How to Deal With Visceral Fat, and Why It’s So Bad for You

By: Emma Rose
April 6, 2020

How to Deal With Visceral Fat, and Why It’s So Bad for You

  • Visceral fat is the deep abdominal fat that surrounds your organs. Even leaner people can have dangerous levels of it.
  • Some levels of visceral fat are normal and even healthy but too much can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease and inflammation.
  • Visceral fat is caused by many factors, like diet, a sedentary lifestyle and stress. Keep reading for lifestyle tips to manage visceral fat.

Everyone has fat. Body fat is necessary to cushion and support your organs, build cells and store energy, but too much can be dangerous for your well-being. While the conversation of weight usually targets visible fat, the topic goes deeper than that. There’s another hidden type of fat that can seriously harm your health and performance: visceral fat. Keep reading to learn how to lose visceral fat.

What is visceral fat?

Closeup of visceral fatIt’s important to understand the differences between visceral and subcutaneous fat. The fat you can pinch on your waist, arms, legs or anywhere else is all subcutaneous fat, stored just beneath the skin. Visceral fat is different. It’s the deep, internal fat packed around your abdominal organs — sometimes also referred to as abdominal fat.

Healthy levels of visceral fat help insulate and protect your organs and play a role in your endocrine and immune function.[1] In excess amounts, however, visceral fat can spell serious trouble for your performance and your health.

Keep reading to find out what causes visceral fat and how to finally lose it.

Show the culprits

What causes visceral fat?

Burger and fries
A carbohydrate-heavy diet, inflammation and chronic stress can all lead to excess visceral fat. While a poor diet provides the building blocks for obesity, stress can actually amplify the rate by activating neurotransmitter NPY and the hormone cortisol. These signal your body’s sympathetic “fight-or-flight” response, which triggers the storage of more visceral fat.[2]

Genetics and hormones both help influence how your body stores fat, including the ratio of subcutaneous to visceral fat your body packs on. Studies have shown that cortisol (your main stress hormone) and insulin tend to increase the accumulation of visceral fat, while healthy levels of growth hormone and sex hormones may help prevent it.[3]

Why is visceral fat bad for you?

Woman holding side in front of blue background

While a larger waist circumference generally means more visceral fat, thinner people can also hide dangerous levels of visceral fat depending on their body composition. Studies suggest a link between excess visceral fat and insulin resistance, regardless of visible obesity.[4] Studies also connect visceral fat to a host of complications including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.[5]

On top of messing with insulin, too much visceral fat also inhibits the hormone adiponectin, or the “fat hormone.” Studies show that adiponectin levels decrease with increased levels of visceral fat, but there is no correlation with subcutaneous fat.[6] Meaning, adiponectin functions as a fat regulator, and too little can cause your body to pack on more fat than it needs.

Both high visceral fat and low adiponectin levels are useful indicators for increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, increased LDL (the bad stuff), reduced HDL cholesterol (the good stuff), stiff arteries and hypertriglyceridemia (too much free fat in the bloodstream).[7][8]

Lastly, large pockets of visceral fat increase inflammation, and can be especially harsh on your liver. Fat cells in your abdomen release pro-inflammatory cytokines, which cause inflammation and make diseases worse.[9]

Because the large portal vein runs through your abdomen, these toxins and inflammatory compounds get a direct line to your liver, where they can build up inflammation and insulin resistance.[10] Insulin is the hormone that signals that fuel is coming. With insulin resistance, your cells don’t get the message and don’t take in the glucose to burn. When that happens, sugar stays in the bloodstream, and after a while, your body stores it as fat.

Related: A Low-Carb Diet Helps Shed Body Fat, Even if You Don’t Lose Weight

How to deal with visceral fat

Follow a balanced diet

Plate filled with vegetables and egg

One of the best ways to manage visceral fat is to eat a healthy diet that emphasizes vegetables, quality fat and protein, and minimizes refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods. There isn’t a single diet that will help you lose visceral fat — you have to find what works for you and your lifestyle long-term.

One way to get there: the ketogenic diet. When you eat a lower-carb, higher-fat diet, you train your body to burn fat as fuel, rather than carbs. This process is called ketosis, and it helps burn fat while building up ketones to curb hunger and fuel your brain.[11]

Related: How to Start Keto & Why Cyclical Ketosis Is Better

Try intermittent fasting

Clock in front of yellow background

Studies have shown that intermittent fasting — cycling in and out of periods of eating and not eating — can hold huge benefits for your body and brain, including reducing visceral fat and increasing adiponectin levels to restore insulin sensitivity.[12]

Do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts

Woman holding squat in front of pink background

HIIT workouts strike the perfect balance between resistance and aerobic training, giving you the fat-blasting benefits of both in a short time. HIIT workouts cycle between bursts of intense, all-out effort and periods of quick, usually active, recovery (think intervals of sprinting and walking).

Not only does this type of training burn fat and build muscle faster than traditional workouts, it improves insulin sensitivity and increases resting metabolism, helping to keep your body in a fat-burning state for longer.[13][14] Studies have also shown that lifestyle changes leading to weight loss tend to preferentially target visceral fat, helping you shed pounds where it matters most.[15]

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