Subcutaneous fat is fat that is visible just under the skin. Ways of reducing it include swapping some carbohydrates for protein, doing aerobic exercise, and managing mental health issues.

Subcutaneous fat is normally harmless and may even protect against some diseases. Visceral fat is fat that surrounds the organs. Though it is not visible from the outside, it is associated with numerous diseases.

It is possible to lose both subcutaneous and visceral fat. While subcutaneous fat loss might be the goal for people who want to fit into smaller clothes, losing visceral fat improves health.

Read on to learn more about ways to lose subcutaneous fat.

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Everyone has some subcutaneous fat, but lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, as well as genetics, affect the amount of subcutaneous fat each person develops. People are more likely to accumulate both visceral and subcutaneous fat when they

  • are sedentary or spend a lot of time sitting
  • get little or no aerobic exercise
  • have little muscle mass
  • eat more calories than they burn
  • are insulin resistant or have diabetes

Research increasingly suggests that subcutaneous fat can play a protective role, particularly in obese people with a lot of visceral fat.

However, subcutaneous fat can be a sign of having more fat overall. People with lots of subcutaneous fat often also have lots of visceral fat.

Both types of fat can be difficult to lose. Some factors that make fat hard to lose include:

  • Insulin resistance: Visceral fat is correlated with insulin resistance, which can make it hard to lose both visceral and subcutaneous fat.
  • Weight loss strategies: People with lots of subcutaneous fat often make the mistake of trying to spot-reduce the fat by, for example, doing lots of abdominal exercises. This strategy is less effective than trying to burn fat throughout the body.
  • Inflammation: Some research suggests that visceral fat releases cytokines that increase inflammation. This inflammatory response is linked to weight gain and may increase subcutaneous fat.

It is important to note that a person cannot “spot reduce” fat. Aiming for overall fat loss will help them lose subcutaneous fat.

Recognizing the interaction between visceral and subcutaneous fat is key to shedding subcutaneous fat. Fitness strategies that burn fat in general, as well as those that counteract the negative effects of visceral fat, can maximize success.

The role of diet in losing subcutaneous fat

To lose weight, people need to reach a negative energy balance. This means consuming fewer calories than their body expends each day.

When losing weight, people do not need to cut out any foods or food groups — however, focusing on including certain foods can make weight loss easier.

Protein, for example, helps people feel fuller longer. Eating more protein can make it easier to stick to a diet and reduce cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods.

Some research suggests that excess carbohydrate consumption can cause abdominal fat, both visceral and subcutaneous. While people do not need to avoid carbs, it is a good idea to consume them as part of a balanced meal containing carbs protein, and fat.

For example, pair whole grain toast with scrambled eggs, spinach, and avocado.

Exercises to burn subcutaneous fat

Adding exercise to a daily routine can make it easier to achieve a negative energy balance, which can aid weight loss. Movement is also good for health and can make people feel better, physically stronger, and more energized.

Some forms of exercise to try include:

  • Aerobic exercise and cardio: This group includes most fitness routines that increase the heart rate, such as running, swimming, and jumping rope. The more intense the routine and the longer it is performed, the more calories it will burn.
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT): HIIT is an effective way to burn calories. It involves short bursts of activity followed by periods of lower activity. For example, a HIIT routine might include running for 1 minute, followed by a 2-minute walk, then another 2 minutes running or doing another intense exercise, such as jumping rope.
  • Strength training: Muscle burns calories, so building muscle is one strategy for boosting metabolism. People with more muscle burn more calories, even when they are not exercising. Strength training is a good long-term strategy for weight loss and maintenance.

Other lifestyle strategies for fighting subcutaneous fat

Mental health matters for people trying to lose weight. Chronic stress causes the body to continually release a hormone called cortisol. In small, short-lived bursts, cortisol is harmless. But prolonged exposure to cortisol can undermine weight loss. This means that managing stress may help in the effort to shed subcutaneous fat.

Cortisol is particularly harmful to weight loss, and having high levels of it can make it harder to lose weight. People experiencing bouts of stress should try to also avoid stress-eating, particularly eating a lot of sweets and carbohydrates.

A diet and exercise strategy that focuses solely on losing subcutaneous fat can be unhealthy and ineffective.

Although fears about the health effects of obesity have led many people to look at what they see in the mirror, the real culprit in the obesity epidemic may be invisible.

An older 2015 study found that people with a lot of visceral fat, or the kind not visible from the outside, were more likely to die when they had less subcutaneous fat. This means that people who have less visible fat are, at least in some cases, at a greater risk of death. Other studies have reached similar conclusions.

This evidence suggests that subcutaneous fat may protect the health of people who have lots of visceral fat.