Losing weight can already be super difficult. Genes, exercise, diet, sleep and stress all affect weight loss. Scientists are discovering that the age at which you gain weight can also play a major factor in ease of weight loss. Visceral fat can be much harder to lose than anticipated.
What are the Two Types of Body Fats?
Subcutaneous fat is visible to the human eye. 90% of fat cells are stored close to the skin’s surface making them easily detectable. Subcutaneous fat cells develop due to lifestyle factors such as being sedentary, not exercising regularly or having diabetes.
Everyone has some subcutaneous fat and it can play a protective role in alerting you to make healthier choices. Having a lot of subcutaneous fat often indicates higher levels of visceral fat.
Visceral fat isn’t visible to the human eye. 10% of fat cells are stored deep inside the body, close to vital organs including the liver, stomach, and intestines. It can also build up in the arteries. Visceral fat cells are developed at birth and can also form during childhood. The fat cells remain constant throughout adulthood. The only way to detect visceral fat is with a CT or MRI scan. Visceral fat is sometimes referred to as “active fat” because it can actively increase the risk of serious health problems.
Harvard Health reports, “Subcutaneous fat produces a higher proportion of beneficial molecules, and visceral fat a higher proportion of molecules with potentially deleterious health effects. Visceral fat makes more of the proteins called cytokines, which can trigger low-level inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease and other chronic conditions. It also produces a precursor to angiotensin, a protein that causes blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise.
Excess Visceral Fat Can Increase Health Risks
Many men and women are motivated to lose weight because they want to physically look more toned and attractive. However, measuring weight loss solely on lost pounds, calories burned, or physical appearance doesn’t necessarily correlate to decreased health risks.
Because visceral fat isn’t detectable to the human eye, it actually poses a higher potential threat. Some men and women may appear to look thin and toned on the outside, but have more than 10% visceral fat on the inside. This makes this fat a silent, deadly killer. Undetected, excess visceral fat can lead to life-threatening illnesses including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
Visceral Fat Cells Remain Constant
To add to the complexity, researchers have been discovering that keeping visceral fat cells from returning after weight loss is far more difficult than anticipated. A 2008 Nature Journal study reported that gaining fat cells at a young age can lead to the body constantly replenishing those fat cells throughout adulthood. Kirsty Spalding of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden led the research study.
“Spalding and her team took biopsies of belly fat from 687 people, both lean and obese, and recorded the number and size of fat cells, as well as the subjects’ age, sex and body mass index. Combined with previous similar data from children, they showed that the average number of fat cells rises until the age of about 20, and then remains relatively constant, and is closely linked with body mass index.
So although obesity tends to run in families, avoiding getting fat at a young age will help to establish a healthy number of fat cells for life. The best take-home message is for people with kids to ensure they have a healthy lifestyle,’ Spalding says.”
Spalding’s research revealed that the appearance of weight loss may not actually improve overall health. Visceral fat cells are not destroyed. They simply only appear to lose volume.
How To Measure Visceral Fat
The best way to determine if you have visceral fat (without an MRI) is to do a gut check. Harvard Health reports:
“A tape measure is your best home option for keeping tabs on visceral fat. Measure your waistline at the level of the navel — not at the narrowest part of the torso — and always measure in the same place. Don’t suck in your gut or pull the tape tight enough to compress the area.
In women, a waist circumference of 35 inches or larger is generally considered a sign of excess visceral fat, but that may not apply if your overall body size is large. Rather than focus on a single reading or absolute cut-off, keep an eye on whether your waist is growing (are your pants getting snug at the waist?). That should give you a good idea of whether you’re gaining unhealthy visceral fat.”
How To Lose Visceral Fat Volume
If you have more than 10% visceral fat, try these tips to reduce fat cell volume. (Remember, you won’t be able to burn visceral fats cells the same way you do with subcutaneous fat.) While you may not see physical results, you may experience increased vitality and overall feeling of increased energy.
Exercise for at least 30 minutes daily. Aim for a balance of both cardio exercise and strength training. Cardio includes aerobic exercise, like circuit training, biking, or running.
Calm Your Mind
The stress hormone cortisol can actually increase how much visceral fat your body stores, so reducing the stress in your life will make it easier to decrease cell volume. Practice meditation, deep breathing, and stress management tactics. Also try using creativity to reduce anxiety.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Avoid processed, high-sugar and high-fat foods. Enjoy more lean proteins such as chicken and fish, vegetables, and more complex carbs like sweet potatoes, beans, and lentils. Try the Rainbow Diet or a pH-Balanced diet.
Also use low-fat cooking methods, such as broiling, boiling, or baking, instead of frying. When you cook with oils, choose healthier options like olive oil instead of butter or peanut oil.
Visceral fat isn’t visible, so we don’t always know it’s there. It can be a deadly killer. The number of visceral fat cells remains constant throughout adulthood. Fortunately, maintaining a healthy, active, low-stress lifestyle can prevent this fat from increasing in volume and building up in excess.
The best way to lose visceral fat is to prevent gaining it. If you have children, try to teach them the importance of healthy diet, exercise and mindfulness.
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