Did you know that there are different types of fat in the human body?
When the majority of us think about body fat, we are thinking about subcutaneous fat. The fat that resides on the abdomen, the side of our legs, and the back of our arms is subcutaneous and is the fat we will be discussing in further detail in this article.
There are three main types of adipose or fat tissue: visceral, intramuscular, and subcutaneous. All fat types serve an essential purpose when present in reasonable amounts, but having elevated amounts of subcutaneous fat in the body can lead to adverse health outcomes.
So, let’s learn more about subcutaneous fat, where it comes from, and how to lose any excess subcutaneous fat you may not want to keep around.
What’s the two most common type of body fat?
So, to start—what is fat in the first place?
Adipose tissue (most commonly called fat tissue) is an energy-rich connective tissue made from lipids found throughout the body in different forms.
Two of the most common types of adipose tissue are visceral and subcutaneous fat.
What is visceral fat?
Visceral fat is found inside the abdominal cavity, surrounding our internal organs as a protective layer. While having higher amounts of subcutaneous fat is more visible, having high visceral fat levels in the body can lead to serious health issues. Having a large amount of fatty tissue surrounding your internal organs can lead to medical conditions such as type II diabetes, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation throughout the body.
What is subcutaneous fat?
In contrast, subcutaneous fat sits just under the skin and is what most people think about when they picture body fat. The amount of subcutaneous fat a person has is dependent on a variety of factors like genetics and lifestyle factors like diet and exercise level.
What causes subcutaneous fat?
It is important to note that subcutaneous fat is naturally occurring and that it is normal to have some amount of subcutaneous fat present in your body. With that said, multiple factors can contribute to the development of excess subcutaneous fat that can cause adverse health outcomes and poorer health.
There are two primary sources of subcutaneous fat development: lifestyle habits and pre-existing medical conditions.
How your lifestyle impacts your subcutaneous fat
Lifestyle habits have a significant impact on our general health. Things like caloric intake, diet, and exercise levels can play a critical role in developing excess subcutaneous fat.
Frequently eating a surplus of calories can lead to weight gain. Food provides us with the energy we need to perform our daily tasks. But, when we eat food high in calories and do not use the energy provided by that food, our body stores the leftovers as fat to be used later. A regular caloric surplus will lead to subcutaneous fat gain.
The type of diet you consume also has can have an impact on your subcutaneous fat deposits. Eating a diet high in vegetables and natural ingredients is more often associated with maintaining a healthy weight. Diets high in refined sugar and processed foods often contain excess fat and calories, leading to weight gain.
Healthy lifestyle change to lower your subcutaneous fat
Exercise is extremely important for health and the regulation of subcutaneous fat. When we exercise, our body dips into our fat reserves to provide our cells with energy. Regular exercise is connected to maintaining a healthy weight and can help reduce any current subcutaneous fat reserves. Not only does exercise regulate subcutaneous fat, but it can also help increase your muscle mass. By incorporating strength training into your exercise routine, you can increase your muscle mass while decreasing the amount of subcutaneous fat storage in the body. Start by incorporating full-body strength training. You may find that you begin to feel stronger as your muscle mass increases and your subcutaneous fat starts to decrease. As your muscle mass increases, your body will be less at risk for injury and you may feel more energized throughout the day!
Pre-existing medical conditions and subcutaneous fat
Pre-existing medical conditions can be a contributing factor to the development of increased subcutaneous fat. Some treatment options for medical conditions like viral infections and diabetes have been proven to increase fatty tissue deposits.
People diagnosed with type II diabetes experience insulin resistance due to increased amounts of adipose tissue in the body. A popular class of drugs used to treat this condition is thiazolidinediones, which help control high blood glucose levels. It is typical for patients taking this medicine to gain anywhere from 1.5 – 4 kg of weight during the first year of treatment which may further increase their subcutaneous fat levels.
Understanding the connection between your lifestyle and the management of pre-existing medical conditions can be very helpful for managing subcutaneous fat. But how do I know how much subcutaneous fat I have in the first place?
How to measure subcutaneous fat?
Now, for those curious about how much subcutaneous fat they have on their body, there are ways to measure it accurately!
It is first important to understand that fat is an essential part of the human body, and that both men and women have different percentages that make up healthy overall fat levels. On average, men should aim for an overall fat composition of 18-24%, while women should aim for 25-31%.
While some at-home body composition scales can measure your body fat composition, more scientific methods can deliver accurate subcutaneous fat readings.
Research into the accuracy of CT scans and MRIs for calculating subcutaneous body fat has started to emerge. While these methods are accurate, they are expensive and can be hard to coordinate regularly for those looking for repeat readings.
Ultrasonography has also been proven to be a successful way to measure subcutaneous fat. Significantly more affordable and portable than CT scans and MRIs, ultrasonography does not require exposing the patient to radiation to get accurate results.
Finally, calipers can provide rough estimates for subcutaneous fat. Calipers are used on skin folds to estimate the subcutaneous fat on the legs, abdomen, and arms.
Any of the above measurement options can help you learn more about your body and improve your health. Regular measurement can be used as motivation as a person progresses through a weight loss journey.
How can I lose extra subcutaneous fat?
Now, the question of the hour—how does a person get rid of excess subcutaneous fat?
Diet and exercise are two big contributing factors to managing weight and lowering your body fat percentage. Reducing caloric intake to a healthy level for your body and increasing the amount of exercise you do daily will encourage your body to burn through the reserves of fat, both visceral and subcutaneous.
Looking for a fun way to exercise? Give high-intensity interval training (HIIT) a try! Based on doing bursts of high-intensity cardiovascular activity with short breaks, HIIT is a great way to elevate your heart rate and burn extra calories in a short period. Regular high-intensity exercise can help reduce subcutaneous fatty reserves.
When it comes to your diet, understanding the concept of calories in vs. calories out can be helpful. Calorie tracking has become a popular way for people to monitor their daily intake to prevent overeating and caloric surplus. The goal of calorie monitoring is to maintain a healthy caloric intake that will provide you with the energy you need daily while also keeping you at a deficit, so you utilize fat reserves as well. It is recommended that you work with a trained health professional to determine how many calories you need daily to promote fat loss.
Increasing lean body mass
Additionally, working out to increase your lean body mass (LBM) is a great way to reduce your body fat percentage and increase your strength. Increasing muscle mass through weight lifting can help you burn fat while also improving your basal metabolic rate (BMR). The higher your BMR, the more fat your body will naturally burn through. It’s a win-win!
Reminder to self
It is important to note that improving your diet and exercise does not target a specific area of subcutaneous fat. If your goal is to lose fat in a particular area, the only treatment option available is undergoing invasive liposuction surgery. It is important to note that while this treatment targets subcutaneous fat in specific areas, it does not remove visceral fat or improve your general health.
Remember, weight loss is not a race to the finish. Maintaining healthy body weight and changing your body composition to contain less overall subcutaneous fat will take time. Checking in with yourself and using positive self-affirmations can be helpful ways to prevent negative self-talk and will improve your success rate in losing excess weight. Checking in with your mental health is also an absolute must as you progress towards improved overall health.
Putting it all together
So, what did we learn about subcutaneous fat?
There are many different forms of fat in the human body, one of which is subcutaneous fat. Existing just below the skin, it is the most visible form of fatty tissue. Having high amounts of adipose tissue throughout the body can lead to adverse health outcomes and may lead to severe medical conditions.
Our diet and exercise levels play a huge role in the development of excess subcutaneous fat, but they also play a role in losing excess weight. Making improvements in your diet to include more vegetables and less processed foods and increasing your daily exercise will cause your body to utilize its fat reserves for energy, which should help reduce your subcutaneous fat.
Many modern methods of subcutaneous fat measurement are excellent motivational tools to promote better health and keep you on track with your fitness journey. Body composition monitoring is a valuable tool to guide you in your journey to improve your overall health, and it’s definitely worth giving it a try!