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Signs You Have "Too Much Visceral Fat" and Don't Know It

Expert explains what causes visceral fat and three ways to tell you have it.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Visceral fat is a dangerous hidden health issue not talked about enough. Unlike jiggly subcutaneous fat that you can see and touch, visceral fat is located deep in your abdomen and it coils around your vital organs. It's been linked to major health issues like stroke, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and more. Most people don't realize they have visceral fat, but Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tells Eat This, Not That! Health how to tell you have it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Why Visceral Fat is so Dangerous

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Ehsani says, "Visceral fat is a body fat stored within your abdominal cavity that wraps around your internal organs. It is not the same as the stomach fat you may see, visceral fat is actually not visible to the naked eye. However, visceral fat can negatively impact your overall health by increasing your risk for developing certain conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers." 

2

Having a High Waist to Hip Ratio

Ehsani shares, "You can't measure your visceral fat, but you can measure your waist to hip ratio using a measuring tape at home to see if you have a high percentage of visceral fat. In females, if you have a waist to hip ratio at or above .85, you are at higher risk for having visceral fat, and for males if you have a waist to hip ratio at or above .90, you are at higher risk for having visceral fat. Having a high waist to hip ratio also puts you at higher risk for developing chronic conditions or even having a stroke." 

3

You Have a High Waist Circumference

Woman measuring waistline
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"Another measurement you can do is just check your waist circumference, " says Ehsani. For women, if you have a waist circumference of 35 or higher, and for men it's 40 inches or higher. If you hit this measurement as well is a sign you likely have visceral fat." 

 

4

You've Gained Weight

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Ehsani says, "Maybe the first thing you notice is that your pants don't fit and you need to purchase a bigger pair. Going up in pants sizes doesn't directly indicate you've gained visceral fat maybe some people maybe need to gain weight to be at a healthier weight such as a person with a eating disorder or a person under a healthy weight, but if you are already at a high BMI, it may indicate higher visceral fat has slowly creeped up!"

5

How to Tell You're Losing Visceral Fat

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"You could keep track of your measurements!," Ehsani states. "For example, if you decide to measure your waist-to-hip ratio, or waist circumference, keep a log of what these measurements were so you can track it. You could track these measurements once a week or even just once a month. This would be the easiest way to know when you are losing visceral fat. If you choose to not measure yourself but just go by how your clothes feel you could also keep track of that on a notes app on your phone or in your calendar to track as well." 

6

What Causes Visceral Fat?

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According to Ehsani, "Visceral fat could be caused by lack of exercise, overeating, or a combination of both. Also drinking alcohol can contribute to visceral fat, especially in men according to research. Also getting older, as we age we tend to lose muscle mass, and gain more fat mass, therefore an increase in visceral fat can accompany it. Therefore eating a healthy diet is important for our entire lifespan. Most people tend to know what they should be eating to eat healthy, but have trouble implementing it. Therefore working one on one with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, can help people kick start their way towards starting to eat healthier and make it a lifestyle change. It's also important to stay active your entire life as well. Find an exercise you enjoy doing, that doesn't feel like work, can really help you stay active. Stress that is not well managed can also cause a build up of visceral fat. When a person gets stressed, their stress hormone cortisol gets activated, when activated, it can cause people to overeat, and actually causes people to store visceral fat. So it's important to not only eat healthy and exercise, but also work on reducing and managing your stress levels too. Finally, researchers have found that lack of sleep can also cause people to develop more visceral fat overtime. Typically when we don't sleep enough, it can cause us to overeat, and reach for more caffeinated and sugary drinks and foods, in an effort to stay awake. If you constantly are not sleeping enough, you may quickly see a build up of this unwanted visceral fat!" And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of 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
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