Having body fat is normal, and needed. Fat cushions organs, stores energy and influences the immune system. But too much, and the wrong kinds, are detrimental to your health. Visceral fat (AKA ‘active fat’) is different than regular ol’ body fat. The pinchable fat on your waist, arms or legs is stored just under the skin: subcutaneous fat. Learn about the most harmful type, visceral fat, why you don’t want it, and how to lose it. Your life depends on it!
Stored in a person’s abdominal cavity, visceral fat puts pressure on several vital organs like the pancreas, liver, and intestines. This active fat affects how hormones function in the body (1). Its release of chemicals is unfortunate due to where it sits (right next to organs). The more visceral fat on a person, the higher the risk for health problems, including: heart disease, increased LDL, breast and colon cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes (2). The balance of sex hormones, like testosterone and estrogen, affect where fat deposits, and how much visceral fat you carry. Imbalances in sex hormones can increase the amount, and thus, affects the hormone insulin; specifically, reduced insulin sensitivity (3). When insulin function becomes compromised, inflammation increases, bringing with it a whole host of new problems. Basically, the more you have, the more you gain, creating a snowball effect.
Inflammation (often stemming from diet, lack of exercise and stress) leads to excess visceral fat. Cortisol, the body’s “fight-or-flight” response, triggers the storage of this harmful fat. And who in the modern world escapes stress and daily cortisol dumps? Maybe Buddhist monks, perhaps? But most Americans experience a little stress on the regular.
We talk all about the dangers of inflammation in the 131 Method. From cancer and diabetes, to dementia and heart disease, inflammation wreaks havoc wherever it goes. Processed foods our bodies don’t recognize, stressful jobs, lack of sleep and poor gut health leave many of us inflamed and at risk.
Numbers to Know
The cheapest way to check your visceral fat is a simple waist measurement. CT Scans and MRIs are the most accurate, however, they’re sometimes cost prohibitive. Women measuring 35 inches or more may have excess visceral fat. For men, that number jumps to 40 inches or more. If you do receive an MRI or body scan, the scale runs from 1-59. Anything above 13 indicates a potential problem that needs addressing. But it must be noted: larger waist circumferences often indicate more visceral fat, however, thin people can have deceptively high levels depending on their body composition. So, just because you’re long and lean doesn’t mean you lack visceral fat. Take a long hard look at your diet and exercise habits. If they need improvement, or if you have a family history of insulin resistance, check with your doctor about tests.
A quick “fruit test” also helps. You’ve likely heard of “pear and apple shaped bodies.” These two fruit examples demonstrate where most of your fat is stored. Pears often store fat in the lower extremities (hips, thighs, buttocks) as subcutaneous fat. Apple types store fat in the upper region (stomach, chest) as visceral fat.
How to Reduce Visceral Fat
Here’s what not to do…liposuction. Not only does this procedure carry risk of infection, but it only removes subcutaneous fat. Furthermore, crazy cardio and tons of crunches aren’t the best solutions either. The keys for visceral fat loss include four basic components: an anti-inflammatory diet, the right kinds of exercise, hydration and stress management.
By diet, we don’t mean a calorie slashing plan. Nope! Your body needs anti-inflammatory foods. This simply means whole, real, unprocessed foods. Upping the vegetables and fruits, along with small portions of high-quality protein and healthy fats, serves your body far better than calorie restriction (which usually yields only temporary results). Read our article on why most diets don’t work. Most people who switch from sugar and processed carbs to natural whole foods lose several pounds of inflammation weight almost immediately. Their rings slip on and off, joints ache less and the puffiness in their faces fades away. Focus on about 9 servings per day of vegetables and fruit (aim for 6 of those being veggies).
Remember what we said about stress and cortisol? Well, exercise is a stressor. You still need it in your life, however, longer and harder workouts that beat your body down do more harm than good. You see, when people gain weight, they often think they need to exercise more. But working out in high heart rate zones, or for hours on end, stress the body and create cortisol responses counterproductive to visceral fat goals. We all need consistent exercise, but not with such intensity that the body becomes chronically stressed and inflamed.
Focus on moderate cardio exercises like swimming, walking, boxing and circuit training a few days per week, but incorporate equal, or more, weight bearing exercises. If you go to a gym, lift weights! If not, focus on body weight moves like squats, push-ups, lunges and dips. A moderate heart rate and increased muscle mass work wonders!
Another key to an anti-inflammatory lifestyle includes more water! Studies show that increasing water helps people lose weight up to 2x faster. (Except that water is kinda boring for some people.) That’s why we created a water recipe that will boost your metabolism and actually have you craving more water. Get the recipe here.
Water is involved in most bodily functions, so if you’re dehydrated, it affects you metabolism. Almost 80% of your muscle consists of water, so if you’re dehydrated, your muscles’ ability to burn calories slows down. If that wasn’t enough, when you’re dehydrated, your body’s ability to mobilize fat as a fuel source decreases!
Tired of hearing about stress and cortisol yet? Well, we’re here to drive it home one last time. We can’t stress enough (see what we did there?!) the power of peace in your life. The hormone cortisol increases fat storage, plain and simple. While challenging for many people, relaxation techniques such as meditation, better sleep, deep breathing, yoga, therapy and other stress management techniques can aid in fat reduction.
You might think you’re doing all the right things. You take HIIT classes, eat “pretty well,” and multi-task like a #girlboss. But what if true health eludes you, and it’s buried deep inside your abdomen? Stay aware of changes in your body. Measure your waist circumference. If you’re thin, but experience a lot of stress and have a family history or insulin resistance and heart disease, look into a body scan. Find new ways to work out that are less stressful to your body. And everyone can benefit from more water and vegetables!
The 131 Method: Long-Term Weight Loss
We are the 131 Method. It’s our mission to clear up the confusion around weight loss. You’re super smart so you know trendy diets and fads don’t work. Let us help you create new habits, improve your mindset, balance hormones, heal your gut and create a personalized long-term solution together.