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Surefire Habits That Melt Your "Visceral Fat"

Weight Management Expert and Bariatric Surgeon explains ways to get rid of belly fat and why it's so unhealthy. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Excess belly fat is a common problem, but it's more dangerous than you think. Hidden deep in your abdomen is visceral fat, which wraps around your organs and is connected to major health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and more. Although visceral fat isn't talked about enough, it's a serious concern that can affect anyone and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Jessica Cutler, M.D., Mercy Medical Center Weight Management Expert and Bariatric Surgeon who explains what to know about visceral fat and habits that help get rid of tummy 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 is Visceral Fat

shred belly fat

Dr. Cutler explains, "Visceral fat refers to the fat that gets stored in and around your organs, as opposed to fat stored beneath your skin. When your body has extra energy to store, it starts by storing energy in the liver, which is designed to hold sugar in an easily-accessible form the body can draw on later when you need energy. Insulin is the hormone responsible for telling your body to store energy. If you continue to put energy into the system beyond what your liver can store safely as glycogen (sugar chains), it will instead be stored as fat.  When your liver has a lot of fat stored, this becomes the disease known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or "fatty liver." Continuing to input more energy into the system without using what you've already stored will then lead to fat deposits in other organs and around your organs within the abdomen. This visceral fat, as opposed to fat stored under your skin, is associated more closely with diabetes, heart disease, and other unhealthy conditions."


Why Having Too Much Fat is Unhealthy

Nutritionist inspecting a woman's waist using a measuring tape to prescribe a weight loss diet

Dr. Cutler says, "Everyone has some amount of visceral fat around their organs – our bodies have evolved to cushion our delicate organs from trauma with a pillow of fat. Fat also shields the many blood vessels and lymph channels inside your abdomen. However, having too much fat stored there can lead to inflammation in the affected organs. Insulin resistance is a sign that your body has too much visceral fat. If you have type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, "metabolic syndrome," or elevated fasting insulin levels, your body is running out of safe space to store energy. It has to make more and more insulin to force sugar out of your blood and into your cells for storage. This is usually associated with visceral fat, because visceral fat is where the body looks next to store its extra sugar. You might notice signs of insulin resistance or an inflamed fatty liver on certain screening blood work done by your doctor."


Cut Out the Sugary Drinks

Coffee and Sugar Main Picture

Dr. Cutler advises, "Get the sugar out of your drinks. Drinks are one of the easiest ways extra sugar can sneak into your diet, and it's easy to chug down a whole drink without realizing exactly how much sugar was in it, and how much is now getting stored in your organs as visceral fat. Water, while not the most exciting drink, has no sugar. Black coffee (or coffee with a little creamer and no additional sugar) or unsweetened tea are also great choices."


No Artificial Sweeteners

woman drinking sugary beverage

Dr. Cutler reveals, "Diet sodas and artificial sweeteners are not as safe as you may think! Although they don't raise your blood glucose levels (blood sugar), because they don't contain glucose, most artificial sweeteners can still force your body to make more insulin, contributing to insulin resistance and visceral fat growth. They also tend to be much sweeter than table sugar and get you used to needing a high level of sweetness for foods to taste good. Cutting these out can be a difficult transition, but getting your body used to lower levels of sweet will really pay off in the long run."


Stop with the Processed, Refined Carbohydrates

sugary breakfast

Dr. Cutler reminds us, "Nature designed food as a complete package – a sweet piece of fruit is wrapped in a peel full of vitamins, and a natural grain has a shell full of protein and fiber. When we remove the husks and peels from our food, all that's left is sugar. Eating food as nature intended, with protein and fat and fiber included in the whole package, will provoke less of an insulin response and therefore less storage of visceral fat. Legumes, whole grains, nuts and vegetables are great sources of unrefined fiber and nutrition."


Cut Out the Snacking

Woman eating sugary junk food

According to Dr. Cutler, "There is really no such thing as a "healthy snack" (although some are certainly worse than others) – just about anything we eat puts some amount of sugar into our bloodstream, which causes your body to make insulin, which tells your body to store that sugar in your liver (if it has any storage space left) or in visceral fat. Any time we graze and snack, even if it's a "low calorie" option, we wake up our insulin response and start storing energy, instead of using the energy we've already stored. It's okay for our bodies to go for a while without eating, even if your brain tells you that you're hungry. If you want to get rid of the visceral fat, you first need to use up all the sugar that's currently in your blood, and then all the sugar that's stored as easily accessible glycogen in your liver. Only after those stores are empty will your body get to work on burning your visceral fat. Snacking will halt that process."

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