How to reduce the percentage of visceral fat (scientifically)
Calorie control coryphaei Precision Nutrition are once again rushing to the rescue – now for those suffering from an overly rounded tummy. Here’s a guide on how to tighten your waistline (based, of course, on scientific evidence).
Before we get down to the business of shedding excess, we’d like to say this:
We don’t condemn obesity.
A prominent belly is an object of envy and admiration for many nations of our planet, as it indicates the success and wealth of the wearer.
Look at paintings by Renoir and Rubens – in Europe too, luxurious bodies with round bellies were once in fashion.
And now we seem to have entered an era of bodypositive revival, although in health/fitness circles they still measure the narrowness of the waist and the number of abs exposed to the world.
Either way, most clients do come to us for weight loss help, and often the problem is localised around the waist. That’s why we’ve written this guide.
If you are waiting for another text about thousands of twists and round-the-clock plank, we hasten to disappoint you: we do not advise anything of the kind.
Shapes of fat
As you may have noticed, people differ in appearance; even the same percentage of fat can give you a different shape.
And, as researchers have discovered, it’s particularly important where your body prefers to deposit its valuable fat reserves.
If you were to cut open someone’s stomach (sorry), you might find fat accumulation in two locations.
The fat layer below the surface of the skin: This type of fat is called subcutaneous or peripheral fat; relatively benign [1, 2].
Deep in the abdomen, often around vital organs (liver, stomach, etc.): This fat, called visceral or central fat, contributes to chronic inflammation, arterial plaques and blood clots . It is also associated with an increased risk of metabolic disorders, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease .
Generally, if a person has more subcutaneous fat, they also have more visceral fat, but not always. Sometimes a person may look quite thin, with little subcutaneous fat, but have higher levels of visceral fat.
Why does fat accumulate specifically in the abdomen?
Factors that can increase visceral fat include:
- Total fat percentage: Although localisation is determined by genetics and hormones, obese people are more likely to deposit visceral fat.
- Gender: It is easier for men to build up a prominent belly; scientific evidence suggests that more fat from food is deposited specifically in the form of visceral fat .
- Post-menopausal women: Post-menopausal women show changes in fat distribution (due to hormonal shifts), with the legs becoming thinner and the abdomen growing larger .
- Age: As we age, fat cells behave worse, e.g. they release more inflammatory factors; also, as we age, more visceral fat is stored rather than subcutaneous fat .
- Elevated (chronic) cortisol levels: Visceral fat absorbs and breaks down excess cortisol .
- Presence of certain gene variants: The distribution of fat in the body is linked to a number of genes (if you are interested, the following: TBX15, HOXC13, RSPO3, CPEB4 and LRP5). Although everyone has these genes, only certain versions of them cause increased fat accumulation in the waist area .
You see, we can’t do anything about most of these factors.
But we can control something else.
What we are about to tell you is unlikely to surprise you. You probably already know it. We will not suggest anything “magical” or “revolutionary”.
But if you start to act using the proposed techniques, then, firstly, you’ll get some results; secondly, you’ll be able to keep them. And you’ll definitely enjoy it.
Here are six steps to reduce your waistline.
1 Explain to yourself why you want to change your figure.
This will help you set clear goals and build long-term motivation.
You’ll think to yourself: ‘It’s easy. Just want to lose some belly fat! Step 1 complete!”.
Not so fast. Let’s be specific:
- Has your doctor advised you to lose weight to improve your health?
- Are you quite healthy, but you feel your trousers are getting tighter and you want to sort it out?
- Do you just want to get some toned muscles, especially abs?
- Whatever your reasons, we can help everyone.
And yet, if you want to slim down for health, let’s dig a little deeper, because after a certain point, losing weight isn’t so healthy.
Yes, a midsection that is too large – over 94 cm for men and over 80 cm for women – correlates with a number of problems :
- Type 2 diabetes,
- cardiovascular disease,
- all-cause mortality.
Many quite trim people with a smaller waistline are dissatisfied with their appearance. And many who have a larger waist do not complain about their health and are happy with their figure.
2. Accept, with a heavy heart and gritted teeth, the fact that spot fat cannot be burned
Of course we all want easy, quick solutions to problems like stubborn waistline fat.
That’s why books with titles like ‘The Belly Reduction Diet’ or ‘6 Exercises That’ll Give You 6 Pieces in 6 Weeks’ are so popular. Not only do they suggest you can target fat where you want it, but they also reassure you that you can do it with ease.
Alas and ah.
There’s no way you can – without surgery and hormone therapy – remove fat from just your left triceps. Or just your waist.
Those extra centimetres around your waist will only go away if you reduce your overall fat percentage (which normal people do by eating a healthy diet and exercising your entire body).
Why do we remind you of this? The sooner you give up what’s not working, the sooner you move on to what is working.
At what rate does your stomach go away?
According to our detailed transformation analysis of over 1000 clients, it takes about ~700-900 grams to reduce your waistline by 1cm.
Different people, of course, lose weight at different rates; our clients, for example, lose between 300 and 900 grams per week on an appropriate exercise and nutrition programme.
This means that you can reduce your waistline by ~2-4 cm within a month.
3. Try to eat natural foods with a minimum of processing
While there are no superfoods that magically remove your tummy (yes, celery smoothies won’t do the trick), highly processed and highly appetising ready-made meals will easily negate all your efforts to fight the extra pounds and centimetres.
“Thanks” to their high calorie and low volume, it’s very easy to overeat.
Read more about this in another article from Precision Nutrition:
Industrially processed goodies: how to stop overeating?
But minimally processed foods – lean protein sources, fruit and vegetables in all colours of the rainbow, whole grains and legumes, nuts and seeds – are great for satiety.
In particular, training over 100,000 clients, we have found that many people find it easier to lose weight if they:
- include 1-2 servings (palm-sized) of protein-rich foods (chicken, yoghurt, tofu or eggs) at every meal,
- include 1-2 servings (the size of a fist) of colourful vegetables at each meal, which helps to satiate with fewer calories.
- replace refined foods with whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds rich in fibre.
This is where you can say, ‘Thank you, General Banality, very helpful’.
And we agree that these are too general recommendations. But individually, you can calculate your calories and macronutrient intake using any calorie calculator, of which there are plenty to suit all tastes.
(And Zohnik has its own calorie-rate calculator.)
Trans fats and stomach
Trans fatty acids, often found in highly processed foods, can cause visceral fat accumulation:
In a study on rats, one group of subjects was prescribed a diet high in saturated fat and another group excessive in trans fats. After eight weeks, the “trans fat” group was found to have significantly more visceral fat compared to the simply “saturated” group .
And, of course, we can’t do a similar experiment on humans for ethical reasons – the negative health effects of trans fats are already well studied.
Trans fatty acids are often labelled as ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ and are found in many baked goods, crackers, biscuits etc. Therefore, try to reduce the proportion of such foods in your diet or even eliminate them altogether.
4. Eat slowly – until you’re full.
You might think that in order to lose weight, you need to strictly count every single calorie you eat, but we’ve found that this is not entirely true.
If one learns to listen to one’s body and respond to the inner voice of true hunger and satiety, then slimming helps this self-regulation of appetite.
To do this, of course, you need to be able to calm down, relax, distract yourself from your everyday problems and chew your food carefully before eating, listening to your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. By mastering these diet-ninja skills, phenomenal progress can be made.
5. Find a form of physical activity that you enjoy
Let’s repeat what we know: you can’t burn off belly fat with endless twisting-planks or vibromassagers.
(Did the commercials lie?? We’re shocked ourselves!)
While you may have seen studies that high intensity interval training (HIIT) promotes visceral fat loss, there’s a nuance:
Physical activity only helps if you train regularly – and for a long period of time .
In other words, one workout to exhaustion will not reduce your waistline. And even two won’t help. In order to achieve noticeable changes (and maintain them), you need to train continuously – week after week, month after month.
So if you love VIIT more than ice cream, great. Keep up the good work.
But if you’re sick of sprints and the Royal Burpee test exercise (even before doing it, just thinking about it), then you should know that there are many other options out there. Lots of them.
Ideally, to get rid of the extra weight, it’s more effective to combine some type of strength exercise with some type of cardio exercise.
But in the end, you just need to find the type of exercise that you enjoy. So that you can exercise regularly and have a positive feeling, rather than forcing yourself and suffering.
6. Apply all of the above by empathising with yourself rather than criticising
Self-empathy is when you perceive yourself honestly, but not with blame, but with kindness and generosity. It helps you see the problems clearly and then take steps to help yourself.
But… but… to be kinder to yourself in order to lose waist fat? That’s anti-science nonsense!
No, it’s just scientific evidence:
Empathy for yourself is associated with a healthier diet and more regular exercise – as well as lower levels of anxiety and depression, lower levels of perceived stress and greater well-being in general.
Conversely, self-criticism is associated with unhealthy eating behaviour as well as higher rates of anxiety and depression .
So how can self-criticism be used to reduce waistlines?
There are three basic components:
Awareness: You are aware of your actions, thoughts and feelings – without any judgement.
Example: “I don’t like my stomach. And I want to get rid of it as quickly as possible…”.
Human experience: You become aware that you are not alone in this; at this very moment, other people are going through the same thing.
Example: “It’s normal. A lot of people want to improve their appearance.
Kindness towards yourself: You treat yourself with kindness and generosity.
Example: “Relax. This body has served me so well – I can do something nice for it too, right now”.