After several months of stress and lockdown, many people have found themselves gaining weight. 

Maybe you’ve found yourself standing in front of the pantry more often, doing some iso baking, eating out of boredom, eating more often, or just generally turning to food for comfort. 

Whatever the case, if you’re emerging from lockdown a few kilos heavier, you may be wondering how to lose weight and more importantly, to lower visceral fat – or what you might call belly fat.

In this article, we’ll explain what visceral fat is, how much is normal, and how to get rid of visceral fat for good so you can feel lighter, cleaner, more organised and more in control of your own body.

What is Visceral Fat?

Visceral fat is deep, toxic fat is stored around your vital organs and it increases your risk of chronic disease and an early death.

Being located deep inside your body beneath your skeleton, visceral fat is difficult to measure.

The thing about visceral fat is that it doesn’t discriminate; it can be found in all body types, and even people who look skinny can have high levels of visceral fat.

While a CT or MRI scan are the most accurate ways to measure visceral fat, they are expensive and out of reach for most people.

The next two best ways to work out your visceral fat level are:

  1. Using a good quality bio-impedance scale (which can measure bone, muscle, fat and water on the inside of your body), or
  2. Using waist circumference as an indicator. 

According to the Australian Government guidelines, the healthy waist measurement for women is 80cm, and for men it’s 94cm.

While both waist circumference and bio-impedance scales can be effective ways to estimate belly fat, the bio-impedance scale is probably a more reliable measure, because waist circumference may be affected by non fat-related issues like bloating, gas or a recent meal.

If you would like to make an appointment to get your visceral fat level measured, contact us to be put in touch with a local practitioner.

How much visceral fat is normal?

Visceral fat tends to increase gradually with age, even in healthy people who are a healthy weight. Tanita, a company that makes bio-impedance monitors, says that a normal visceral fat rating is in the range of 1 – 12.

In our experience at Downsize Me, people with a healthy waist circumference (<80cm in women, <94cm in men) tend to have visceral fat scores of less than 8 on a bio-impedance scale.

If your waist circumference is above the reference amounts, it is worth booking a check up and getting your waist circumference measured so you can identify your health risks and take steps to lose any excess visceral fat.

How to lower visceral fat

If you want to lose weight including visceral fat and keep it off, the best approach is to focus on changing the lifestyle habits that are directly related to your weight and more specifically, to your visceral fat levels; 

  • Eating healthy portions of whole foods including adequate protein, 
  • Exercising for 150 – 300 minutes per week
  • Sleeping at least 7.5 hours per night
  • Keeping stress at bay
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Stop smoking and eliminate other toxins that disrupt metabolism.

How long does it take to lose visceral fat?

With gradual, consistent changes in these habits, you can expect to lose excess visceral fat within 3 – 12 months – depending on your initial levels.

If you have blood sugar imbalances or other metabolic issues that can get in the way of losing weight, you may need a specific approach to regulate those issues, first.

If you are in your 40’s or 50’s, then there are likely other metabolic and hormonal shifts occurring in your body that might require a more tailored approach to kick start weight loss.

How to start lowering visceral fat

To get started, we recommend looking at three main areas:

  1. Getting organised
  2. Eating balanced meals
  3. Managing stress

Getting organised

Getting organised is one of the most important lifestyle habits that can help you to eat well consistently, exercise regularly and progressively lose weight and visceral fat.

While getting organised looks slightly different for everyone, there are a few common themes, like having one or two regular shopping days each week and doing meal prep and/or bulk cooking.

If you don’t like to shop or cook, it’s easy to use online shopping each week to save time, and to help you to keep the pantry well stocked with healthy food choices.

You can also order services like Hello Fresh to help you get inspiration for healthy meals.

But if you love to cook and are a more hands-on kind of person, then getting organised might be as simple as sitting down with some healthy recipe books or websites each week, planning a few meals, and doing a big cook-up on a Sunday, like I do.

Eating balanced meals

Many of your lifestyle habits affect your weight and visceral fat, but what and how much you eat has arguably the most direct impact.

At the simplest level, your calories in need to be the same or slightly less than calories out.

But more importantly, the quality of your food is important, especially if you’re over 35 years old.

That’s because at around that age, our bodies find it harder to regulate blood glucose and hormones, and these declines seem only partly explained by physical activity and body weight.

Insulin resistance is directly related to the quality of food we eat, and the balance of our meals.

If you’re eating a lot of carbohydrates and especially sugars, inadequate healthy proteins and inadequate healthy fats, then you are more likely to develop insulin resistance and gain weight, including visceral fat.

The key to a balanced plate is to use your hands.

A healthy lunch or dinner is made up of:

  • Two good handfuls of above-ground vegetables/salad
  • A palm-sized portion of lean protein e.g. fish, chicken, pork, tofu, beef
  • Two fingers of healthy fat e.g. nuts, avocado, seeds, olives, olive oil

You can use plenty of herbs and spices, vinegars or mustards to create delicious flavour combinations.

A little starch at each meal is ok, such as black beans, chick peas or brown rice. But if you are overweight, over 40 and largely inactive, you may need to be careful with the amount and source of carbohydrates you consume to avoid weight issues. 

I usually recommend that people search for healthy recipes that follow these principles, and try one or two new recipes each week to start building up a bank of go-to health meals.

Lastly, since alcohol is more likely to lead to belly fat storage, it makes sense to lower alcohol intake.

Data from the Downsize Me program shows that people will lose on average 1cm from their waist with every kilo of body weight lost, and 1 – 2 points on the visceral fat scale.

For people who were regular alcohol drinkers before they started the program, the results were slightly different. These people tended to lose on average 2cm from their waist with every kilo of body weight lost.

Managing stress

A key factor in losing weight is managing stress.

Numerous studies show that chronic stress is linked to central obesity in some people. 

This is partly due to the commensurate rise in blood sugar when cortisol increases, and partly due to a genetic influence in people who are genetically predisposed to higher glucocorticoid sensitivity.

We have noticed this in participants of the Downsize Me program. 

Our typical client will lose 5 – 12kg (an average of 8kg) in our 8-week program and be able to maintain that going forward, with a few simple lifestyle habits.

But our clients who are chronically stressed might lose 3 – 7kg in the same period, and have trouble maintaining their weight due to the counteracting influence of stress hormones and blood sugar hormones.

Stress can take many forms including chemical exposure, lack of sleep, artificial ingredients in foods, being constantly on the go with no rest, postural issues, negative thoughts and difficult situations or relationships.  

If you’re like most people then you aren’t really aware of how much stress you’re experiencing. What is your stress score?

It can help to talk to a resilience coach to find out how stressed you are, what your hidden stressors might be, and how they could be affecting your metabolism.

The easiest way to tackle stress is to start by actively watching and calming down your thoughts and mind (which is where most stress originates from) and then, to gradually tackle the stressors in your life, one at a time.

In Summary

If you want to lose weight – specifically excess visceral fat – and keep it off, there is no quick fix solution.

Firstly, it’s great to have an understanding of your visceral fat levels to see if there is an issue. 

  • You can have a bio-impedance test to work that out, or use waist circumference as a good guess.

Next, there are three lifestyle habits you can adopt to help you lose visceral fat:

  • Develop an organised routine of shopping, cooking and meal prep
  • Eat meals that contain a balance of vegetables, proteins and healthy fats – with a little healthy starch 
  • Understand and lower the stressors in your life, one at a time, starting with your thinking patterns.

As you can tell, it takes time and some focus to get there. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to get started, we’re running this free webinar on 4 June at 7pm Sydney time.

We’ll discuss how to implement the changes outlined in this article, so you can start losing visceral fat, protect your health, and feel lighter, healthier and more confident.