If you want to know how to get rid of visceral fat, without cutting out sugar, alcohol, trans fats, doing endless hours of boring cardio (even HIIT), or throwing money away on totally useless supplements, this page will show you how.
What prompted me to write this was a bizarre email I got from a guy who claimed to have been “studying the science” of visceral fat.
He told me about all the tricks he’d been using to get rid of it… restricting his carb intake to “inhibit” his alpha receptors… doing fasted cardio… metabolic resistance training to raise EPOC… cutting out alcohol and refined sugar… avoiding carbs with a GI higher than 55… taking a bunch of different supplements to lower his cortisol levels… and so on, and so forth.
Yet, despite all the hacks and tricks, he wasn’t getting anywhere.
In fact, his waist size hadn’t budged in over a month.
Truth is, losing visceral fat is not difficult.
It’s usually a lot easier to get rid of than subcutaneous (under the skin) abdominal fat.
I’ll tell you exactly how to go about getting rid of visceral fat in just a moment.
First up, what is visceral fat? And why is it so bad for you?
What Is Visceral Fat?
There are two main types of fat in the stomach area.
Visceral fat is stored deep inside your body. It surrounds and protects your internal organs. You can’t see visceral fat, as it’s underneath your abdominal muscles.
Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is stored just under your skin. It’s the stuff you can pinch.
What makes visceral fat so bad?
Fat cells are more than just a storage depot for energy. They also pump out various substances that affect the rest of your body.
In scientific lingo, visceral fat cells are more “metabolically active” than subcutaneous fat cells. They release chemicals that promote inflammation, which in turn increases the risk of chronic disease .
Besides the fact that it doesn’t look great, carrying too much visceral fat is linked to a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even certain cancers .
Is Visceral Fat Hard to Lose?
No, visceral fat is not hard to lose. In fact, it’s usually a lot easier to lose than fat stored in other parts of your body.
Visceral fat does tend to accumulate more quickly than subcutaneous fat. But it’s also relatively easy to get rid of.
For one, it has a lot of blood flowing through it. This makes it easier for the various hormones that trigger the breakdown of stored fat to get to the fat cells in the first place. It also helps transport fat away from the fat cell so that it can be burned off elsewhere.
And, with the right type of diet and exercise program, you can get rid of visceral fat relatively quickly.
How to Lose Visceral Fat
To get rid of visceral fat, you don’t need to cut out sugar, trans fats, saturated fat, alcohol, carbohydrate, or whatever else the food police say is bad for you this week.
Nor do you need to do endless hours of aerobic exercise, be it HIIT or steady-state cardio.
In fact, as I explain in a moment, you don’t need to do any cardio at all.
The only thing you need to lose visceral fat is a calorie deficit.
What exactly do I mean by that?
Think of your belly fat like a bank account. But instead of storing money, it stores fat, which is a form of chemical energy.
If you spend more than you’re earning, eventually you’ll run out of money. In much the same way, getting rid of visceral fat is all about creating an energy deficit by “spending” more energy than you get from your diet.
You’re said to be in an “energy deficit” when there is a mismatch between the amount of energy your body needs and the amount it gets from food.
As a result, it starts looking for something to make up the deficit.
And, provided your diet and training program are set up right, that “something” will be the fat you want to get rid of.
So, how do you go about creating the energy deficit required to lose visceral fat?
You’ve got a few options.
First, you could focus on the “energy in” side of things, and go on a diet.
You could do some aerobic exercise – jogging or cycling, for example – or just increase your activity levels in general.
You could also lift weights.
Or, you could use a combination of all three.
Which one works best?
All will “work” to one degree or another. Ultimately, the approach that works best is one you can stick to long enough to lose the fat from your gut.
Personally, I think you’re far better off treating exercise as a way to put on muscle, and your diet as a way to get rid of the fat.
By that, I mean you’ll see better results lifting weights 3-4 times a week, and combining that with a decent diet, rather than doing lots of cardio.
When it comes to losing visceral fat, the food you eat (or don’t eat) is a lot more important than what you do in the gym.
The key things to focus on are creating an energy deficit, getting enough protein (which fills you up as well as helping your muscles repair and grow), eating more simple, wholesome, nutrient-dense foods, and cutting down on the junk that you know isn’t doing you any good.
There are many ways to achieve those things, from a ketogenic diet to intermittent fasting to IIFYM.
Ultimately, the “best” diet for getting rid of visceral fat is one that you can stick to.
Compliance and consistency trumps most other things when it comes to getting in shape.
What Foods Should You Eat to Lose Visceral Fat?
Are there any foods that burn visceral fat? A special diet? Some supplements perhaps?
Chances are you’ve come across more than one article claiming to contain a list of foods that burn visceral fat.
There are thousands of them out there, all of which follow a very similar template.
The author comes up with a list of foods, along with some contrived explanation (usually with a few links to research papers for effect) as to why said foods will help you burn visceral fat.
Most people like to have things laid out in black and white terms. This food is “bad” so I shouldn’t eat it. This food is “good” so I should eat it.
Truth is, there is no such thing as a food that burns visceral fat, nor is there any food you are required to avoid in order to lose fat.
From my friend Jay, author of Superior Fat Loss:
“You could put cayenne pepper and coconut oil in your apple cider vinegar, mix it with some green tea, and follow it up with a handful of acai berries, blue berries, and whatever other berry some idiot is claiming to be a superfood this week… and guess what?
“You’re still not going to lose an ounce of body fat unless you happen to end up being in a consistent caloric deficit.”
Individual foods don’t drive fat loss. It’s your overall diet rather than any single food that determines whether visceral fat is lost or gained.
What about exercise?
As far as exercise is concerned, cardio is traditionally seen as the best way to lose fat, with lifting weights reserved for those who want to gain muscle.
While cardio can make a direct contribution to the energy deficit required to lose fat, I like to think of it as an optional extra. Contrary to popular belief, getting rid of the fat from your belly doesn’t have to involve any cardio at all.
In fact, simply eating fewer calories each day and lifting weights three times a week for half an hour has been shown to reduce visceral fat by a whopping 40% .
Not only that, but subcutaneous (under the skin) abdominal fat dropped by 34%, while fasting insulin levels were down 33%.
In a follow-up study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Spanish researchers found that a regular program of diet plus strength training cut visceral fat by almost 10% .
Jumping on the treadmill or exercise bike is not the only way to burn calories, and isn’t necessarily the best way to lose belly fat. All forms of exercise burn calories, and that includes lifting weights.
The combination of resistance training and diet has been shown in numerous studies to work just as well as cardio for fat loss. But you get the added bonus of retaining (or even gaining) muscle mass.
In one trial, two groups of obese subjects were put on identical low calorie diets .
One group jogged, walked, or cycled four times each week. The other group lifted weights three times a week and did no cardiovascular exercise.
After 12 weeks, both groups lost weight. The cardio group lost 27 pounds (12 kilograms) of fat and 9 pounds (4.1 kilograms) of lean tissue. The strength-training group lost 32 pounds (14.5 kilograms) of fat and almost no lean tissue.
In an almost identical study, subjects who combined diet and resistance training lost the same amount of fat as those who dieted and did cardio . But the cardio group lost twice as much lean tissue.
Weight training is essential when it comes to holding on to the muscle you already have. Without it, you’ll end up as a smaller version of your current self, with many of the flabby bits still intact.
Cardio isn’t necessarily the best way to lose belly fat. It certainly isn’t going to help you hold on to the muscle you have right now.
In fact, combining a calorie deficit with too much cardio and no resistance training can end up increasing the risk of muscle loss.
However, many of these studies use resistance training programs with a very low metabolic demand — the exercises are performed on machines, many of them are single-joint movements that isolate small muscle groups, and the overall training volume is relatively low.
A routine based on exercises with a high metabolic demand – squats, deadlifts, presses, rows and so on – is another story entirely.
Why Crunches Don’t Burn Belly Fat
Are there any exercises that will get rid of belly fat faster than others?
The short answer to this question is no.
Doing hundreds of crunches is not going to selectively burn the fat from your belly.
Same thing goes for sit-ups, the bicycle crunch, leg raises or any of the various “drawing in your belly button” exercises.
These exercises will build and strengthen the abdominal muscles that sit underneath your belly fat.
But they won’t get rid of the fat that’s covering them up.
Researchers from Illinois discovered as much when they looked at how training the abs affects the amount of fat stored in the stomach .
They took a group of 24 participants and assigned them to one of two groups. The first group did nothing, while group two performed seven abdominal exercises (2 sets x 10 repetitions), five days a week for six weeks.
A grand total of 4,200 repetitions of various abdominal exercises over a six-week period had “no significant effect” on the amount of fat stored around the stomach.
If you think that doing lots of sit-ups will get rid of your visceral fat, you’re deluding yourself. Please don’t waste your time trying to burn off stomach fat by twisting and crunching it away.
Truth is, if you want some exercises that will get rid of the fat from your gut, your best bet is to work muscles that are nowhere near your belly, using exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses and rows.
With a proper strength-training program, you’ll burn fat both during and after your workout.
Your body will always burn some fat while you’re sitting around doing nothing, irrespective of whether you exercise or not.
However, lifting weights has been shown to raise something called post-exercise fat oxidation, which is just a fancy way of saying that it increases the amount of fat you burn after exercise .
This increase in fat oxidation happens quickly, and can last for some time. In fact, a single workout has been shown in several studies to raise both energy expenditure (burning calories) and fat oxidation (burning fat) for at least 24 hours, sometimes even longer [8, 9].
What’s more, some of the fat that’s burned in the post-exercise period will be pulled straight from your stomach.
In one trial, researchers from East Carolina University had a group of eight men lift weights for 40-45 minutes .
Each man had a microdialysis probe inserted into his belly. This allowed the researchers to measure the amount of fat that was released from fat cells before, during, and after the workout.
Here’s what they found:
Metabolic rate was over 10% higher after the men had lifted weights compared with the same time point on the control day. What’s more, the rate of fat burning was also doubled following resistance exercise.
But that’s not all. The amount of fat being released from fat cells in the stomach was around 80% higher both during and immediately after the workout.
In short, lifting weights will burn fat, and some of that fat will come straight from your belly.
Strength training makes a direct contribution to the calorie deficit required to lose belly fat. And if you’re doing exercises that work large muscle groups, lifting heavy weights and working hard, that contribution will end up being substantial.
So, there you have it.
The way to get rid of the fat from your belly is to set up your diet so that it puts you in a calorie deficit, lift weights 3-4 times a week, and throw in some cardio as and when you’re inclined to do so.
Apply some hard work and patience, and it won’t be too long before you see the results you’re looking for.
SEE ALSO: THE FLAT BELLY CHEAT SHEET
If you want less flab and more muscle when you look down at your abs (or where they should be), check out The Flat Belly Cheat Sheet.
It's a “cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF that tells you exactly how to get rid of belly fat. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please click or tap here to enter your email address.
ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.