Body fat is not just a single, identical substance across the body. Body fat is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of different types of adipose tissue found around the body. However, all body fat is the result of eating more calories than you use, causing the body to store this surplus of energy as fat (because fat is the most energetically-dense, stable substance in the body).
Body fat isn’t an accident, or a cruel joke designed to make some of us look bad, but a physiological organ that has important health effects. Body fat is a fuel store first and foremost: too much of it may be bad for health, but it is not inherently unhealthy. There are different types of fat, but they share important negative health effects, despite having their own unique risks. Keep reading to learn about the different types of fat and the roles they play in health.
Fats, Not ‘Fat’: Types of Bodyfat
As with “dietary fats” and “carbohydrates”, body fat refers to a variety of different types of fat that are stored in the body when more calories are consumed than expended. We can split body fat into categories according to their function.
First, fat can be subcutaneous or visceral depending where on the body it is found. Visceral fat is perhaps the most dangerous, located in and around the vital organs – this type of fat is the kind that is generally seen on the morbidly obese and contributes most to the negative health effects of body fat. Subcutaneous fat is the kind that you find just underneath the skin – the kind that makes up a belly or love handles. Subcutaneous fat is not a different type of fat, but the location of fat will change the effects that it has on health: subcutaneous fat is not healthy, but it carries slightly less risk than its visceral counterpart.
The second distinction we can make is between “brown” and “white” fat deposits. These are separated according to their main characteristics, with brown fat deposits containing mitochondria which makes them more metabolically-active. In many ways, brown fat deposits are more similar to muscles than white fat, providing a short-term energy source and having a large role in the maintenance of non-shivering thermogenesis. With fewer mitochondria and lower blood supply, white fat deposits are more stubborn and difficult to metabolize.
The Dangers of Body Fat
There are a variety of negative health effects associated with carrying too much body fat from heart attack to diabetes and beyond. The different types of body fat have different levels of risk. With approximately 2/3 of Americans suffering from being overweight or obese, body fat is a serious contributor to many of the mostdeadly diseases in the United States. For example, 7 of the 10 common natural killers are directly exaggerated by carrying around too much body fat: losing some weight is one simple way of totally changing your longevity and quality of life.
For example, visceral fats are unquestionably the more dangerous type of body fat. This stubborn form of body fat is dangerous because it sits on the organs themselves and puts pressure on them, inhibiting their function. One extreme example of this is the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver which poses a real threat to long-term health and wellbeing. This is associated with poor diet and obesity, both of which are reversible and demonstrate how excessive body fat is a lifestyle problem and contributes to some of the most common and deadly health conditions.
Fortunately, because it is a poor lifestyle that causes these conditions, it is possible to solve all of these problems through an improvement in lifestyle. Diet and exercise are sufficient to improve all the health markers that make obesity a serious health concern, and return to fantastic health.
Subcutaneous Fat: Profile and Dangers
When you say you want to lose body fat, there’s a good chance that subcutaneous fat is what you’re talking about. Subcutaneous fat is the type that lays below the skin and gives the body the soft, “fluffy” look that many people want to lose. This type of fat is unhealthy, but is considered to be less of a health risk, as it is further away from the organs than visceral fat and does not press on important organs like the liver. This means that it is possible to have moderate amounts of subcutaneous fat and be relatively healthy – a body fat percentage under 25% in men and 30% in women can be considerably less dangerous if it is accompanied by a nutrient-dense diet and a mixture of resistance and endurance exercise.
Subcutaneous fat is, however, still dangerous and is associated with increased early morbidity. One of the ways that it can threaten your health is through the increased venous pressure it places on the blood vessels, and the constriction of arterial walls. This markedly increases the chances of negative cardiovascular health, with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and hyperlipidemia.
Subcutaneous fat is also dangerous due to the increased bulk, making up the majority of fat in the body. Because of this ubiquity under the skin, subcutaneous fat is a risk to the joints, as well as hormonal health. An excessive amount of body fat contributes to overall bodyweight, which is a big player in the degradation of joints. If you gain weight without gaining muscle (as in the case of gaining fat), you will place extra stress on the joints without providing them with the necessary support, contributing to osteoarthritis.
The sheer bulk of subcutaneous fat that can be amassed is also a serious factor in the development of hormonal problems. Subcutaneous fat contains a sub-group known as estrogenic fat, which is involved in the aromatization of testosterone, turning it into estrogen. Estrogen is an essential part of the hormone balance, but too much estrogen compared to testosterone can cause a variety of health problems.
Men are likely to suffer from some negative side effects when severely overweight as the aromatization of testosterone interrupts the natural balance of testosterone to estrogen. This can lead to unpleasant conditions such as acne, gynecomastia, and depression. These are all incredibly poor for quality of life and, in combination, can have serious negative effects on mental health and self-concept.
Women also suffer from estrogen dominance, despite estrogen being considered the “female” hormone. Excessive serum estrogen is related to the onset of hair loss, weight gain (a dangerous cycle), breast cancer, exaggerated PMS, bloating, and chronic headaches.
Visceral Fat: Profile and Dangers
Visceral fat is the most dangerous type of fat in the body, as it accumulates in the abdominal cavity and surrounds vital organs like the liver, lungs, and pancreas. It is also possible for certain organs to contain a build-up of visceral fat, which can inhibit organ function and contribute to serious, life-threatening diseases. The good news is that visceral fat is the most dangerous, but most easily-burned type of fat in the body as it is used to directly supply the body with fuel for organ function (hence the name ‘active fat’).
Perhaps the most common and obvious problem associated with excessive body fat in general, and visceral fat in particular, is the development of cardiovascular disease. By far the number one killer in the United States, heart disease is highly-correlated with obesity, being overweight and storing too much visceral fat. Visceral fat contributes to increased levels of fat in the bloodstream, increased risk of artery constriction and hardening, or even the prevalence of stroke. With the risks being high already, it is imperative to reduce visceral fat to protect yourself from the dangers of a serious heart condition .
A common problem associated with the build-up of visceral fat is the development of fatty tissues in and around the liver, one of the most important organs in the body. The development of “fatty liver disease” can be linked to excessive body fat, alcohol consumption, or both, and has devastating effects on the function of the liver. With the liver being the main organ for chemical conversions and hormone production, meaning that fat build-up on the liver quickly contributes to liver disease and the development of heart and brain conditions.
The pancreas is another area that is vulnerable to the development of body fat – obesity is already linked to diabetes through the development of insulin resistance, but developing excessive visceral fat on or around the pancreas can exaggerate the symptoms and increase the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Beyond the common life-threatening illnesses associated with excess body fat, it can have profound effects further afield. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease is compounded by visceral fat, and it can contribute to respiratory problems and sexual dysfunction. It is no exaggeration to say that a build-up of body fat, and visceral fat in particular, will have negative effects on every aspect of life and breeds discomfort and poor health.
Why Reduce Body Fat?
So, you know the difference between the main types of body fat and you know the dangers, but how can you reduce body fat and why should you?
Reducing body fat will reduce cholesterol and triglyceride volume in the blood, whilst also contributing to an improved hormonal profile and sexual health. Sleep quality is also likely to increase, which contributes to the general metabolic benefits such as improved blood sugar levels, improved digestive environment, and protection against the risks of colorectal cancer.
Reducing Body Fat: A Simple Guide that Out-Performs your Diet Plan
A calorically-restricted diet is the scientific principle or method that makes sustainable, reliable weight-loss possible. If you’re eating fewer calories than you’re using (this is called your TDEE, and there are many rough calculators available online) through metabolism and exercise, you’re going to lose weight. The body tends to metabolize fat uniformly, so the best way to lose all kinds of body fat is to maintain a reasonable calorie deficit .
The best approach to calorie tracking for the average person is to commit to a month of calorie tracking and eating according to a well-balanced calorie and macronutrient structure. After this, count calories 2 to 4 days a week to ensure that you understand a typical daily intake, as well as the kinds of foods that you should aim for, or avoid!
A diet should also be high in protein. Not only is protein slow-digesting to improve gut health and metabolic regularity, but it has a greater positive effect on eating-thermogenesis. About 20% to 30% of protein’s calories are utilized in thermogenesis, reducing the overall calorie burden that it provides, while providing essential amino acids.
Some dietary fats combat the storage of stubborn fats and regulate metabolism, contributing to improved organ and brain health, as well as general fat metabolism. Omega-3 fats are the best example of this, and cannot be produced by the body, so a diet that aims at healthy fat loss should contain fatty fish or Omega-3 supplementation.
Carbohydrates have a bad reputation, but are an essential part of fueling your brain and body for maximum performance. The key to proper carbohydrate consumption is ensuring that the ratio of fiber to sugar is high, and that starches come from healthy plant sources such as beans and sweet potatoes.
Exercise plays two main roles in the reduction of fat. First, it is key to increasing the calorie deficit by increasing the number of calories you use in a day. Simply put, more exercise burns more calories, which puts you at a greater deficit. Second, exercise improves hormonal and metabolic function, increasing the health benefits and speed of fat loss.
It isn’t possible to spot-reduce fat (such as removing fat from your abs by performing sit-ups), but there are preferential pathways for reducing certain types of fat in the body. While the most important factor for fat loss is calorie balance (eating less calories than you use), scientific research suggests that visceral fat is most readily metabolised during aerobic exercise.
Fats and fat loss are a central topic in health, fitness, and nutrition. If you’re aiming to improve your health or performance, reducing all fat is a good place to start. However, fats are not a uniform substance with the same functions and risks, so it is important to combat different types of fat with slightly different approaches. It may seem obvious to say that cardiovascular exercise can improve your health, but the dangers of visceral fat further reinforce the importance of including a routine of consistent, progressive cardiovascular exercise into your schedule.
With an increased awareness of your body and the dangers that fat poses, and our simple guide to diet and exercise to target dangerous visceral fat, the process is both more important and easier than you might have expected. While burning fat is one of the most common desires for Americans, it is over-complicated in the media by companies trying to push “miracle solutions”. The advice we’ve provided here may not be the most glamorous approach to weight loss, but it is the most successful.
If you’re looking to enjoy a healthier, longer, happier life, committing to a single month of strict dieting and exercise can change your life forever. You may find that it’s more enjoyable than you thought, as well as far easier!
-  Spiegelman, Bruce. “Obesity and the Regulation of Energy Balance.” Cell. 2001 Feb; 104(4): 531-43. <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867401002409>
-  Cannon, Barbara. “Brown Adipose Tissue: Function and Physiological Significance.” Physiological Reviews. 2004 Jan; 84(1): 277-359. <http://physrev.physiology.org/content/84/1/277.short>
-  Kopelman, P. “Health Risks Associated with Overweight and Obesity.” Obesity Reviews. 2007 Feb; 8(1): 13-17. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2007.00311.x/full>
-  Kenchaiah, Satish. “Obesity and the Risk of Heart Failure.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 2002 Aug; 347: 305-313. <http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa020245>
-  “Obesity and Knee Osteoarthritis: The Framingham Study.” Annals of Internal Medicine. 1988; 109(1): 18-24. <http://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/702392/obesity-knee-osteoarthritis-framingham-study>
-  Kershaw, Erin. “Adipose Tissue as an Endocrine Organ.” JCEM. 2004 June; 89(6): 2548-56. <https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/89/6/2548/2870285>
-  Ludwig, David. “Physiological Mechanisms Relating to Obesity, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease.” JAMA. 2002; 287(18): 2414-23. <https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/194907>
-  Halton, Thomas. “The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss. A Critical Review.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004 Apr; 23(5): 373-85. <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2004.10719381>
-  Ohkawara, K. “A Dose-Response Relation Between Aerobic Exercise and Visceral Fat Reduction.” Int J. Obes (Lond). 2007 Dec; 31(12): 1786-97. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17637702>