When patients come to see us for body contouring, their belly is often the main area of worry. Most of us would be happier with a flatter stomach, and fortunately there are several plastic surgery and non-surgical treatment options for belly fat removal. However, not all fat is created equal. Today we talk about visceral fat as opposed to subcutaneous fat, how to tell the difference, and what can be done about either one of those.
The Difference Between Visceral Fat and Subcutaneous Fat
Many patients who come in for a consultation are looking for a way to return their abdomen to a more youthful contour. They are looking to achieve this with a tummy tuck, or more often, our minimally-invasive Aqualipo® procedure. During their consultation, Dr. Rosdeutscher, our plastic surgeon, addresses the different types of fat we have in our body and what they mean in light of a cosmetic procedure.
Visceral Fat, also referred to as intra-abdominal fat, is fat that is located deep behind the abdominal wall around the organs – like the stomach, intestines, and liver. This means it’s behind the muscles that make up a more or less-developed six-pack, behind our core. The bad news is that visceral fat cannot be removed via liposuction. It is simply lodged too deep inside. And what’s worse, it’s also the kind of fat that can quickly become dangerous to our health. High levels of visceral fat are a prime contributor to high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
The other kind of fat we carry in our bodies is called subcutaneous, or extra-abdominal, fat. It is fat stored directly beneath our skin, and it responds very well to liposuction. Subcutaneous fat is the unsightly flab you’re often left with after rigorous exercise and dieting, no matter how hard you try. Even though it doesn’t negatively affect our health, it is nonetheless annoying to most people. Whether around your belly in terms of a “muffin top,” around your thighs as “saddle bags,” or in form of a bra bulge or “male breasts,” subcutaneous fat is easy to target with a combination of liposuction techniques aimed to suck out or otherwise destroy fat cells.
Will My Fat Respond to Liposuction?
To find out whether your fat will respond to liposuction or other body contouring methods, your surgeon will need to determine whether most of your fat is visceral or subcutaneous. Everyone has some visceral fat, but some people develop more of it than others. It is more common in men – older men in particular – and often referred to as “pot belly” or “beer belly.” But women can develop it too, particularly after menopause when estrogen levels drop.
Visceral fat is typically very firm to touch. If a patient doesn’t necessarily want to come in for a consultation, we ask him or her over the phone if it feels firm. A lot of people confuse grabbing skin for grabbing actual fat. A good way to determine if you have visceral fat is to stand up straight and see how much of the “bulge” you can actually grab a hold of. Sometimes men will notice that the more protuberant area of their abdomen is the upper part. This is fairly common. Men with just upper deep abdominal fat can still have liposuction performed on their lower belly area. While this won’t address the upper belly, men will often see a difference in how they feel in their clothes, specifically with regards to pant size.
Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is flabbier. If your stomach looks more or less the same, whether you crunch your stomach muscles or not, then you likely have extra-abdominal fat that will respond well to liposuction, a tummy tuck, or both.
How to Get Rid of Visceral Fat
As we’ve said before, visceral fat cannot be removed with plastic surgery. But that doesn’t mean you should just shrug and accept your fate. The good news about visceral fat is that it responds extremely well to diet and exercise. If you embrace a good diet, good sleep habits, a reduced alcohol and fatty food intake, and adopt a more active lifestyle, you will see an immediate and lasting reduction of visceral fat. What’s more, you will greatly improve your health!
If a patient comes in for a consult and isn’t eligible for liposuction due to visceral fat vs subcutaneous fat, we typically recommend an exercise and diet regimen that should help him or her shed the extra pounds. In some patients, extreme weight loss may result in leftover flabs of unsightly skin. This can easily be rectified with a mini or standard tummy tuck.
To lose your visceral fat, you should aim to exercise a minimum of 30 minutes a day. Moderately intense and fat-burning exercise is best, but you should also include some strength training. Circuit training, biking, or running are all great cardio exercises. Strength training such as weight lifting or core exercises will start burning more calories over time once your muscles grow stronger and need more energy. If you aim to do 5 days of cardio and 3 days of strength training a week, you should see results fairly quickly.
A healthy and balanced diet
Exercise isn’t all. It’s also important to follow a healthy and well-balanced diet, low in sugar and fatty or processed foods. Make sure to load up on lean foods full of protein, vegetables, fruit, and beans. The more fiber you can add to your diet, the healthier. How you cook also makes a difference – broiling, boiling, and baking over frying, and using olive oil instead of butter. If you’ve ever tried cauliflower or Brussels sprouts oven-roasted with just a touch of salt and olive oil to a sweet, caramelized gooey-ness, you might not miss French Fries very much at all!
Lastly, and perhaps most surprisingly, you can reduce visceral fat by simply being less stressed. How much visceral fat is stored in your body has been linked to the stress hormone cortisol. Reducing stress will make your body less prone to building up visceral fat, and make it easier for you to lose it. Meditation, deep breathing, and improving your sleep habits all go a long way towards a more stress-free life.
At NuBody Concepts, it is very important for us to make our patients feel good about themselves. That is why we are honest with our patients and tell them when our procedures will not work for them, and why. We hope that we’ve given you a good idea how you can tell what type of fat you have, and whether you might need a weight loss regimen before you consider body contouring.
If you do have subcutaneous fat, or you’re not sure about it and are seeking professional advice, we welcome you to schedule a personal consultation. Aqualipo is offered exclusively at NuBody Concepts starting at $99/month.