How To Lose Stubborn Fat?

Visceral and subcutaneous fat

Weight loss is a goal for many people, and the process of losing weight, or specifically losing fat can turn into a fight against your own body. Whether your reason for targeting that stubborn fat is health, happiness, aesthetics or competition; it may not be easy, but it’s certainly possible to lose that weight!

Gymaholic shows you how to break down and keep off that stubborn fat!

First, before anything else we must address those goal differences between the people reading this article, because there are two main groups of people looking for fat loss:

  • Those who are overweight or obese, who are attempting to get their health and/or weight under control.
  • Those who are generally healthy, lean and/or muscular but want to take things further for their own pleasure/aesthetics or competitive reasons.

There are many who sit on the bridge between these two groups, who aren’t exactly overweight but may not necessarily be “healthy” either. They may just have a little excess fat they feel like getting rid of.

It’s important to understand which group you’re closest to because the cause of stubborn fat and the methods to deal with it can be different between these groups. Thus, your current situation and what you perceive as stubborn fat is needed to direct you to the solution.

Of course, the main reasons fat is stored in the body is for excess energy and metabolism control. Fat is stored in adipocytes, or fat cells, which group together to form adipose tissue. It releases hormones like leptin which controls our appetite.

There are two main types of fat tissue: visceral fat and subcutaneous fat.

  • Visceral fat: Visceral fat is also known as organ or abdominal fat. It is a dense fat that, as the name suggests, is tucked in and around our organs and can build up in the abdominal area. Excess visceral fat is linked to type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and inflammation!
  • Subcutaneous fat: Subcutaneous fat is the fat under our skin. It’s softer, that ‘fat’ that we can see and pinch on our bodies. This fat is not necessarily bad fat, and that’s one of the reasons why it can be the harder of the two to get rid of. It has a very prominent role in our body’s survival mechanisms and is heavily linked to reproduction.

Since we are hardwired to survive, our body likes to keep an excess of stored energy in the form of fat, and since our primary goal as a species is technically to reproduce, our reproductive area is where it tends to settle.

In women the problem areas tend to be the hips, thighs and butt, and in men it is around the lower abdomen. When women get older and hit menopause the weight also shifts to the abdomen.

Excess weight, lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet can cause hormone imbalances and mess with reproduction. However, very high levels of activity and very restricted diets can have a similar or more prominent effect, especially in women!

If the body fat percentage gets low enough, the body’s survival instincts kick in and priority becomes your ‘survival’, and energy is moved away from reproduction. This is why some women who are heavily active can lose their periods, or experience them far less often!

As mentioned, the solution varies depending on your situation and goals because everyone is different. Although there are a few factors like sex and genetics that are out of your control, there are many other factors like your diet and exercise habits that you can control!

You can even control the release of certain hormones in your body indirectly through some methods. Since adipose tissue releases hormones like leptin to control our appetite, and the digestion and absorption of food prompts the release of insulin, understanding those hormones can be beneficial to your success!

To learn more about leptin: Cheat Meals and Fat Loss

Those who are overweight or considered ‘unhealthy’ will often have an excess of both visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is the first issue, and the cause of most of those health risks! In order to target excess visceral fat you need to achieve moderate weight loss.

Attempting to lose a lot of weight in a short period of time by heavily increasing exercise and heavily cutting the diet may benefit in the short term, but visceral fat can rebound hard and it’s very likely the weight lost and health risks will return!

Slowly adding in moderate exercise to your routine and subbing healthier options gradually will target visceral fat. This is extremely important because when visceral fat loss occurs:

  • Inflammation & Stress Decreases
  • Metabolism Response/Control Improves
  • Hormone Response/Control Improves
  • Subcutaneous fat becomes easier to lose!

Unfortunately, visceral fat loss is gradual and not always visible! Because of this, people think that their methods are not working, or they get impatient and attempt to find a fast fix for more unhealthy, rapid weight loss that in the end, won’t fix anything at all.

If you need help making reasonable, achievable goals, check out SMART Goals!

Some who are at a moderate weight, and begin incorporating exercise into their routine also may not see results right away. As you begin exercising you may be losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously.

Due to muscle (also referred to as fat free mass) being heavier than fat, your weight may not be changing, but the ratio of fat mass to fat free mass and the composition of your body might be!

As your muscle mass increases, you require more energy to maintain it, so you will also burn more fat!

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) can target both visceral and subcutaneous fat, and it’s a great way to build muscle and stamina while burning fat quickly and efficiently!

Here's a example of HIIT workout:

Those who are somewhere in the middle often get ‘stuck’ at a certain weight. At one point they were losing consistent weight on their healthy new routine, and then suddenly their results fizzle out and stop.

More than likely you have hit a fat loss plateau! This just means that your body has become used to your routine, so you need to change it up in order to wake up your metabolism again!

To learn more about how to break through a plateau you can check out Fat Loss Plateau: Understanding Insulin Sensitivity and The Ultimate Progress Guide!

Those who are already fairly healthy and lean are usually aiming to clear some stubborn fat to show more muscle definition, or get to a weight that they prefer personally, even though they may be healthy in their current state.

It is very unlikely that someone who is already fairly healthy and lean would have any issue with visceral fat, and their main target will be subcutaneous fat centered around the problem areas listed above for men and women.

You cannot spot reduce fat, so attempting to work the muscles in a problem area more will not often make it go away. The main solution is just to continue lowering your body fat percentage gradually.

Unfortunately, the leaner you get and the lower your body fat percentage, the faster your body will adjust to change (hit fat loss plateaus) and the harder it will fight against you to keep that remaining fat.

Although it is not recommended to try any dramatic increases in exercise or decrease in calorie consumption (the rebound can be just as dramatic!), it is recommended to change your routine as frequently as possible!

  • Trying a new sport instead of going to the gym
  • Running outside on uneven ground instead of a treadmill
  • Try HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) for a metabolism boost
  • Trying new recipes and new foods

This has to do with overcoming those fat loss plateaus and controlling hormone release to increase the use of fat as fuel. You could also try intermittent fasting as another method of controlling the release of hormones and what your body uses as fuel.

The body is extremely complex, but we know a lot more now about how it works. It’s up to you to apply that knowledge to get the results you want! It’s important to:

  • Figure out why your body is storing that fat
  • Know your target (or both?)
  • Create a plan for the solution
  • Gradual healthy diet and exercise changes
  • Gain Muscle & HITT
  • Don’t get discouraged! Trust your body is changing.
  • Understand and control fat loss hormones
  • Change your routine!

Knowing your opponent and the weapons you have in your arsenal can ensure victory. Keep fighting towards your goals and you’ll achieve them!

Here's a example of HIIT workout:

  • Patel, Pavankumar, and Nicola Abate. "Body fat distribution and insulin resistance." Nutrients 5.6 (2013): 2019-2027.
  • Dulloo, A. G., et al. "Passive and active roles of fat-free mass in the control of energy intake and body composition regulation." European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2016).
  • Chaston, T. B., and J. B. Dixon. "Factors associated with percent change in visceral versus subcutaneous abdominal fat during weight loss: findings from a systematic review." International Journal of Obesity 32.4 (2008): 619-628.
  • Heydari, Mehrdad, Judith Freund, and Stephen H. Boutcher. "The effect of high-intensity intermittent exercise on body composition of overweight young males." Journal of obesity 2012 (2012).
  • Fisher, Gordon, et al. "Effect of diet with and without exercise training on markers of inflammation and fat distribution in overweight women." Obesity 19.6 (2011): 1131-1136.
  • Eisenberg, Michael L., et al. "The relationship between male BMI and waist circumference on semen quality: data from the LIFE study." Human reproduction 29.2 (2014): 193-200.
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Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Nutraceuticals. A Canadian with a love of food, fitness and health.

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