News & Events

Body Fat: Good and Bad

Celeste Hebets, P.T.

You know that extra padding you hate on your hips and buttocks area? You may not like the way it looks, but it's not necessarily bad for you. The fat surrounding the stomach area, however, is a different story — not only is it bad, it can be deadly.

Good fat:

Let's start with the "good" fat, the fatty layer just beneath your skin on your arms, hips and buttocks and legs. It's called subcutaneous fat, and it's not necessarily the worst thing to have. Subcutaneous fat gives rise to two beneficial metabolic hormones: leptin, the hormone that tells your body to hang onto or let go of weight; and adiponectin, a hormone that lowers blood sugar. A Harvard study found that subcutaneous fat might help improve sensitivity to insulin and prevent diabetes.

Bad fat:

The fat in the stomach area, on the other hand, is bad news. Known as visceral fat, it is hidden deep down, so even those who don't have a protruding belly (a signal for some that they have it) they could still harbor this "bad" kind of fat. Visceral fat lies far beneath the skin, where it surrounds the organs and sets off a harmful hormonal firestorm. Having this type of fat slows the metabolism, lowers growth hormones, raises cortisol, creates insulin resistance and increases your risk of all kinds of diseases including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and fatty-liver disease.  

In fact, the liver metabolizes this visceral fat and releases it as the bad cholesterol into the blood system.  This type of cholesterol builds up into plaque that blocks the blood vessels.

Losing the fat:         

Visceral fat increases when one is overweight. So how can you lose it? Diet and exercise!

Exercise: Aerobic activities such as the stationary bike, swimming and walking are all beneficial. Walking is one of the better ways of controlling visceral fat. It seems to be more effective than some other types of exercise such as swimming. Walking at a fairly fast pace for 30 minutes, six days a week has been shown to successfully reduce visceral fat. Walking only three days a week does not produce the same results. On the other hand, no exercise at all has been shown to increase the amount of visceral fat in our bodies. When walking, the exertion level (how hard it is) should be light to somewhat hard with the ability to talk without gasping for air. 

There is no such thing as “spot reduction.” You can’t perform stomach exercises to get rid of stomach fat.  So, ease up on the crunches. Doing hundreds of crunches a night is NOT going to reduce visceral fat and flatten the belly bulge. Of course, including some sit-ups in a workout routine will help strengthen and tone core muscles.

Diet: Changing one’s diet may also help decrease visceral fat. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that replacing refined grains with whole grains led to a greater amount of visceral fat loss. When consuming refined foods like white bread, it triggers a series of events starting with elevated blood sugar levels followed by an increased insulin response, which can cause fat to be deposited more readily. Eating a diet rich in whole grains (which also are higher in fiber) helps improve insulin sensitivity. This, in turn helps the body more efficiently use blood glucose, lowers blood glucose levels and reduces fat deposition. Participants in the study also included fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean meat, fish or poultry in their diet. 

When diet and exercise are not enough

Weight loss oftentimes is one of the best solutions to weight-related health conditions. By learning to manage a balanced diet and implementing an exercise regimen, unwanted weight should begin to decrease. Losing weight is beneficial for almost all health related problems, especially infertility issues. Once you’ve identified these lifestyle factors and have improved upon them, the extra weight should slowly start to creep off. If these tips, complemented with an exercise regimen and proper diet, don’t help, then bariatric surgery might be the answer for you.

If you are considering weight-loss surgery, Flagstaff Medical Center’s Bariatric Surgical Weight Loss Center offers free information sessions the second Tuesday of each month from 6 - 7 p.m. These sessions include a presentation by our surgical staff on the causes of and complications related to morbid obesity, as well as the types of surgeries available. To register to attend a free information session, call 928 214-3737. To learn more about the program, visit

The Bariatric Surgical Weight Loss Center at Flagstaff Medical Center is nationally recognized with a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence® designation by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. This designation acknowledges the excellence of FMC’s Bariatric Surgical Weight Loss Center and bariatric surgeons Andrew Aldridge, M.D., and Robert Berger, M.D., medical director of the center, who are dedicated to providing high quality care and excellent services.

Celeste Hebets, P.T., is a physical therapist and coordinator of FMC’s Bariatric Surgical Weight Loss Center.