Visceral belly fat, otherwise known as “hidden” fat, is fat stored inside the belly that is wrapped around the organs. Making up one-tenth of all the fat stored in the body, visceral fat is more dangerous than other types of fat, such as subcutaneous fat, since it carries a range of health risks.
The best way to lose visceral belly fat is by losing weight and dieting. Since visceral fat responds better to diet and exercise than other types of fat, regular exercise can also stop it from coming back.
Additionally, the following tips may help lose visceral fat:
Any kind of exercise
- A cardio regime, such as skipping, jogging, swimming, or walking on a treadmill, an elliptical, or even simple lunges and squats, can help reduce visceral fat. You may not lose weight, but the way your clothes fit or an “inch loss” is always a good indicator that the exercise is working.
- Make sure you exercise at least 150 minutes a week. Exercise works by the synthesis and release of “good chemical messengers in the body,” such as nitric oxide, adiponectin, which counteracts the hyperinsulinemia and high levels of ghrelin (set off by the visceral fat). Hyperinsulinemia signals the body to store fats, which is the root cause of all troubles.
- A diet rich in complex carbohydrates, lean protein, fresh fruits, low-fat yogurt, probiotics (such as curd, kefir) will help curb hunger pangs and keep you full. Make sure you avoid ready-to-eat meals, fast food, and sugary foods.
- Try curbing refined carbs in your diet instead of avoiding fats because such a diet has shown better adherence and results in long-term weight loss.
- Another benefit of a low-carb approach is that it involves learning to make better food choices. So, it gradually weans you away from “poor choice” foods, such as white bread, bagels, and sodas. Once you start appreciating the benefits of high-fiber or high-protein foods, you will stick to your diet.
- Never underestimate the healing power of a good night's sleep. Late nights and night outs may sound fashionable, but such practices damage your biological clock and send your stress hormone (cortisol) levels through the roof. This hormone causes weight gain as well as bingeing behavior.
- This is an essential part of any healthy life. Stress often triggers inflammation in the body at cellular levels via cortisol release as well as the release of inflammatory chemicals (insulin, ghrelin) by the body. These chemicals increase visceral fat levels by altering cellular biochemistry.
- Make sure you meditate for at least 20 minutes a day. If you find meditation boring, indulge in a hobby, such as gardening, painting, writing a journal, and playing with a pet, which is often as therapeutic as meditation.
- Alcohol should be limited to one drink a day (for women) or two drinks a day (for men). If possible, quit drinking in any form.
- Smoking triggers chemical changes in the body, which cause cellular death, triggering inflammation in the body. This starts the cell death, cell inflammation, cortisol, and weight gain loop.
Become a label reader
- Understand the hidden sources of sugar and trans fat in food items. Salads that contain mayo or heavy sauces are high in fats and sugars and, therefore, not a healthy choice. The same goes for sweet yogurts.
- Move away from processed foods and try to make your meals.
What is visceral belly fat?
Visceral fat or intra-abdominal fat refers to the fat deposited deep in the abdomen around the intestines, liver, and other organs. Fat or adipose tissue forms an essential part of the body by cushioning organs to protect and insulate them and maintaining the core body temperature. The brain is made up of a large amount of fat and so is each cell wall in the body. The steroid hormones and vitamin D are all synthesized out of body fat. However, this belly fat becomes problematic when it exceeds the recommended limit.
Most studies suggest that about 25 to 31 percent of fat in women and 18 to 25 percent of fat in men are acceptable. Belly fat is made up of two types.
- The subcutaneous fat, which does not pose a significant health risk because it is often seen beneath the skin.
- The visceral body fat is seen over the abdomen and waist and is a “metabolically active” fat that can synthesize various chemical messengers that regulate satiety and eating behavior.
A larger quantity of visceral fat has been linked to various diseases, including:
- Binge eating behavior
- Hormonal disorders, such as polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD)
- Type II diabetes
- Breast and intestinal cancers
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disorders
Waist measurement is a good indicator of visceral fat. A higher waist circumference often reflects a higher visceral fat percentage and requires lifestyle interventions.
Experts recommend that the waistline should be less than 35 inches for a woman and less than 40 inches for a man to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. In the case of Asian people, they inherently have a high level of visceral fat-to-protein mass ratio. So, for Asian men, a 34-inch waistline and Asian women, a 32-inch waistline is considered healthy.
Can intermittent fasting alone improve visceral fat loss?
Unfortunately, no. While you do lose weight when you consume fewer calories than you burn, losing fat, especially visceral fat, requires a combination of diet and exercise, particularly muscle-strengthening exercises.
Though intermittent fasting may improve weight loss, it is often due to the loss of subcutaneous fat (this also holds for liposuction) and not visceral fat loss. Recent research states that visceral fat often becomes resistant to fat breakdown during intermittent fasting. In fact, your body retrains itself to rapidly rebuild the visceral fat stores before the next fasting period in many cases of long-term intermittent fasting. Hence, exercise along with fasting is advised to help you burn fat.
As far as diet goes, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests you limit your fat intake to 20 to 30 percent of your daily total calories and make sure your saturated fat consumption (butter, margarine, bacon, lard) is less than seven percent.
The University of Sydney. Belly Fat Resistant to Every-Other-Day Fasting: Study. https://www.sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2021/03/03/belly-fat-resistant-to-every-other-day-fasting-study.html
John Hopkins Medicine. 8 Ways to Lose Belly Fat and Live a Healthier Life. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/8-ways-to-lose-belly-fat-and-live-a-healthier-life
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