daily meditations or yoga, or other relaxation techniques in your routine.

Diet

Avoid products that seem to encourage belly fat deposition. These include [14]:

  • Processed Foods
  • Refined Carbs
  • Unhealthy Fats (Trans-fats)
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar and Sugary Beverages

Instead, consume more: 

  • Soluble Fibers (e.g.: flax seeds, avocados, legumes, blackberries)
  • Complex Carbohydrates
  • Lean Protein

Try some of the popular diet approaches and find the one that works best for your body. We have collected a few right here.

FAQs

How Do You Know if You’re Tofi?

You can only know for sure if you're a TOFI if you undergo CT and MRI scans to see your exact body fat percentage. A common sign of being a TOFI is being at your optimal weight but having low levels of lean muscle [15].

What Should My Visceral Fat Number Be?

Your visceral fat number after an MRI (which measures visceral fat on a scale of 1- 59) should not be more than 13 [16].

Are You Carrying Visceral Fat?

Visceral fat is a sneaky kind that we may not realize we carry in excess until it's too late.

To combat this, it's essential to follow a healthy lifestyle with moderate exercise to turn fat into lean muscles.

Remember, it’s all about the little steps you take each day. Small changes like reducing portion sizes, including ten more minutes of walking in your routine or switching up half of your side to greens add up in the long run.

And if you still need a bit of help to burn off a few extra ounces, take a look at some stimulant-free fat burners that can help speed up your metabolism in a safe and healthy way.


References:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/visceral-fat 
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/taking-aim-at-belly-fat 
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it 
  4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190121103400.htm 
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3609102/ 
  6. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-definition/abdominal-obesity/ 
  7. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html 
  8. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it  
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3473928/ 
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725490/ 
  11. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/taking-aim-at-belly-fat 
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3762482/
  13. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/11/001120072314.htm 
  14. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/20-tips-to-lose-belly-fat#11.-Get-plenty-of-restful-sleep 
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33040488/
  16. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320929

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