The ’gram likes to put a premium on the “right” kind of jiggly bits. But we know healthy bodies come in varying shapes and sizes. So, what about types of fat? Believe it or not, the science goes deeper than the superficial layers. We’re talking about visceral fat.
What is visceral fat?
It’s the often-invisible kind of fat that builds up between your muscles and vital organs. It can even coat the inside of your arteries or intestines.
Doctors call it “active fat” or “transabdominal fat” because it’s the queen of activating a mess of health problems and it often takes up residence in your abdominal organs.
That’s a tricky question. You can’t see most visceral fat on the outside. Even belly fat isn’t always visceral.
Most visible fat collects just beneath your skin and is called subcutaneous fat. If you can pinch it, it’s subcutaneous. You can find it all over your body, from your abs to your arms and legs.
The only foolproof visceral fat measurement methods are MRIs and CT scans, which are pricey AF. If you do get a scan and your visceral fat levels are high, your doc will probably recommend changing your diet ASAP.
Since MRIs aren’t cheap, you could start by guesstimating your visceral fat level. It accounts for roughly 10 percent of your overall body fat. Of course, this means you need to know your total body fat percentage, which takes a measuring tape and a body fat calculator.
What your waist is telling you
There’s no magic formula to figure out visceral fat levels, but your waist offers a clue.
For women, a waist circumference bigger than 35 inches is thought to be a high risk for visceral fat. For men, the tipping point is a 40-inch waist or bigger.
Don’t take that too seriously, though. Some health conditions and muscle #gainz can impact the effectiveness of these measurements. Your doctor can help you gauge the accuracy of these calculations as they relate to the unique traits that make you you.
What your BMI has to say
Your body mass index (BMI) is one of the most common “healthy living” tools out there, but it’s not super accurate because it’s based on height and weight alone. It doesn’t differentiate between a pound of muscle and a pound of fat.
You can use the CDC’s BMI calculator to get a rough idea of whether you might have obesity — a clinical indication of visceral fat. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered “normal” (take that with a grain of salt!), while scores above 30 are considered “obese.”
Eye-roll, please — the CDC uses the same formula to calculate BMI in men and women. It’s important to note that men and women with the same BMI might not have the same body composition, since women tend to have more body fat than men.
If you’re worried about your visceral fat level, talk to your doctor about the best ways to calculate your percentage. The most accurate options — MRI and CT scan — tend to be on the expensive side.
Regardless of your shape and size, visceral fat is no bueno. Research suggests it can cause or accelerate these health problems:
- heart disease (especially for the ladies)
- insulin resistance
- breast cancer
- neurological diseases (like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia)
Choosing to lose visceral fat isn’t about self-image or being body-positive. It’s a matter of improving your health.
Visceral fat is scary stuff, but there are ways to be proactive.
Stress tempts you to smash unhealthy amounts of chocolate and booze. It also triggers your body’s fight-or-flight response, releasing a hormone called cortisol. A 2018 review of studies suggested that long-term high levels of cortisol lead to increases in belly fat.
Instead, hakuna matata through the day to keep the visceral fat away.
Move it, move it
Exercise is the oldest trick in the fat loss book. Try a mix of cardio and strength training to boost your heart health and get rid of visceral fat at the same time.
Try intermittent fasting
Research suggests intermittent fasting could significantly reduce visceral fat. It sounds scary, but it’s really just a block schedule of fasting and eating cycles. Here’s how to find a safe method that works with your lifestyle.
Go under the knife
Some visceral fat can be removed with a tummy tuck, but this probably shouldn’t be your first course of action. Getting abdominal surgery is a serious decision and requires recovery time in the hospital. Talk to your doctor if you think a nip/tuck is your best fat-busting option.
What about lipo?
Liposuction, aka body contouring, works by suctioning out subcutaneous fat. It smooths out cellulite and rids the body of lingering surface jiggle, but it can’t touch deep visceral fat.
Switch up your diet
Eating sugar has been linked to higher body fat percentages. So be mindful when noshing on sweet snacks if you want to reduce excess fat of all kinds.
Fill up on these nutritious foods as much as possible:
- lean proteins (think fish, poultry, and nuts)
- a variety of fruits and vegetables
- complex, nutrient-rich carbs like whole grains, beans, and sweet potatoes
- olive oil instead of peanut or vegetable oil
Visceral fat isn’t the only kind — it’s just, ya know, the worst. Some types of fat are even necessary for good health.
Here’s a crash course:
- Subcutaneous fat accumulates just below your skin’s surface. It acts as a protective layer when you bump into something or find yourself out in the cold without a coat.
- White fat is the standard, run-of-the-mill fat you learned about in school. It builds up from excess calories and can cause weight gain over time.
- Brown fat is packed with iron. Tiny pockets of brown fat in your shoulders and neck actually help your body burn more calories (weird, right?).
- Beige fat is kinda the new kid on the block. Scientists recently identified it as white fat that’s turning brown, which could be a low-key game-changer in the weight loss world.
- Essential fat is the fat your body needs so your brain, nerves, and other body systems can work properly. According to the American Council on Exercise, essential fat should account for 10 to 13 percent of total body fat in women and 2 to 5 percent in men.
You need some fat to stay healthy, but visceral fat is a no-go. The bad news is that it’s tough to measure. The good news: It’s totally preventable. Keep up a healthy, active lifestyle to help keep visceral fat away.