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I'm a Belly Fat Expert and Here's How to Lose Visceral Fat

Doctors explain what to know about belly fat and why it's so dangerous. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

It's always a good feeling to put on your favorite pair of jeans without struggling to pull up the zipper, but there's another reason to not have a large waistline-it's really dangerous. We all know that being overweight is unhealthy, but extra pounds around the midsection is especially harmful. "When we think of fat, we sometimes think of the fat that accumulates under our skin, throughout our bodies," Christopher Esposito, DO Director, Surgery Clerkship at Staten Island University Hospital tells us. "This is, unfortunately, not the only way the body stores fat.  Belly fat, or visceral fat, is found below the abdominal muscles in the same cavity that holds the majority of our abdominal organs. This type of fat can give you the typical "beer belly" where girth from the intra-abdominal fat protrudes the abdomen."

There's a reason why visceral fat is incredibly harmful. Dr. Esposito explains, "Not all fat is created equal. Though the visceral fat might not be as obvious as the subcutaneous kind, it is linked to an increase in hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol."

Since visceral fat isn't anything you can see or touch like subcutaneous fat, it's not anything most people think about, but our lifestyle choices contribute a major role.  Dr. Puja Uppal, DO, board certified family medicine physician says, "The most common way people develop visceral fat is generally by their diet. Usually, foods high in carbohydrates like bread, cereals, and processed fats lead to an increase in visceral fat." That said, there are unmodifiable risk factors we can't change. Dr. Uppal says, " It's important to note that we see racial disparities in visceral adiposity (fat). For example, Hispanic, Inuit, and Asian persons are more likely to develop visceral fat."

Getting rid of visceral fat is vital for overall health and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with physicians who share what to know about the common health condition and how to help shed the potentially deadly fat. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About Belly Fat


Dr. Gabriela Rodríguez Ruiz, MD PhD FACS, a board-certified bariatric surgeon at VIDA Wellness and Beauty says, "It is important to note that not all belly fat is the same. There are two types: subcutaneous fat (the visible type) and visceral fat (the deeper type). Visceral fat, which lies deep in the abdomen around vital organs, can be particularly dangerous as it can release hormones and inflammatory compounds into the bloodstream, which can lead to serious health complications, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes."

Dr. Mahmud Kara, MD Internal Medicine adds, "Fat cells in the body can be stored in three ways: essential, subcutaneous, and visceral. Essential fat is as it sounds, it is "essential" for your health. This type of fat is usually found in areas that protect the body like membranes, nerves, bone marrow, and our brain. Subcutaneous fat is found under the skin. This is the fat that most people are familiar with because you can pinch it in areas like your buttocks, arms, and thighs. Visceral fat is often overlooked, but it is the type of fat that poses the most risk to our health. Visceral fat is found in the belly and around our major organs—kidney, heart, liver, pancreas, digestive tract, etc."


Who is at Risk for Visceral Fat

Nutritionist inspecting a woman's waist using a meter tape

According to Dr. Rodriguez, "Anyone can be at risk for visceral fat; however, it is most common in individuals who are overweight or obese. It can also be more common in those who lead a sedentary lifestyle and/or consume an unhealthy diet. Other risk factors include smoking, alcohol consumption, and high levels of stress. It is important to note that age, genetics, and hormone imbalances may also influence the amount of visceral fat a person has."

Dr. Esposito adds, "Visceral fat is typically formed as all fat does, through positive caloric intake. Meaning if you have consumed more energy than you have expended, your body will attempt to store it as fat. Many factors delineate what type and how much fat is stored including gender, genetics, and environmental factors."


How to Measure Visceral Fat

shred belly fat

Dr. Esposito tells us, "There are expensive and intricate tests to determine your overall fat content but they are typically only used under specific circumstances. The easiest way to gauge your belly fat is to measure your waist circumference, wrapping a tape measure around your abdomen at the level of your belly button. A waist circumference greater than 35 inches in women and 40 in men is considered to be above normal."

The Cleveland Clinic says, "Healthcare providers have specific guidelines they use to measure body fat. Visceral fat makes up about 10% of your body fat. You can figure out your visceral fat level by calculating your total body fat percentage and then taking off 10%. If your body fat percentage is higher than recommended, then your visceral fat range will be, too.

There are a few ways you can measure your body fat:

–Waist measurement: Wrap a tape measure around your waist just above your hip bones. For women, 35 inches or more means you're at risk for health problems stemming from visceral fat. For men, the number is 40 inches or more.

–Waist-to-hip ratio: Measure your waist size and your hip size (wrap a tape measure around the widest part of your hips). Divide your waist size by your hip size. A waist-to-hip ratio higher than 0.85 in women and 0.90 in men indicates abdominal obesity.

–Body mass index (BMI): BMI measures your body fat based on your height and weight. A BMI of 30 or more (in men and women) indicates you may be overweight and could have a higher level of visceral fat.

–Waist-height ratio: Divide your waist size by your height. A healthy ratio is no greater than 0.5 (in men and women). Some healthcare providers prefer the waist-height ratio. Other methods aren't as accurate at distinguishing between visceral and subcutaneous fat."


Best Way to Lose Belly Fat

Couple of female friends jogging on the city street under the city road overpass.They relaxing after jogging and making fun.Embracing each other. Walkers

Dr. Esposito states, "There are many ways to lose visceral fat but they all start and end with lifestyle modifications. I specifically say "lifestyle modification" and not diet because dieting has a connotation of a temporary process. Most diets stop working when you stop doing the diet. The critical aspect of weight loss is identifying healthy alternatives that you can maintain life-long. That holds true with exercise as well. It may take weeks and even months to see the effects of these changes. Consistency and persistence reign supreme when it comes to sustained weight loss.

In addition to lifestyle modifications, there are adjuncts that can assist with weight loss:

-Weight loss medications. There are several categories of medications approved for the treatment of obesity and can typically contribute an additional 5-15% total body weight loss As with dieting, stopping the medications usually results in regaining of the weight.

-Weight loss surgery. Previously thought of as a cosmetic surgery, bariatric procedures have been shown to not only provide sustained weight loss but also decrease, and often resolve, the medication burden of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It is the most effective way to reduce visceral fat at an average of 60-75% excess weight loss."

Dr. Rodriguez says the following ways can get rid of belly fat. 

"A healthy diet – A healthy diet is the best way to lose belly fat because it encourages sustainable weight loss without sacrificing long-term health. Eating a balanced diet that's low in saturated fats, added sugar, and refined carbohydrates can help reduce your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, while also providing essential nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals. Plus, consuming plenty of fiber-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can help you feel fuller for longer, which can aid in weight loss.

Regular exercise – Regular exercise can also help you lose belly fat. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio such as walking, running, or biking each week, and include strength training twice a week to promote fat-burning and muscle growth. If possible, try to pair your workouts with activities that are enjoyable like hiking or dancing, as this will make it easier to stick with your routine.

Stress management – Stress can be a major contributing factor to weight gain, so managing stress levels is an important part of any fat loss plan.. Incorporate techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation into your regular schedule to help reduce stress levels and support healthy weight loss.

Overall, there are many different ways to lose belly fat, but the most effective approach is to make long-term lifestyle changes that include a balanced diet and regular physical activity. When coupled with stress management techniques and adequate sleep, these strategies can help you healthily achieve your weight loss goals."


How To Tell You're Losing Visceral Fat

weight loss

Dr. Rodriguez tells us, "Usually, the most obvious sign of visceral fat loss is a decrease in waist circumference. You may also notice that your clothes are fitting more loosely, or that you have increased energy and athletic performance. If you're actively trying to lose visceral fat, it's important to track your progress by taking body measurements and photos regularly. This will allow you to monitor your progress and stay motivated."

Dr. Kara shares, "Losing visceral fat is important for our overall longevity and vitality. Throughout our life, the biggest culprit behind many health issues and even premature death is a chronic disease. The largest issue with visceral fat is that it is associated with an increased risk for heart disease, especially fatal heart attacks, as well as other chronic diseases which may impact your years of life. Since visceral fat is associated with these negative health outcomes, it is essential to lose it to reduce the risk of heart attack, heart diseases, as well as other chronic health issues."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather