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Visceral Fat Loss: A Guestimation

by | exercise, low carb eating, muscle, obesity, visceral fat | 1 comment

Yesterday, I took measurements of my client before his workout. Andrew has been a client for quite some time now, and he has been both consistent and very successful with his fitness program. He lost 33 pounds of scale weight and he has gained an estimated 4 to 6 pounds of muscle. All in all, he lost closer to 36 to 38 pounds of fat. Very good results indeed.

 The reason for this post is because the results of his latest measurements were a bit unusual. To give you some background, I use a combination of girth measurements (arms, chest, waist and thighs), scale weight, and skin-fold measurements to determine body fat. Moreover, I use the Lange skin-fold caliper. The Lange calipers are considered the gold standard in the medical profession and the fitness industry. About a year ago I also added two measurements around the waist: one around the narrowest area of the waist which is generally about two inches above the waist, and the other measurement around around the belly button. I did this to add a bit more accuracy.

Andrew lost three pounds since his last measurements, and he lost about an inch around his chest and close to 2 inches at both waist measurements. Here is where it gets interesting. Even though Andrew lost some inches around his waist, the skin-fold measurements did not change. He had 63 mm from the four sites the last time I measured him (the Triceps, Biceps, Sub-scapula and Suprailliac crest), and yesterday his skin-folds were 64 mm. In essence, there was no change. According to the chart, he is still around 21% body fat.

How could this be? He lost some weight, and I know it was not muscle because his strength was still improving. He also lost inches around the waist. This is a definite sign of fat loss. The only possible conclusion that I can think of was that Andrew did not lose any subcutaneous fat, but he did lose some visceral fat.

Visceral fat is stored within the abdominal cavity, and it accumulates around the internal organs such as the liver, pancreas, kidneys, and no doubt the heart. Visceral fat is much more active than subcutaneous fat because it is the fat that plays a role on hormonal function, and not in a good way. Too much visceral fat is associated with an increased  risk of diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer.

I did some research to see if there was a way to measure visceral fat, and it seems the only reliable way is by taking a whole body scan of some type such as the DEXA scan or maybe an MRI if you wanted to. However, a more practical way is to take a tape measurement of your waist and hips at the largest point, and then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. If the ratio is 1.0 or higher for men and 0.85 for women, it is considered excessive.

Getting back to Andrew, he lost visceral fat but not subcutaneous fat between the times I measured him. So even though the skin-folds still say he is around 21%, the more likely answer is that he was originally close to 23% body fat before, and now he is closer to 21%…or he was closer to 21% before and now he may be around, say, 19%. One way or another he lost some body fat that I cannot really measure.

To me, this is good news because of the health dangers associated with visceral fat. I would rather see the visceral fat go down before the subcutaneous fat, and there is no doubt that the subcutaneous fat will also come down over time with a continued commitment to the program.


Gregg Hoffman