Visceral Fat

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As fitness professionals, we always take one first important step before we begin a new journey with our clients and we do this as part of the initial assessment. This is always a great way to start a fitness journey (not only because it’s standard procedure) but also, we need this information to help you set your goals going forward, monitor and measure your progress as you go along as well as to establish the most appropriate way to approach your new training and eating routines.

The standard assessment usually involves a series of physical assessments where we learn more about the current fitness level of the client, such as cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, mobility and so on.

The other type of assessment we perform, it’s a deeper one. A body scan analysis. Most gyms and health insurance schemes have this type of screening as part of their programme /annual policy. It may sound a bit intimidating, but it really jus involves stepping on a specialised scale for a few seconds. The result, is a detailed breakdown report analysis of your bodyweight.

What about this screening? It breaks down your weight into various components. It is also called a prevention check because it reveals significant health key metrics such as:

·       BMI (Body Mass Index)

·       MUSCLE MASS

·       Your overall BODY FAT% (high levels can be related to obesity, diabetes and heart conditions)

·       BONE DENSITY (low bone density is related to osteoporosis) 

·       BODY WATER (hydration levels should be between 60 to 65% at the end of the day) We rarely see this happening.

·       VISCERAL FAT. (High levels can affect your overall health in many ways, see below)

 

What is visceral fat?

This type of fat cannot be pinched or seen with the naked eye. Hence a screening is a great way to have this checked. You can look relatively lean and not be necessarily overweight, but it is possible to rate high on your visceral fat levels.

Visceral fat is that fat that surrounds your vital organs – liver, pancreas, kidneys etc. Keeping healthy levels of visceral fat can reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, the onset of type 2 diabetes and many other illnesses.

Rating from 1 to 12 (depending on which scale/program is used to assess it) Indicates you have a healthy level of visceral fat.  You should continue monitoring your rating to ensure that it stays within the healthy range. 

Rating from 13 and above Indicates you have an excess level of visceral fat and look for ways to reduce this.

A bit about why do we need fat cells?

 

Would you like a new home without any storage cabinets? Of course not, that is what fat cells are for our bodies. To store excessive energy from food and drinks we consume.

Body fat is actually accumulated excessive energy stored in the fat cells. 

 

When we eat food, this is stored as energy into the muscles and liver for later use.  In an ideal world we would only eat as much as we need, however the excess energy we consume has to be stored as well.

 So nature has provided for that as well. How amazing is that?!

Hence muscle and other organs cells have a limited storage capacity, fat cells are able to store unlimited amounts of energy and they can grow and grow without limitations.

There are minimum levels of body fat required for the healthy functioning of every human. For women this tends to be around 13% and for men 5%.

 

There are two types of body fat tissues, (i) the subcutaneous fat or adipose tissue. This is the fat that sits under the skin. Its main purpose, energy storage and metabolism and (ii) the visceral fat. It’s main reason to protect/ insulate and keep some distance between the vital organs within your abdomen. Too much of this type of fat can cause serious illnesses.

What happens when VISCERAL FAT goes “wild”?

 When this type of fat tissue grows bigger than the normal ranges given above, it seems to have a “mind of its own”. It begins to function as an individual organ. It becomes metabolically reactive.  That means it begin to release inflammatory elements that create more and more inflammation within your body.  Your immune system slows down and you get more prone to various illnesses. Chronic inflammation can confuse your body into attacking its own healthy tissue.

 Visceral fat is very responsive to stress hormones and cortisol levels. Stress signals visceral fat. Insulin is another hormone that can drastically affect visceral fat.

 

How to help your body get rid of this dangerous fat?

If you find yourself with excess of this body fat tissue, it’s time you consider making changes in your lifestyle possibly through diet and exercise or both. This is no time to take it slow. You need some immediate and drastic action here.

Visceral body fat is highly responsive to stress. In other words, high levels of the CORTISOL hormone have a direct impact of your visceral fat accumulation. The more your body thinks that there is a “danger coming ahead of you “the more layers of excessive visceral fat will create around your vital organs to prepare you for a potential future “impact”.

Stress is an imaginary situation. It’s never real. Arguing with your boss, your wife, worrying about deadlines or taxes it will all just create a stressful environment for your visceral fat and this is what it likes to grow. Unless the tiger is on your back, there is no real danger.

Read further to see how we can get caught in our own loop of thought/action. This is how we top it up and we don’t even know it.

Another hormone that is directly linked to visceral fat accumulation is INSULIN. This hormone is released automatically to clear the excess sugar in our blood stream every time we eat food. 

Here is the big question: What do you prefer to eat when you are stressed? Let me guess… CARBOHYDRATES is the name of the game, right? 

Ice Cream, cookies, pasta, pastry and the list can go on and on. We rarely go for a steak or salmon when we’re stressed. Not to mention these doughnuts laying around and staring at you in the office all day.

The big issue here is that most of us are intolerant to gluten, dairy, nuts and some other foods. This means that our bodies are struggling to convert these foods into nutrients. As a result, we create more inflammation in our bodies.

  

What to eat?

Eat foods that will help you reduce inflammation. If you know you don’t do well with certain foods or food types, try to avoid them. For instance, reduce your gluten intake or dairy or both. Keep a food diary if you are not sure. What are the foods that you eat and how do you feel after a few hours? Do you feel bloated? Do you feel sluggish? Do you feel hungry again? Keep it on track to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.

Good fats from fish, raw nuts, avocado can diet reduce inflammation. 

For example: instead of having a full milk cappuccino, chose to have a coconut cappuccino with one shot. 

Eat at least 3 servings of vegetables every day. That is two hands full x 3 every day, either grilled with olive oil and sprinkled with lemon juice or semi steamed.

For example: eat veggies like, carrots, zucchini, red peppers, courgettes, aubergines and not just green leaves. Salad is not enough.

Stay away from foods/drinks that are raising your blood sugar too quickly and therefore your insulin levels. Remember the aim is to keep insulin levels on low key.

Make sure you drink enough water. Hydration is of a great importance when helping your body to get rid of excessive energy (body fat).

How to train?

The best results come from a combination of all types of workouts, HIIT, LISS and weight training.

Perform a HIIT class twice a week.

Introduce slow cardio before breakfast a couple of times a week.

Make sure you introduce weight training too.

Compound movements, i.e when we perform an exercise that requires movement at more than one joint seem to be most effective and have a better metabolic response. 

There is nothing that a sweat can’t fix. I know you’re busy but, by the time you try to convince yourself of a good reason not to do it, you’d be half way through. So, get the body going and let the mood join after.

Try a few group classes too. There seems to be a great metabolic response and brain activation when people exercise together.

Make sure you stay as active as you can.

How to relax?

Just like water and food, oxygen is life. We can survive without water and food for short periods of time, but unless you are a great swimmer, you won’t last without oxygen for more than 3 or 4 minutes.

We forget to breathe. Remember to breathe deeply a few times a day.

Take some soul breaks daily and try to breathe a few times as deep as you can.

Take a walk-in nature by yourself. Slow morning meditation walks are the best.

When stressed call a good friend. Take your dog for a walk. 

Get enough sleep throughout the week. You know what’s best for you. 7 hours per night should be enough for most people.

Do things that make you feel joy. Spend time around people or doing things that make you feel happy and content.

Allow yourself to feel happy and when that happens, feel it some more.

 

ACTION SUUMMARY

1.      Become more active. Start moving. Move a lot.

2.      Eat foods that reduce inflammation. Eat more veggies. Get in the good fats.

3.      Drink more water.

4.      Relax more. Breathe and chill. Do things you love.

5.      Reduce sugary foods or drinks.

6.      Keep cortisol and stress hormones low. You now know how.

7.      Take self-time away from things and situations that stress you out.

Mari Curteanu