Body fat is the natural storehouse of energy via fat tissues and cells in our body. Fat cells are distributed across various parts including the skin, muscles, blood, brain, abdomen, bone marrow, and around other vital organs. Fat cells are primarily categorized into two types, Subcutaneous and Visceral, based on how they are generated and stored in the body and also based on their effect on our overall health! While fat individuals are usually prone to several modern-day health issues such as metabolic and cardiovascular, there are plenty of otherwise obese but HEALTHY beings. Hence, it is important to distinguish body fat types and even more important to know the distribution of body fat in your body. We have highlighted the health concerns of visceral fat in a separate article in the past. In this article, we will primarily cover subcutaneous fat and methods to prevent and fight it off.
Subcutaneous body fat is the metabolic sink for excess energy
Subcutaneous fat tissue deposition happens when our caloric intake (energy dense foods) is more than caloric expenditure (sedentary lifestyle). It is created via the normal physiological processes in our body. When the body is unable to create any more subcutaneous tissues due to overcapacity or due to physical and mental stress, Visceral fat tissues are created.
About 80% of body fat in a healthy individual is subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat, on the other hand, is prevalent more in men accounting from 10-20% of the total fat. In women, visceral fat ranges between 5-8%. The amount of visceral fat also increases with age as the digestive power – “Agni” diminishes. Visceral fat, stored around different organs in the belly can be melted by doing some lifestyle changes, exercises, home remedies, taking medications etc. But, it is too difficult to lose subcutaneous belly fat.
Visceral Fat is the leading trigger to health disorders
While visceral fat is mainly stored in the abdominal cavity, the subcutaneous fat is stored anywhere in the body below the skin. Both the fats are responsible for the increased waistline. As subcutaneous body fat lies under the skin, you can hold it with your fingers. The presence of subcutaneous body fat in the thighs and buttocks may not be bad rather these may have some benefits such as protective endocrine and inflammatory features. But the presence of visceral fat in the belly has adverse health effects as Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, Obesity, and Cardiovascular issues.
Subcutaneous Body Fat protects the body
Subcutaneous fat tissues are essential for the proper functioning of the body. The outermost layer of our skin is the epidermis. The next layer is the dermis and the subcutaneous fat is present in the deepest layer. The subcutaneous tissues tend to develop and grow in the newborn infants and in the children during puberty. The five main functions of subcutaneous fat are:
- Our body stores energy in the form of subcutaneous fat.
- It works like a pad to protect the muscles and bones from the effects of falls or hits
- It provides the passageway for nerves and blood vessels between the skin and the muscles.
- It shields your body by regulating temperature.
- It connects the dermis to the muscles and bones with its particular connecting tissue.
What is Body Fat Distribution?
Body fat distribution or the ratio of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat is an important factor in determining our health. Subcutaneous fat serves multiple healthful purposes and it also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. In fact, the presence of subcutaneous fat can help to relieve the intensity of the bad effects of the visceral fat in obese persons. Given below is rough guideline towards the relationship of fat distribution with well-being:
- High visceral and high subcutaneous – Obese – Moderately Dangerous
- High visceral and low subcutaneous – Obese – Highly Dangerous
- Low visceral and high subcutaneous – Obese – Mostly Healthy
- Low visceral and low subcutaneous – Lean – Healthy
Excess Body Fat is harmful to health
A faulty lifestyle that is devoid of physical activity or caloric expenditure and with excessive intake of calorie-rich foods leads to excessive body fat accumulation. In fact, an overload of calorie dense foods when consumed on regular basis stress our systems so much that they start to deposit in an entirely new form as Visceral fat inside our abdominal cavity.
Apart from a faulty lifestyle or diet, an impaired digestive system also leads to accumulation of toxins in the fat cells, hence altering our microbiome, hence triggering a vicious cycle of malabsorption of nutrients and cravings for calorie dense foods. Excess body fat stresses our organs and leads to malfunctions such as:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease and strokes
- insulin resistance
- formation of plaques
- metabolic syndrome
- type 2 diabetes
- certain types of cancer
- sleep apnea
- fatty liver disease
- kidney disease
How to know if you have too much body fat
At first, you need to measure your body mass index (BMI), which tells the ratio of your weight to your height. So that you can know whether you are overweight and you have too much subcutaneous fat.
- normal weight: BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
- overweight: BMI of 25 to 29.9
- obesity: BMI of 30 or higher
Additionally, by measuring the waist size, one can determine whether he has excess fat or not. Men with a waist size above 40 inches and women with a waist size above 35 inches may have a higher risk of developing various diseases related to obesity.
The most dangerous fat is the easiest to lose!
Diet, physical activity, and lifestyle changes are widely recommended methods that help in shedding too much body fat. As visceral fat is metabolically active, it is quite easy to lose! In fact, once one makes necessary dietary and lifestyle changes, they observe an immediate reduction in excess weight at the abdomen due to the loss of visceral fat! So, as hard as it seems, it is actually quite easy to get back to being healthy by incorporating just small changes and sticking to them. Next comes the subcutaneous fat, which is actually quite hard to lose, requiring consistent efforts in the right direction!
Dietary changes to lose the stubborn fat
Subcutaneous fat can be reduced via diet by consuming fewer calories than you burn. Therefore, you need to change your food and drinking habits. Once you make the necessary changes to your diet, your body will start absorbing the right nutrients from the food and also your gut flora (digestive system) will get back on track. This will naturally help turn your body to a LEAN form. Necessary stuff:
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fiber-rich foods. This should make 50% of your meal at any time.
- Whole grains, cereals, and starch-based food products should make another 25% of your meal to provide the necessary energy.
- Add lean proteins such as lentils, beans, fermented soy products, and fish to keep you full and energetic. This should make another 25% of your meal.
- Do not drink excess water during or after meals. Warm water just before the meal and few sips along with are alright.
- Food should be consumed in relaxed and sitting position.
- Last meal should be had by 6-7 PM in the evening to allow your body ample of time to assimilate the same.
- Light snacks such as fruits or nuts and seeds based snacks should be consumed on regular basis to provide you with necessary micronutrients.
- Use less salt and replace table salt with rock salt.
- Remove sugar and processed food products from your diet.
- Add herbs and spices to bring flavor and taste to your meals.
- Avoid overcooking and start to use soaking, sprouting, and fermentation processes to turn anti-nutrients into nutrients.
- Include probiotics into your diet via fermented or pickled foods.
- Eat slowly and stop right before you feel very full. This is because our system reacts to food intake with a lag. If you stuff yourself too much, then by the time your brain signals you to stop, you have already overeaten!
Additional Measures and Dietary Tips
One of the best methods of losing belly fat is to measure the calorie of your food. If you eat fewer calories than you burn up, your body will not store fat. Most people consume too many calories than their requirement. Therefore, it is advisable to keep a meal diet chart and count the calorie content of the foods you eat.
Additionally, you have to be careful of the combinations of foods you eat, too. The combination of starches and sugars with fat is responsible for the increase in belly fat. We all know that starches and sugar raise insulin levels. But, after combining with fat both the insulin levels and fat storing hormones get increased. If you take proteins, vegetables, with barely, your insulin levels will be reduced. As you add these foods to your diet, you will intake fewer calories and will not feel hungry for longer.
To reduce subcutaneous fat from the body, you should avoid sugars and starches and also include high-fiber and protein-rich foods. Choose lean protein sources, such as eggs, nuts, fish and skinless chicken and eat more fruits and vegetables. They contain fewer calories and the fiber in them will not let you feel hungry for longer. Thus you take fewer calories in the whole day.
For snack and breakfast, eat fruits, cereal or oatmeal etc. Take vegetables by adding to stews, soups and pasta dishes. Do not eat white bread and pasta rather you can replace them with whole wheat bread and pasta. Add whole grains, brown rice, barley, and bulgur as side dishes to your platter.
Reduce Your Stress Levels and Sleep Well
Chronic stress contributes to stubborn body fat! In the modern lifestyle, it is one of the major cause of all physical and mental health issues. Stress alters the hormone levels and results in extra belly fat. Cortisol, a stress hormone, usually fluctuates in a rhythm during the day. According to a study on “Obesity” shows that high levels of cortisol in the evening can affect metabolism, inflammation, energy balance etc. As a result, the weight of the body increases.
Enough sleep at night and relaxation of mind reduce the level of Cortisol. Thus, try to have good sleep at night and for relaxation of mind spend some time with your friends and do meditation, exercise or take a vacation.
Physical activity to lose the tough body fat
Our body stores energy by building up subcutaneous fat. You can decrease this buildup of subcutaneous fat by burning calories. Aerobics is one of the best ways to burn calories. You can also do walking, running, cycling, swimming, and other movement-based activities as these increase the heart rate. Subcutaneous fat can also be shed by lifting weights. This exercise stimulates your muscles, boosts metabolism and burns fat, present below the skin.