In all your online wanderings, you’ve inevitably scrolled past ads for The Secret to Target Belly Fat. Intermittent fasting, bossy diet advice, “this one exercise” — supposedly, you’re always just one click away from a flatter stomach.
It’s a myth that you can target certain body parts for weight loss.
Like it or not, during the weight loss process, you have almost no control over where your body will shrink fat cells.
“Genetics are the strongest determinant for where your body will pull from,” says Dr. St. Pierre. “As a result, targeting any specific area for weight loss is tough.”
In other words, you could do tricep dips till your arms go numb, but the weight might come off your legs instead. Because that’s just how it goes in your family.
It’s especially hard to target belly fat.
Even if you’ve been doing nothing but plank challenges, as far as your body is concerned, your waistline tends to be at the back of the line for weight loss.
“The bottom of the abdomen, bellow the belly button, is such a tough area for weight loss,” says Dr. St. Pierre. “It almost always seems to be the last area the body tries to pull weight from.”
Yes, exercises can help with toning the muscle beneath fat. But intentionally shrinking the layer of fat in your stomach through diet or exercise? That’s more or less impossible.
Not all belly fat is bad.
“There are two types of body fat,” says Dr. St. Pierre, “visceral and subcutaneous.”
Subcutaneous fat, which is just below your skin, is the soft stuff you can easily pinch. It’s probably what you’re trying to vanquish when you eye those online ads for targeting belly fat. Impossible beauty standards aside, this kind of fat can actually be protective.
Meanwhile, you can’t easily see visceral fat, and you definitely can’t pinch it. Visceral fat builds up underneath your abdominal muscle, wrapping around organs like your liver, stomach and intestines. It can be dangerous if you have too much of it, raising your risk for conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes and more.
There are several ways to definitively diagnose visceral fat, like an MRI scan (ideally) or a CT or DEXA scan. Just keep in mind that, depending on the scan, insurance usually doesn’t cover the full cost — or, in the case of an MRI or CT scan, any of it. Most patients get the guidance they need just by talking to their doctor about key indicators like their waist size.
In conclusion: Outside of cosmetic procedures like a tummy tuck or liposuction, there’s no real way to target belly fat. But certain kinds of belly fat do deserve your attention.
If you’re worried, scroll past the clickbait — and talk to your doctor instead.