How to Measure and Lose Visceral Fat

Visceral fat is a specific type of fat that is found on the stomach, and goes by many other names ‘your beer belly’, ‘spare tyre’ or ‘muffin top’. Whatever you call it though, it is one of the biggest banes for those trying to lose weight and is often the area where people most want to shift some weight.

Visceral fat is also different in that it remains the same shape and won’t fall to your sides or sink into your stomach when you are lying down. High visceral fat is dangerous and is correlated with cholesterol, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other conditions. This is because visceral fat is the fat that is located inside the abdominal cavity – packed between organs – rather than underneath the skin (subcutaneous fat) and this fat will release acids that are metabolized by the liver and which can cause insulin resistance in the liver. Here we will look at how to measure visceral fat and then how to get rid of it.

Measuring Visceral Fat

There are many different ways to measure visceral measurements of fat and these include things you can try at home as well as procedures the doctor can carry out. For instance CT scans. You can also bioelectrical impedance machines which use an electrical current that can differentiate between fat tissues. This is the most accurate method of measuring visceral fat for the general public, but can cost around $200 to $300.

Another method you can use to measure your own fat is to take a circumference measurement of the waist and hip which will give you your waist to hip measurements. This is an easy but not entirely accurate way to measure your visceral fat. Simply measure the circumference of each with a tape measure (around the largest point) and then divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement. If the number is worse than 1.0 for men, or 0.85 for women then they are considered excessive. For instance for a man a ratio of 36/40 is good.

This won’t all be visceral fat though – some of that will be subcutaneous fat that is underneath the skin (though you likely want to be rid of this too). To see how much of that fat is visceral, now measure your stomach once when standing up and once when lying down. The subcutaneous fat will fall to the sides of your body and disappear, but the visceral fat will remain where it is – this then tells you how much of that fat is visceral.

To be honest you don’t need to spend lots on a CT scan or bioelectrical impedance machine because you don’t need to know the exact amount of visceral fat there. Use the technique above to ascertain whether you have a problem or not, and then go about reducing that fat.

Losing Visceral Fat With Cardiovascular Exercise

So now you know you have visceral fat what can you do about it? Well the bad news is that unfortunately it is impossible to target fat loss. Your body will store fat in a random order that is dictated by your genetics. Visceral fat is just like any other fat except that rather than storing the fat on your arms, your body has this time opted to place the fat in your abdominal cavity.

If you then begin to burn and lose fat, this will of course reduce the amount of fat in your body, but the order that your system goes about looking for that fat will be based on the same genetic pattern. It will take the fat from your body in the reverse order that it put it there.

So there’s no point doing hundreds of sit ups – this won’t burn much fat (because you won’t be able to do them for long enough or vigorously enough) and it won’t mean that the fat is burned from your stomach – bicep curls are just as likely to burn fat from your abdomen.

Instead then you need to burn as much fat as possible with high intensity cardiovascular exercise and continue doing so until it eventually burns the fat stored in the abdominal cavity. Cardiovascular exercise is any exercise where the body uses up the energy in the muscles and then needs to plunder the fat stores around the body for more. This means you need to exercise continuously and anything like running will work. The heart rate and breathing increases as a means to transport oxygen to the fat stores where it can be used to break it down.

Tip: If you want to increase the intensity of your cardiovascular workouts then you should try using ‘interval training’ which involves running, jogging and walking for short bursts. This increases the cardiovascular activity and increases your production of growth hormone thereby burning more fat and improving your metabolism.

Losing Visceral Fat Through Resistance Training

Resistance training involves things like weight lifting – moving against weight in order to increase the work load for your muscles. While this won’t cause you to burn much fat it can help in multiple ways…

First of all, bodybuilding will help to make your body more anabolic. Something like a squat or a bench press will flood your system with more aforementioned growth hormone, but at the same time simply having more muscle mass will mean that you lose more weight because your body needs to burn fat in order to produce the energy it needs to maintain the muscle mass.

Furthermore, while sit ups and crunches won’t encourage you to burn fat from your stomach, it will tone up your abdominal muscles which will give you more definition and help to hold any stomach fat in. This then means you’ll look firmer and more toned even before you’ve burned all of the fat. Ever seen a fat bodybuilder? Thought not.

Losing Visceral Fat Through Dieting

In order for this fat to stay off though you also need to combine your efforts with the right diet. This is quite simple and means basically consuming fewer calories than you are going to burn off in a day (you also need to take on board your basal metabolic rate which is the amount of calories that your body burns simply in order to keep you upright and breathing). If you do this then you will gradually reduce the amount of fat in your body rather than simply replacing it after your workouts.

The foods that are highest in calories are generally fats and carbohydrates (simple carbs) and so by limiting these you can improve your caloric intake. Consuming protein and fiber meanwhile is good – particularly protein which will be used to repair the muscle damage caused by all the exercise. However don’t be tempted by the allure of any of these ‘fad’ diets which recommend completely cutting out carbs (Atkins I’m looking at you!) or other food stuffs, as this will leave you with no energy and will cause you to gain more weight rapidly afterward when your diet returns to normal.

So eat less of everything, and eat a lower ratio of carbs to proteins – but at the same time make sure you do get a balanced and nutritious diet. It’s all common sense and you know how to eat healthily really – it’s just a matter of doing it!

Comments 50
  1. Common sense and I did not perceive any commercial interest. Good start to understanding how to lose my belly fat.

  2. Bodybuilders DO get fat when they are bulking up off season.

    They don't get that lean look until around competition time, after they've spent some time doing cardio and dieting.

  3. Well said! I have been doing a mixture of #cardio with random pulls of intense running, also combining slow and heaving lifting. My results every time: I am sweating for a whole 1 hour and 40 minutes!

    P.S. I have a 190 gram Protein intake with a 60 gram of Carb ratio. Before my #workouts started, I weighed 170 lbs, and 5 months later: 156 lbs. body fat has gone down to 15% according to the measurements.

    I feel and see the stubborn fat running away!!!

    Keep up the hard work people!!

  4. I have a gut feeling that the solution to losing visceral fat lies in understanding the actions of certain gut bacteria. Until we do, diet and exercise are just guesswork!

  5. The article was very informative and was written in a manner that kept it simple and interesting.

  6. No commercial information, in fact even saying you don't need expensive measurements. Seems informative. Thank you.

  7. Dieting properly is not simple! Eating more protein is not the way to lose weight and be more healthy… 85% or more of your daily calories should be whole plant-based foods. Eat greens, beans, mushrooms, onions and nuts/seeds every day. Do not overeat but fill yourself with vegetables and fruits.

  8. Dieting properly is pretty simple! Eating more protein and fat is the way to lose weight and be healthier… 90% of your daily calories should be organic meats and fats. Eat saturated fats, low amounts of omega-6 PUFA, eggs, leafy greens and nuts/seeds every day. You won’t feel a need to overeat this way because it is the way you are biochemically designed to eat.

  9. The difference in waist measurement lying down compared to standing would be subcutaneous fat (if there’s a negative difference).

    If there was no difference you'd very lean.

  10. Interesting, well written and full of common sense, without trying to sell anything – how refreshing!

  11. Thank you very much for a very informative, intelligent and easily understandable article on a very important but little mentioned topic that we all need to be aware of.

    Kind regards,

    Pat Gilchrsit

  12. I think you haven't read Atkins if you are making the statement "completely cutting out carbs." He NEVER advocated cutting out all carbs. That is why it's called a LOW carb diet. Most of the carbs he was talking about had to do with the overconsumption of sugar. He has one of the easiest to understand explanations of what happens in the body to the sugar and other carbs one consumes. Otherwise there is a lot of good information in your article.

  13. So the gist of this article is, you cannot lose visceral fat any more than you can lose any other kinds of fat.

    All the methods of weight loss mentioned here, target no particular fat deposited location.

    A lot of reading to come to that conclusion here.

  14. This statement in your article is incorrect: "The foods that are highest in calories are generally fats and carbohydrates (simple carbs) and so by limiting these you can improve your caloric intake." While it is true that fat has more calories than protein and carbohydrates, protein and carbohydrates are equal in value. Remember the 4-9-4 theory, or in keeping with this comment, fat=9 calories per gram, and both protein and carbohydrates are 4 calories each per gram. As far as the amount of calories you take into your body each day, protein is no better than carbohydrates; it is true that protein is need to build muscles, but without the proper level of sugars or carbohydrates in your body you will quickly become unhealthy, and may even die from a rapid loss of blood-sugar levels. The human body needs a fine balance of all three to survive. Stating anything other than this is very dangerous to a person's health. Reduction of calories overall is important in weight loss overall, but the three values should remain in balance, and ALL reduced at the same time.

  15. About measuring my own hips and waist and dividing the waist by the hip measurement, you say, "If the number is worse than 1.0 for men…" What's "worse"? Higher than 1? Lower than 1?

  16. Just be careful when he talks about diet. You definitely DO NOT want to lower your calories if you want to lose weight/fat, because your body will need those calories to prevent from going into starvation mode especially when you're working out and rebuilding muscles. You should be eating a paleo diet (no matter what, even if you're not trying to lose weight/build muscle) which means over 50% of your calories should be good fats like grass-fed butter, avocados, and coconut oil. These are amazing for your body and heart, and fats are packed with calories so just by eating a little you are covering how much you need in most cases. Your mitochondria prefers fats as their fuel source, and do worst with carbs. That does not mean carbs are bad and you should avoid them, but in general, 50% of your calories should be fats, the majority of your plate should be good vegetables, with good carbs like sweet potatoes and rice added on, and palm sized amount of meat protein. Eat all high quality foods, no processed crap and avoid all industrialized oils and non-grass-fed butter, as THESE are terrible for you and cause heart disease because they're loaded in omega 6s which are bad. You want omega 3s, found in grass-fed butter and the other stuff I mentioned. Wild caught salmon, not farm raised/Atlantic salmon. Organic only, grass-fed only, free range only, no antibiotics or hormones or GMOs or crap like that. These are very important. Avoid all gluten, grains and wheat. Be careful with dairy, probably better to avoid it too. Butter is only 1% dairy so it's fine.

  17. Very refreshingly written. Pretty accurate with just the information needed for a layman. And absolutely no selling. Have cross checked with a biometrical impedance machine and result was very close. Good Job!

  18. What a great article! Just confirmed all that I have experienced. I have lost 53 lbs by doing mainly cardio exercises with a regular mix of weight training. Add to that a low calorie/low fat diet and the good results were inevitable. I have been doing this since November 2015.

    Thanks for this excellent article which I will be using to encourage others to do the same.

  19. The amount of fat expended is proportional to basal metabolic rate, mass of the body includes water, muscles and exoskeleton.

    There will be a point where the body tries to fight the loss of fat and try to maintain it while doing exercise/workouts and diet or over the course of the day. The trick, should really be the ratio of fat that can/should be lost and be maintained. Over the course of time the amount of fat (attempted fat loss/ weight) can then be achieved. Burning too much fat quick also causes food cravings, which is an side-effect.

  20. So this article and thousands like it are saying that you can target fat loss to a particular area. Is there any scientific evidence to this effect? I’d always understood that it’s impossible to spot reduce fat. You lose it in precisely the opposite order that you gain it. The very first place I put it on is the moobs. And when I lose it, they’re what go last.

  21. Fascinating article. I was just watching a very interesting TV show last night where the risk of diabetes is associated with visceral fat. I’m lucky to be quite lean I eat well but more importantly I exercise a lot. At least an hour every day. This is the most important factor by far. If I didn’t work out the way I do, I would be quite a lot heavier. Sugar is a killer. It should be regulated as a poison.

  22. Not to directly disagree with anything the author stated, but to add onto his proposition that cardio is more effective in burning fat than resistance training…

    First, I strongly support ACSM’s stand of a work out regiment that includes both cardio and resistance training for far more benefits than solely fat loss. That said, during the cardiovascular exercise session itself, it is true that the body will burn more calories (and in turn, fat) than during a resistance training session. However, after said cardiovascular session, the energy consumption (fat burn) for the most part recedes back to normal metabolic levels. On the other hand, after resistance training, the body requires a longer time frame and resources (oxygen) to return to resting metabolic levels. This post exercise activity is known as “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC). During this time, calories/fat continue to ‘burn’ as the body utilizes these calories essentially to recover. Therefore, resistance training provides one with an increased metabolic rate hours after exercise (up to 48 depending on resistance training volume and intensity). Does this mean you can do arm curls and lose belly fat? Of course not. But, this does bring me to a point the author made that I will have to disagree with – it is absolutely possible to target fat loss. Why do a lot of body builders have a big gut?…lets scratch that question because real ‘body builders’ and the guys being referred to as body builders are very different I believe. Body builders do tend to give their core as much attention as any other part of their body – they are paid to compete in competitions which they wear nothing but a speedo. ‘Body builders’ as being referenced in this article and through the comments, are the guys we see in gyms throwing up massive amounts of weight and/or world’s strongest man competitors. The hulks you see in the gym probably do not donate much time if at all to their core outside of the secondary core benefits gained by performing literally all compound lifts, strong man athletes train similarly though to a higher degree. Ironically, their cores are VERY strong (I don’t care how strong your legs are if you try to squat 500+lbs with a weak core you will injure yourself), however, without emphasis given specifically to their core in addition to their high caloric intake, and yes, lack of cardio, they have a lot of fat in their midsection in addition to the muscle. I was one of these guys, and ultimately, their goal is simply to get bigger and stronger, they do not care about their gut…however as I found out, they should for health reasons (in my case blood pressure). Sorry about that tangent, getting back to topic, these guys simply do not work out their core (at least their full core – abdominals, obliques, lower back, etc.) nearly as much as their ‘money maker muscles’ if at all. So on the author’s statement of sit ups essentially being useless, that is not entirely true. If sit ups are performed 3 days/ week, 5 sets of 30, you will in fact burn belly fat…at least in the upper, mid, and lower abdominals – the muscles targeted by traditional sit ups – fat on the sides (that muffin top) and lower back will essentially stay the same. But sit ups are really boring – especially if that is hypothetically the ONLY exercise one is doing. Which is why no educated health or fitness professional would prescribe a workout program of just sit ups. There are numerous core focused exercises that target each core muscle group, which when utilized in a program together will indeed result in a loss of body fat.

    Coming full circle, even a program that utilizes a variety of exercises to focus on the core ALONE is not the most efficient way to burn fat or gain any other health related benefits for that matter. Resistance exercises using compound lifting techniques in addition to these core exercises further promotes the effects, and absolutely, including those with a cardio plan will lead to exponentially greater benefits (to include fat loss). That said, cardio training – specifically running as it was specified in the article – serves, as the author said to burn calories/fat throughout the entire body, and thus works to reduce belly fat but only so fast, and without lean muscle being built within the core, fat will come back faster if exercise is stopped. Lifting like those big belly hulks in the gym will get one big, even potentially toned, arms, legs, chest, etc., but fat visceral fat will ultimately remain unaffected. This is why including all of these aspects in one’s work out program is so vital. 3 days of cardio while being mindful to not be sedentary for prolonged periods when not exercising (aim for 10k steps/day) and 2 days of resistance training (insert a few ab exercises here) will have exponentially greater effects on fat loss and overall wellbeing than either alone.

    Note that once you have this basic program down (or get bored with it) there are copious exercise programs that add variety and provide even greater results than simply “run for 20-30min and lift weights”. The author mentions high intensity training and “interval training” and while he describes them in the light of running, incorporated in a wide variety of scopes. Circuit training, if done properly adds a very effective cardio aspect to resistance training. Not to advertise but the popular Insanity workout videos (or Shaun T’s other videos) incorporate cardio and calisthenics, while the P90X videos keep a similar intensity, but add weights, shifting to more focus on resistance (still very heavy cardio). CrossFit is another great example of exercise that incorporates both cardio and resistance into a single routine.

    All in all, I cannot claim to be an expert on this matter but I am a EP major 15 credits away from graduating – so I have learned from and read a lot of research from experts, and additionally, as I alluded to, I do have personal experience with the topic. The author’s work is overall a very good depiction of the topic and I am happy he wrote it as awareness of the topic trumps the specifics I brought up, I just wanted to add to what he has here to provide a better understanding to future readers.

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