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Top Reasons Why Most People Can't Lose Visceral Fat

Here's five reasons why it can be hard to lose visceral fat, according to experts. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Did you know a deadly fat could be living inside of you? Sounds scary, but it's true. Visceral fat is a hidden health issue that many don't know about. It's a belly fat that's deep in your abdomen and wraps around your vital organs, which can lead to serious problems like stroke, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and more. Some visceral fat is needed to help protect your organs, but too much causes health complications. 

Anyone can have visceral fat and it's caused by a few things like poor diet, not enough exercise, stress and not getting enough sleep. "How much visceral fat you can and should lose will depend on your individual situation," Dr. Hector Perez, a board-certified general and chief surgeron with Bariatric Journal tells us, "If you're overweight or obese, then even a small amount of weight loss can help reduce the amount of visceral fat in your body and improve your overall health. For those who are at a healthy weight, however, losing too much visceral fat can actually be unhealthy. This is because visceral fat helps to cushion and protect your organs. So, if you lose too much of it, you may be at greater risk for developing health problems."

Losing visceral is important in helping maintain overall health, but it can be a challenge at times.  Dev Batra, MD, Dual-Board Certified Vascular and Interventional Radiologist at Dallas Vein Institute says, "If you're struggling to lose visceral fat, don't despair. There are a number of strategies you can try, such as increasing your exercise intensity and duration, or adding more healthy fats and fiber to your diet. You may also want to talk to your doctor about medications or other treatments that may be available to help you lose visceral fat."

Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who reveal reasons why you're not losing visceral fat and share their tips on getting rid of the dangerous belly 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 and Tell When You're Losing It

Body fat analysis with electronic bioelectrical impedance scale at weight loss clinic.

Dr. Perez explains, "One way to tell if you're losing visceral fat is by measuring your waist circumference. If you're a man and you notice your waist circumference decreasing or is now less than 40 inches, this is a good sign that you're losing visceral fat. For women, a decrease in waist circumference to less than 35 inches is also an indicator of visceral fat loss. You can also calculate your BMI to see if you're losing visceral fat. 

A BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese, so if your BMI is decreasing, it could be a sign that you're losing visceral fat. And finally, you can also ask your doctor to do tests such as a CT scan or MRI to check for changes in your visceral fat. These tests can be expensive though, so they may not be an option for everyone. Usually, doctors would only recommend them if you're at risk for serious health problems because of your visceral fat."


Stop Trying to Spot-Reduce Fat


Dev Batra, MD, Dual-Board Certified Vascular and Interventional Radiologist at Dallas Vein Institute tells us, "It's difficult to target visceral fat with exercise. Visceral fat is located deep in the abdominal cavity and surrounds the organs, so it's not possible to spot and reduce it with exercise." Harvard Health states, "Studies have shown that you can help trim visceral fat or prevent its growth with both aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) and strength training (exercising with weights). Spot exercises, such as sit-ups, can tighten abdominal muscles but won't get at visceral fat. Exercise can also help keep fat from coming back."

Cleveland Clinic's psychologist and registered dietitian David Creel, PhD says, "

Patients want to know why they can't just do sit-ups to melt away the fat. When you do sit-ups, you're strengthening muscles in the abdomen, but that doesn't specifically target the fat or loose skin around our stomach. It's also important to understand that where we gain or lose fat is influenced by our genetics." Although genetics can be an obstacle, and we can't spot reduce our fat, Dr. Creel says there are still strategies we can use to trim belly fat."


Cut Out Refined Carbohydrates From Your Diet

eating carbs

Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and author of the Candida Diet shares, "Refined carbohydrates have many negative side effects for our health and visceral fat is just one of them. White and enriched breads in particular have undergone a refining process where the fiber and beneficial nutrients are removed and, possibly, replaced with synthetic versions. These refined carbs lead to quick sugar spikes and inflammation, both of which stall weight loss and damage health. It is best to use whole wheat bread or other whole grain breads that have not been refined.

A rule of thumb is to look at the ingredients list and avoid any breads that start with enriched. A diet high in protein can help to reduce and prevent visceral fat. Lean protein both boosts metabolism and increases satiety. An increased metabolism will lead to weight loss and having a feeling of fullness will prevent overeating and indulging in calorie-dense, sugar-laden foods. High-protein foods to consume to lose your visceral fat and keep it off include lean poultry, fish, nuts, eggs, low-fat cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, chia, lentils, and quinoa."


Certain Medical Conditions Can Increase the Risk of Visceral Fat


According to Dr. Perez, "Certain medical conditions can also increase your risk of carrying too much visceral fat and may make it difficult for you to lose it. For example, if you have insulin resistance, this can lead to weight gain and make it harder to lose visceral fat. Other conditions that can increase your risk of carrying too much visceral fat include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and hypothyroidism. If you have any of these conditions, it's important to talk to your doctor about the best way to manage them and achieve a healthy weight." states, "Carrying a high amount of visceral fat is known to be associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes. Researchers have found that visceral secretes a protein called retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4) which has been shown to increase resistance to insulin." And a study published in the National Library of Medicine finds, "Visceral fat is the most significant variable correlating with metabolic dysfunction in women with PCOS. Our data support the hypothesis that visceral fat either causes insulin resistance or is a very early effect of it. It also implies that reducing visceral fat should reduce insulin resistance which may account for the observations that exercise and weight loss appear to be more effective interventions than pharmacological treatments. The best anthropometric measure of insulin resistance is waist circumference."



patient speaking with doctor

"Another reason why someone might have a hard time losing visceral fat is genetics," Dr. Perez says. " Just as some people are predisposed to carrying more body fat in general, others may be more likely to store visceral fat. This is due to things like our genes and hormones, which can affect how our bodies store and use fat. So, if you have a family history of obesity or other conditions related to visceral fat, you may be more likely to have a hard time losing it."

Harvard Health states, "Fat accumulated in the lower body (the pear shape) is subcutaneous, while fat in the abdominal area (the apple shape) is largely visceral. Where fat ends up is influenced by several factors, including heredity and hormones. As the evidence against abdominal fat mounts, researchers and clinicians are trying to measure it, correlate it with health risks, and monitor changes that occur with age and overall weight gain or loss.

The fat you can pinch is subcutaneous fat. The fat inside your belly (the visceral fat) can be seen and measured, but not pinched."


Stop Stressing

woman puts hands on head, stressed, busy at work

According to a study conducted by Yale, stress can cause visceral fat and when you stress too much, you produce a hormone that's meant to protect your body from trauma, but too much can lead to excess visceral fat. "Cortisol affects fat distribution by causing fat to be stored centrally-around the organs. Cortisol exposure can increase visceral fat-the fat surrounding the organs-in animals. People with diseases associated with extreme exposure to cortisol, such as severe recurrent depression and Cushing's disease also have excessive amounts of visceral fat."

"Everyone is exposed to stress, but some people may secrete more cortisol than others, and may secrete cortisol each time they face the same stressor," Epel adds. "We predicted that reacting to the same stressors consistently by secreting cortisol would be related to greater visceral fat."

After the first exposure to stress, women with greater abdominal fat felt more threatened by the study's stressful tasks, performed more poorly on them, and secreted more cortisol. They also reported more life stress. By the third exposure to stress, the lean women with abdominal fat still consistently secreted more cortisol in response to stressful lab tasks, compared to women with peripheral fat.

Elissa S. Epel, Ph.D., lead investigator on the study says, "It is possible that greater exposure to stressful conditions or psychological vulnerability to stress has led them to overreact to stressors in their daily lives, so they have had greater lifetime exposure to cortisol..Cortisol, in turn may have caused them to accumulate abdominal fat. Genetics, however, also play a role in shaping reactivity to stress, as well as body shape."

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