People trying to lose weight may feel like all fats are the same. But there are two different types of fat: visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat is the wavy fat visible just under the skin. Subcutaneous fat is normally harmless and may even protect against certain diseases. Visceral fat is the fat that surrounds the organs. Although it is not visible from the outside, it is associated with many diseases.
It is possible to lose both subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. While losing subcutaneous fat may be the goal for people who want to fit into smaller clothes, losing visceral fat improves health.
Two notions about subcutaneous fat to keep in mind:
If fat is visible or can be pinched, it is subcutaneous fat.
Subcutaneous fat is not necessarily a health risk factor.
What are its causes and is it difficult to lose?
Subcutaneous fat is found under the skin, as opposed to visceral fat which surrounds the organs. Everyone has some subcutaneous fat, but lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise, as well as genetics, affect how much subcutaneous fat each person develops. People are more likely to accumulate visceral and subcutaneous fat when:
They are sedentary, or spend a lot of time sitting.
They do little or no aerobic exercise.
They have low muscle mass.
They eat more calories than they burn.
They are insulin resistant or have diabetes.
Research increasingly suggests that subcutaneous fat may play a protective role, especially in obese people with a lot of visceral fat. However, subcutaneous fat can be a sign of visceral fat. People with a lot of subcutaneous fat often also have a lot of visceral fat.
Both of these types of fat can be difficult to lose. Here are some factors that make fat hard to lose:
Insulin resistance: Visceral fat is correlated with insulin resistance, which can make it difficult to lose visceral and subcutaneous fat.
Weight Loss Strategies: People with a lot of subcutaneous fat often make the mistake of trying to reduce fat on a one-off basis, such as doing a lot of abdominal exercises.
This strategy is less effective than burning fat throughout the body.
Inflammation: Some research suggests that visceral fat releases cytokines that increase inflammation. This inflammatory response is linked to weight gain and can increase subcutaneous fat.
Burning visceral fat can also burn subcutaneous fat. For optimal health, it’s a good idea to target visceral fat.
Strategies to eliminate subcutaneous fat
Recognizing the interaction between visceral fat and subcutaneous fat is key to eliminating subcutaneous fat. Fitness strategies that burn fat in general, as well as those that neutralize the negative effects of visceral fat, can maximize success.
The role of diet in losing subcutaneous fat
To lose weight, people must eat fewer calories than they burn. However, the specific foods eaten are important. Protein, for example, helps people feel full longer. Eating more protein makes it easier to diet and reduces cravings for foods high in fat and sugar.
Carbohydrates and sugar are linked to diabetes, visceral fat and metabolic problems. Some research suggests that excessive carbohydrate consumption can cause abdominal fat, both visceral and subcutaneous. Replacing some carbs with higher protein options can boost metabolism, reduce fat storage, and prevent metabolic issues.
Exercises to burn subcutaneous fat
Subcutaneous fat is the body’s way of storing energy. This means that to burn subcutaneous fat, you have to burn energy in the form of calories. Exercise routines that are most effective for doing this include:
Aerobic exercises and cardio: This group includes most fitness exercises that increase heart rate, such as running, swimming, and jumping rope. The more intense the routine and the longer it is, the more calories it burns.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): HIIT is a way to increase the fat burning power of aerobic exercise. These are short periods of activity followed by periods of less activity. For example, a HIIT routine might include running for one minute, followed by a two-minute walk, then another two minutes of running or another strenuous exercise, such as jump rope.
Strength training: Strength-based exercises, such as weight lifting, burn little or no fat. However, muscle burns calories, so strength training is a strategy to boost metabolism. People with more muscle burn more calories, even when they don’t exercise.
Other Lifestyle Strategies to Fight Subcutaneous Fat
Mental health is important for people trying to lose weight. Chronic stress causes the body to continuously release a hormone called cortisol. In small fleeting bursts, cortisol is harmless. But prolonged exposure to cortisol can compromise weight loss. This means that stress management can help lose subcutaneous fat. Cortisol is especially detrimental to weight loss in people on a high-sugar diet. People experiencing episodes of stress should also avoid eating under stress, including eating lots of sweets and carbohydrates.
Subcutaneous fat and health
A diet and exercise strategy that focuses solely on losing subcutaneous fat can be unhealthy.
A sedentary lifestyle and lack of regular exercise are potential causes of subcutaneous fat accumulation. Although fears about the health effects of obesity have led many people to look at what they see in the mirror, the real culprit of the obesity epidemic may be invisible. A 2015 study found that people with a lot of visceral fat, or that which is not externally visible, were more likely to die when they had less subcutaneous fat. This means that people who have less visible fat are, at least in some cases, at greater risk of death. Other studies have come to similar conclusions. These data suggest that subcutaneous fat may protect the health of people who have a lot of visceral fat.