I read an ad featuring lipolysis (ultrasonic) as a means of lowering your risk of hypertension and diabetes. It goes on to state that excess intra abdominal fat is the leading cause of high B.P, diabetes, etc. and the procedure itself claims to reduce belly fat upto 1.5 cm.
This cannot be farther from the truth. Many of us fall prey to such false advertising and believe these gimmicks. We need to understand that the total fat content in our body is made up of subcutaneous fat and visceral/intra abdominal (belly)fat. Here’s what you need to know about these two types:
- Subcutaneous Abdominal Fat
Subcutaneous is the fat that is stored under the skin. It can be “pinched or tucked” and can be found in any region of the body depending upon your genetic ability to store fat in that region. Often referred to as stubborn fat ( given our endless struggle to lose it), it can be extremely tough to mobilize this layer if your tendency to store fat in that region is higher. In terms of risk factor for disease, excess subcutaneous fat is not nearly as detrimental as excess visceral fat.
- Visceral/Intra Abdominal Fat
Visceral fat, on the other hand, lies out of reach, deep within the abdominal cavity (much much deeper than 1.5 cm), where it pads the spaces between our abdominal organs. It pumps out immune system chemicals called cytokines and interleukin-6 — both of which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. These and other biochemicals are thought to have harmful effects on the cells’ sensitivity to insulin, blood pressure, and blood clotting. The reason why it is so harmful could be its location near the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver.
Substances released by visceral fat, including free fatty acids, enter the portal vein and travel to the liver, where they can influence the production of blood lipids. Visceral fat is directly linked with higher total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol, and insulin resistance.
Now let’s talk about Total Body Fat
The body fat percentage includes essential body fat and storage body fat. Essential body fat is necessary to maintain life and reproductive functions. Storage body fat consists of fat accumulation in adipose tissue which is further divided into visceral and subcutaneous.
An overall high body fat percent usually means high visceral fat and excess visceral fat typically takes place together with excess subcutaneous fat. If your total body fat percent is within range (<20% men/<30% women), you may or may not have higher subcutaneous fat deposits in the areas prone to storage but the visceral fat will be low. Even though excess subcutaneous body fat is less harmful than excess visceral fat, excess body fat of any kind is unlikely to be healthy.
Procedures like lipolysis may promise “fat reduction” but they are essentially targetting just one category of fatty tissue i.e the subcutaneous kind. However, this is not the only misconception that is prevalent in the fitness industry. The most common misconception is that one can lose belly fat by doing 1000 odd crunches in a day. The fat accumulates due to the genetic tendency for storage in that area; therefore how easily you lose it will depend on your genetic makeup. Although all the fat cells are targeted equally, the ones in the problem areas have fewer receptors for releasing fat and more receptors for storing.
The Bright Side
The good news is that visceral fat (versus subcutaneous fat) responds fairly easily to a systematic exercise and nutrition protocol. This will simultaneously bring down even the subcutaneous fat but the rate of depletion in a particular area will again depend on your genetic tendency. So what is the easiest way to get a flat tummy?
Exercise should be structured involving weight training, cardio and flexibility training. Resistance exercises should be chosen which maximally challenge the core (the abdominals, back and pelvic floor muscles). More compound movements (which use multiple muscles at one time) for the lower body eg. squats, lunges, step ups should be attempted and then progressing to isolated movements (single muscles) such as leg raises, forward crunches, reverse crunches and planks. Maintaining correct posture plays a large role as slouching puts stress on the back while weakening the abdominal muscles.
The diet plan should be in sync with the exercise plan, ie. it should be planned keeping the exercise regime in mind. The diet should have the correct ratio of good quality carbs, fats, protein (complete proteins have the capacity to bust abdominal fat), vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and water. The timing, sequence, amounts will vary from person to person depending on their stress/activity levels, fitness goals and their workout time.
Last but not the least, manage stress because the stress hormone cortisol is capable of depositing fat in the abdomen!