‘Inner fat’ is a killer lurking in your belly. Here’s how to get rid of it

    28 July 2016

    All of us have fat that we can’t see. That’s because it’s hidden within our bodies. To see it properly, you’d need a body scan — a hideously expensive MRI scan or the more affordable DEXA (which stands for ‘dual energy X-ray absorptiometry’).

    This hidden fat matters. For some individuals it matters very much indeed. It may be killing them.

    I explain this to some of the people I train. It tends to freak them out, because they think their ‘slightly forward waist’ (as they put it) is cancelled out by their well-defined pecs.

    Sorry, but no. Inside that slightly forward waist lurks a potential killer.

    We’re talking about visceral fat, which is defined by as ‘body fat that is stored within the abdominal cavity and is therefore stored around a number of important internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines’.

    Another name for it is ‘active fat’, so called because it affects our hormones. It raises the risk for type-2 diabetes, which is why diabetes charities are so worried about it. Heart disease, too. Breast cancer. Colorectal cancer. Even Alzheimer’s.

    So it’s nasty stuff, this visceral fat. Firm rather than squishy when you press it. It’s hidden, possibly suffocating your internal organs, but not truly invisible — because the best way to tell if you have too much of it is to check your waistline. Subcutaneous belly fat, easily spotted, is usually accompanied by something even more unpleasant within.

    There are plenty of websites out there that will tell you how to check for visceral fat without going to the trouble of a scan. A tape measure is a good place to start.

    But, as a personal trainer, it’s my job to take things to the next level: getting rid of the firm (not squishy!) killer in your abdomen.

    If you think that doing lots and lots of sit-ups will get rid of your visceral fat, you’re deluding yourself. Like most forms of ‘spot reduction’ (ie, exercises where you concentrate on one part of the body), this is a waste of time.

    Sit-ups, yes. As many as you like. But also exercises that involve bigger muscle groups and more than one joint movement — compound exercises, as they’re known. (If it helps, remember the phrase ‘compound before isolation’.)

    So: squats, lunges, press-ups, pull-ups, dead lifts… and that’s in addition to aerobic exercises.

    But we keep coming back to diet. To lose a pound a week, your calorie deficit must be 500 calories per day. Exercise can play a large part in this, as I’ve said: I’m keen on ‘interval training’, in which you break up your steady jog with short, fast bursts. And do it consistently — three to five days a week.

    However, your chances of achieving this deficit, and therefore of reducing visceral fat along with its squishy counterpart, are hugely increased if you eat a diet rich in plant-based foods, healthy fats and protein. All that hype about the Mediterranean diet? On the whole, I think it’s justified. (This academic paper goes into useful detail.)

    The exercise and diet recipe is really quite simple, then. But is it easy to achieve? That depends. To put it bluntly, some people just won’t be told.

    I’ve trained clients who thought that a savage workout with me once a week — or, for that matter, a weekly dose of British Military Fitness — will do the job. It won’t. Your visceral fat will carry on clinging to your organs, laughing at you before… well, you know how the story ends.