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How to Reverse Visceral Fat, Say Experts

Here's everything to know about visceral fat, according to Jillian Michaels.

Ever notice how the last place we tend to lose fat is in the belly? Abdominal fat oftentimes seems impossible to lose and chances are it's because it's visceral fat—"a type of body fat that's stored within the abdominal cavity between your vital organs: liver, intestines, pancreas, etc," says Jillian Michaels—creator of The Fitness App by Jillian Michaels. While it can be challenging to lose, there are ways to help reverse visceral fat and get rid of the stubborn excess weight. Eat This, Not That! Health talked to Michaels, a personal trainer, nutritionist, life coach and former Biggest Loser fitness instructor, who explained everything to know about visceral fat. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


How to Measure Visceral Fat

measuring belly

In order to know how much visceral fat to lose, you should know how much you have first. Michaels explains how to measure.  "Outside of an MRI or CT scan the best way to know if you have visceral fat is the waist to hip ratio calculation. You simply 

  • Stand up straight and exhale then using a tape measure check the distance around the smallest part of your waist (generally just above the belly button). This is your waist circumference.
  • Then measure the distance around the largest part of your hips (generally the widest part of your booty). This is your hip circumference.
  • Now, calculate your waist-to-hip ratio by dividing your waist circumference by your hip circumference and that is your waist to hip ratio. 

In women, a waist circumference of 35 inches or larger is generally considered a sign of excess visceral fat. In men, it's 40."


Why Visceral Fat is Hard to Lose

overweight woman at home lying on the floor, laptop in front of her, prepared to work out on mat according to video

Visceral fat can be difficult to lose. Michaels says, "There are several reasons why visceral fat is difficult to lose, but they all tie back to hormone imbalances. Visceral fat gets stored – like all fat – because we are eating too much and moving too little. However, the body first aims to store the fat subcutaneously (just under the skin). When we take on too much excess body fat it then gets stored viscerally. The habits that created this excess fat in the first place have hormonal consequences that then beget a bit of a catch 22.

For example, visceral fat is linked to insulin resistance from too much sugar and not enough fitness, elevated cortisol levels from too much stress, and the secretion of excess inflammatory proteins called cytokines. When it comes to metabolism (the rate we burn calories, when, how and where we store fat) are directly connected to our hormone balance. Once insulin resistance begins and cortisol levels surge it makes it that much harder to get our metabolism out of fat storage mode and into fat burning mode. Plus, the habits/lifestyle that got us into this position in the first place are often the hardest to break. From desk jobs and sugar addiction to long work days and age-related hormonal shifts it can seem like an uphill battle."

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How to Lose Visceral Fat

woman preparing vegetable salad in modern kitchen

You can absolutely lose visceral fat with diet and lifestyle changes. Michaels says, "there is a lot we can do. Let's sensitize your body to insulin again by cutting out processed carbs and refined sugars, so nothing white. No white flour and no white sugar. So avoid eating processed salty or sweet snacks. Choose whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes instead."

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Stop Eating Salt

Adding salt. Backlight to salt from salt shaker.

Michaels states, "Drink your water and keep sodium intake at bay. Try to avoid over 2000mg a day unless you sweat a ton and are very athletic – and generally people with excess visceral fat aren't engaging in intense fitness training. Studies have linked excess sodium intake with increased insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and glucocorticoid production. An easy way to do this is to choose reduced sodium products, up your water intake, and don't salt your food."

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Jillian Michaels

Michaels stresses how important it is to stay active. "Start moving your body. Exercise is the best way to get the body sensitized to insulin and reverse type two diabetes. If you have the ability, techniques like HIIT training and Strength training are the most effective for this. The Fitness App has many programs for this including HIIT workouts for beginners so you can be effective and safe."

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woman smiling while sleeping in her bed at home

Michaels says, "Get your 8 hours of shuteye. Lack of sleep increases our hunger hormones and dampens our satiety hormones making us feel the need to eat more. In addition, it inhibits our HGH production, which is a key hormone for muscle maintenance and fat metabolism. Lack of sleep is also associated with higher cortisol levels which is a hormone notorious for belly fat storage. So make sure to shut off the screens and get 7 to 8 hours of shut eye every night."

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Taking a break from life's daily stresses isn't just good for us mentally, but physically as well. Michaels reveals: "Take your vacations, manage your stress levels, try meditating – anything that helps you manage stress. Cortisol is our fight or flight hormone and when we are constantly stressed it's constantly surging so work to find your chill!" 


Add More Vitamin C Into Your Diet

Fit smiling young woman preparing healthy fruit juice

Michaels says, "Up your vitamin C intake! Early studies have shown that vitamin C can help reduce our cortisol secretion. So consider a supplement or just eat your citrus!"

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Decrease Your Calorie Intake

Woman exercise walking outdoors, shoes closeup

"Last, we want to do what is going to help us reduce body fat overall and that is eating less calories and moving more often," Michaels explains. "Fat is stored energy and the calories in our food are units of energy. No matter how "healthy" a food is you can still eat too much of it. Take an organic avocado for example – it's loaded with vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats with likely zero chemical residue from pesticides, fungicides, herbicides etc. But it's very high in calories. If you eat too many calories than your body is burning in a day you will store that energy in your fat cells. So be mindful of your overall calorie intake. Cut the booze. Booze dampens fat metabolism by up to 73%. And as I mentioned repeatedly… EXERCISE – it burns calories and helps to bring our hormones back into balance." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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