Experts reveal the causes of visceral fat and how to get rid of it.
While most of us do not want to have extra belly fat simply because of the way it looks, there are actually health risks associated with having too much belly fat.
Belly fat is a type of fat known as visceral fat and develops around the belly.
Visceral fat causes a pooch around your waistline and may be the reason you have trouble buttoning an old pair of jeans.
Too much alcohol and junk food can lead to increased belly fat.
Honestly, I get it. It’s hard to maintain balance and enjoy the “good things” in life while staying fit and healthy.
Fat is normal, and everyone has body fat, but too much can lead to chronic health conditions.
The good news is, there are things we can do to lose excess belly fat through diet and lifestyle changes.
Read on to learn about the causes of visceral fat and how you can reduce your belly fat and take back control of your life.
Also, check out:
- How To Lose Belly Fat for Men: 12 Simple Tips, Backed By Science
- Body Types: Are You an Ectomorph, Mesomorph, or Endomorph?
- 7-Day Diet to Lose Belly Fat
- 6 Simple Ways to Get a Smaller Waist
The Danger of Visceral Fat
Many people think that all fat is equal. This is not true.
Subcutaneous fat is closer to the outside of your body, and you may be able to see or pinch it.
Visceral fat is a totally different type of fat than subcutaneous fat.
Visceral fat is found deeper in the abdominal cavity and cushions your organs like your intestines, stomach, and liver.
It also protects blood vessels and, sometimes, accumulates around the abdominal region resulting in belly fat.
Visceral fat is needed to protect and support your vital organs. Levels of visceral fat can vary from person to person, and excess amounts can negatively affect your health.
According to studies, our body contains around 10% visceral fat (1).
Excess visceral fat can lead to serious health risks and medical conditions that include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Insulin resistance
- Sleep apnea
- Heart disease
- Fatty liver
- Certain cancers
In women, high levels of visceral fat are associated with breast cancer and may eventually cause the need for gallbladder surgery.
Am I at Risk?
The best way to measure the exact amount of visceral fat is by MRI scan (magnetic resonance) or CT scan (computed). However, these scans are pretty difficult and pricey to do.
Since these scans are unlikely to be performed, a healthcare provider will instead look at different risk factors to determine your health risks.
Below, we will discuss a few key factors associated with increased risk for health problems.
BMI (Body Mass Index)
Your BMI, or body mass index, measures body fat based on weight divided by height.
If your BMI is over 30, you are put into the obesity category and could potentially have a high visceral fat level.
Many online calculators do the math for you and will provide you with your BMI in seconds.
Keep in mind that even those with healthy numbers may have too much fat in the abdominal area. Still, most of the time, obese adults also have abdominal obesity or insulin resistance.
Body shape is an excellent indicator of excess visceral fat. Simply look at your body and see where most of your fat accumulates.
If you tend to have extra fat storage around the belly area, you may have too much visceral fat storage.
The two typical body shapes are referred to as apples and pears.
Pear shape figures tend to have excess fat accumulation in the hips and thighs or their lower body.
As we get older, especially when women begin menopause, the fat moves from our thighs to our stomachs, so your body shape can change as we age.
Genetics also plays a rather large factor in our body shape. You may notice your body is similar in shape to many family members.
Apple shapes are more common among men, and those with this shape tend to have a larger proportion of fat around their abdomen and upper body obesity.
Apple shapes tend to put you at a higher risk for more chronic health diseases.
A quick and easy way to determine if you have too much visceral fat is to measure your waist size.
To measure your waist circumference, simply wrap a tape measure around the top of your belly button.
In men, a waist circumference of over 40 inches or 102 centimeters puts you at risk.
For women, health risks begin increasing when the waistline measures over 30 inches or 76 centimeters.
Different factors may affect measurements, so it is important to speak with your healthcare provider to discuss individual risk factors if you find yourself with an at-risk waist circumference.
According to research, there is strong evidence supporting the link between waist-hip ratio (WHR) and extra visceral fat storage (2).
Taking WHR is a fairly simple process.
First, you get a tape measure and measure the waistline or the smallest point of your belly (usually around your belly button).
Next, you take your hip size by measuring your hips at the widest part. Then you divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.
Less than .99 WHR is desired for men, and for women, less than .90 WHR is desired.
If your ratio is over these numbers, it may indicate that you have high visceral fat levels.
Why Does Visceral Fat Raise Health Risks?
Not only does visceral fat reduce confidence, but it also poses many health risks.
Having extra fat deposits in your abdominal area is a known danger for your health and can increase inflammation and put you at risk for chronic disease.
It was recently discovered that visceral fat cells are active fat cells and an endocrine organ or gland that may secrete inflammatory substances and hormones, increasing the risk of heart disease.
High levels of visceral fat can also lead to the production, which cytokines that can cause inflammation of tissues and narrow blood vessels and arteries, resulting in high blood pressure.
Due to it residing so close to our internal organs like the pancreas and liver, visceral fat can also increase LDL or “bad” cholesterol and prevent fat breakdown.
Specifically, visceral fat produces free fatty acids transported to the liver by the portal vein and can result in elevated cholesterol and insulin.
What Is The Cause of Visceral Fat?
So, what causes visceral fat?
Poor diet is one of the main causes of a large waist and higher levels of visceral fat.
When you consume more calories than your body uses, you will often gain weight in the middle section.
Diets high in fructose, trans fats, and simple carbohydrates result in weight gain and extra abdominal fat.
Poor diet is also a major risk factor for obesity, heart disease, elevated blood pressure, and other chronic diseases.
Hormones such as the stress hormone cortisol are also associated with excess belly fat.
Insulin levels also play a role in excess fat build-up around the abdominal organs.
How to Get Rid of Visceral Fat
The first thing that comes to our mind when we see excess fat and have a high body mass index is liposuction, magic supplements, or weight loss surgery, but the good news is there are other ways to lose weight and keep it off without surgery.
Lifestyle changes and a healthy diet is the best way to lose visceral fat.
For obese adults, you may simply have to lose just 10% of your body weight to see your expanding waistline begin to shrink and fat loss start.
Below, we will discuss 5 healthy lifestyle changes to help shred that stubborn belly fat and live your healthiest life.
Cut Back on Sugar
By avoiding simple sugar and beverages sweetened with fructose, you will automatically consume fewer calories.
For example, a bottle of soda contains around 240 calories, mostly due to its sugar content.
It would take almost 25 minutes of jogging to burn the calories off from one soda.
If you didn’t change anything and cut out two bottles of soda a day, you would be on your way to losing around 1 pound per week.
Have you ever heard of the term “beer belly?”
Excess alcohol intake not only can lead to a variety of health problems but can also cause abdominal obesity and spike your glucose, especially those with reduced insulin sensitivity.
Eat More Whole Foods
Easing more whole foods will leave you feeling full throughout the day and may shrink abdominal fat cells.
You should include lean proteins, fresh fruits, veggies, and complex carbohydrates in your daily diet plan.
Healthy fats should also be included in moderation.
Examples of lean proteins include chicken breast, turkey breast, and other lean meats.
However, you can also get your protein intake from non-meat sources.
Good plant-based protein sources are legumes, nuts, and beans.
Examples of complex carbohydrates are sweet potatoes and whole grains.
Whole grains with minimal processing are the best for carbs for our body and include grains like brown rice and oats.
These foods are also typically higher in fiber, promote satiety, and are fermented by gut bacteria into short-chain fatty acids that provide nutrition to your colon cells.
Fresh fruits and veggies are crucial to ensure you get your daily nutrient intake and meet your needs.
Consume low-calorie fruits and veggies like apples, leafy greens, melon, and zucchini.
You want to avoid trans fats and eat more healthy polyunsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
Trans fats put you at greater risk of chronic diseases, and intake is a key player in risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems.
The American Heart Association also recommends limiting foods in saturated fats like butter and red meat.
Lastly, you may want to eat foods rich in probiotics like kefir and yogurt to promote healthy gut health.
Eat a Low-Carb Diet
Low-carb diets are often recommended as one of the best diets for visceral fat loss. This is for a good reason.
According to one study, participants who followed a low-carb diet lost 10% more visceral fat than their counterparts who followed a low-fat diet (3).
Diets low in carbohydrates are also associated with improved cholesterol management by raising HDL, also known as good cholesterol.
Adding physical activity like cardio and strength training into your daily routine is essential to decreasing your total body fat, especially in the abdominal cavity.
Additionally, you should not rely on spot exercises that specifically target the abdominal muscles like crunches.
These exercises will result in a stronger core but may not be the most effective for belly fat loss.
It would help if you combined a variety of exercises to reduce visceral fat effectively.
Even brisk walking 30 minutes a day can decrease your overall body fat levels.
For the best combination to lose fat, you should combine strength training with cardio exercise. (See the best exercises to lose belly fat)
A body composition with more muscle mass also increases fat burn and metabolism while at rest.
On days that you do not feel up to intense aerobic exercise, you could try something more relaxing like yoga with deep breathing exercises that teach stress management tactics.
This can improve our cognitive health and reduce binges and snacking on unhealthy food throughout the day.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial to maintaining a healthy weight, supporting healthy sex hormones, and how other hormones function.
When you do not get enough sleep, your body becomes stressed and, over time, produces cortisol linked to an increase in appetite.
Cortisol may also be associated with additional visceral fat body stores.
According to researchers, those who get less than five hours of sleep nightly had a larger waist circumference and 2.5 times more belly fat than those who got seven to nine hours per night (4).
Final Take on Visceral Fat
The most effective way to reduce and keep visceral body fat off, especially in the abdomen, is to eat healthier, include physical exercise, and catch enough zzz’s.
If your waist measures larger than the recommended numbers, you have a higher BMI or waist-hip ratio than recommended. It is a good idea to start making changes now.
Let a healthy lifestyle be used as preventative medicine against your risk of chronic disease.
You do not need to try a fad diet or follow the latest news trends.
Using stomach wraps, getting liposuction, or starving yourself is not the most effective way to decrease fat cells in your abdominal cavity or lose a large amount of weight.
It will likely not be permanent and may potentially cause more weight gain in the future.
Follow the above helpful tips to reduce fat and be on your way to a healthier life in no time.
If you feel stuck or unsure what to do, you can always get direct medical advice from a qualified clinician like a doctor or ask a dietitian or nutritionist to help you.
- Foster, Michelle T, and Michael J Pagliassotti. “Metabolic alterations following visceral fat removal and expansion: Beyond anatomic location.” Adipocyte vol. 1,4 (2012): 192-199. doi:10.4161/adip.21756
- Gadekar T, Dudeja P, Basu I, Vashisht S, Mukherji S. Correlation of visceral body fat with waist-hip ratio, waist circumference and body mass index in healthy adults: A cross-sectional study. Med J Armed Forces India. 2020 Jan;76(1):41-46. doi: 10.1016/j.mjafi.2017.12.001. Epub 2018 Feb 1. PMID: 32020967; PMCID: PMC6994756.
- Goss AM, Goree LL, Ellis AC, Chandler-Laney PC, Casazza K, Lockhart ME, Gower BA. Effects of diet macronutrient composition on body composition and fat distribution during weight maintenance and weight loss. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Jun;21(6):1139-42. doi: 10.1002/oby.20191. Epub 2013 May 13. PMID: 23671029; PMCID: PMC3735822.
- Ogilvie RP, Redline S, Bertoni AG, Chen X, Ouyang P, Szklo M, Lutsey PL. Actigraphy Measured Sleep Indices and Adiposity: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Sleep. 2016 Sep 1;39(9):1701-8. doi: 10.5665/sleep.6096. PMID: 27306270; PMCID: PMC4989259.