11/07/2010 11:29 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Beer Gut? Spare Tire? How To Bust Your Belly Fat

We have a joking term for it -- "beer belly," but the reality is that the kind of fat that accumulates in and around the abdominal region is no laughing matter. In fact, it can have some serious health implications.

There are two types of fat contained within the body: visceral and subcutaneous. Subcutaneous fat is the padding beneath your skin and is not a health risk unless excessive. Think of it like the insulation in the walls of your home. Visceral fat is the one we call "belly fat." What makes visceral fat dangerous is the inflammatory hormones it secretes. Many people know belly fat is not attractive, but may not realize it is a metabolically active tissue with blood vessels running throughout that can be dangerous or even deadly.

Research Reveals The Dangers
A 1998 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism examined what happens when visceral and subcutaneous fat are observed in a Petri dish. The visceral fat released three times more toxic inflammatory chemicals than the subcutaneous fat.

Visceral fat is dangerous for a variety of reasons:
  • It has a direct route to the liver and can negatively increase liver function tests such as cholesterol.
  • It is linked with dumping inflammatory hormones into your body, which can affect your heart, kidney and brain.
  • It is associated with insulin resistance, which is an inability of your body to respond appropriately to your own insulin, which in turn increases fat storage and blood sugars.
  • It is connected with increased rates of cancer and cancer-like growths in the body.

Measure Up
Men with a waist circumference larger than 40 inches, or women with a 35-inch waist or greater, are at a high risk of disease due to increased visceral fat.

To measure your waist, place the tape measurement around the circumference of your waist at the point of your belly button. This measure is more important than the number on the scale: waist size is more important than weight.

It is important to remember visceral fat did not come on overnight, and will not come off easily. This type of fat is stubborn. Consistency with a healthy balanced diet and exercise program is required if you want to see permanent body and health changes.

Lifestyle Change Can Help You Bust Visceral Fat

1. Exercise just 30 minutes per day. "Moderate levels of cardio-respiratory fitness are associated with a 50 percent lower death rate, and this applies in both women and men," states Dr. Steven Blair, professor of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina and former director of the Cooper Institute. Dr. Blair defines moderate intensity exercise as walking for 30 minutes on five or more days of the week. If there ever was a magic bullet to lowering fat in the body and increasing health, this is it.

2. Stick to a nutritious, anti-inflammatory diet. Consuming unprocessed food in its natural state such as local organic produce, nuts/seeds, lean protein such as grass fed meat, pasture raised poultry and eggs, wild fish, organic dairy, unprocessed grains such as buckwheat, wild or brown rice, quinoa; and healthy fats such as cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil.

3. Eat mindfully. Take 10 minutes out of your busy day to focus on your food and the enjoyment and nourishment it gives you. Eating mindfully helps with being in touch with the amount of food your body needs to match your metabolic rate, keeping your body fat normal.

It is possible to rebound from the belly bulge. By exercising, eating an anti-inflammatory diet and eating mindfully, you'll not only gain a trimmer waistline, but an overall healthier you!

Susan is the author of A Recipe for Life by the Doctor's Dietitian. For more information, visit