This Explains So Much: Turns Out We All Have 4 Different Types of Fat

women in colorful workout clothes

Girlfriend Collective

Everyone has different body shapes and there's no reason to change it. That being said, there's also no shame in wanting to tone various parts of your body. Unfortunately, fat loss is not an easy feat and there are a ton of moving parts. "Along with diet, exercise, and any cosmetic treatments, there are managing motivation levels, building your willpower muscles, and overcoming hormonal imbalances and genetic predispositions, to name a few," says Mitchell Chasin, MD, a cosmetic physician and the founder and medical director of Reflections Center for Skin and Body in New Jersey.

Chasin continues, "One of the topics we don't see enough conversation about is the different types of fat, and how your strategies for fat loss need to vary based on which kind of fat you're targeting." We've got you covered! Below, we delve a little deeper into each type of fat and the best ways to keep them off, according to experts—for good.

Fluffy Fat

"Fluffy fat is soft and jiggles easily. Female hormones tell our bodies to accumulate this kind of subcutaneous (below the skin, above the muscle) fat much more readily than men, and it's typically found on women's stomachs, hips, thighs, and/or backs of the arms," says Chasin.

"Subcutaneous fat is responsible for insulation/warmth, cushioning/protection, and is an energy reserve," adds Brittney Parris, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at Culina Health.

What Is Subcutaneous Fat?

Subcutaneous fat is the fat just beneath your skin. Its purpose is to protect your muscles and bones, as well as insulate your body and store energy. Subcutaneous fat can be fibrous or more soft to the touch.

This fat is necessary to have, but too much of it can bring health complications.

If you're looking for a surgical option…

"The best choice for a toned look, sans fluffy fat, is laser liposuction," recommends Chasin. "During laser liposuction, a laser liquefies the fat before it's suctioned out, making it easy to remove that layer of squishy fat and reveal your hard-won muscles."

Make note, research shows that fat will return without any lifestyle changes (like diet and exercise). A study found that one year post-liposuction, all the fat returned and redistributed itself to different areas of the body.

If you're looking for a nonsurgical option…

"SculpSure, a noninvasive laser treatment, does an excellent job of permanently removing fluffy fat," Chasin explained. "SculpSure works by heating fat cells just beyond their limit, causing them to die and be permanently removed by the body's natural metabolism."

The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery states that SculpSure is FDA cleared to be used on the abdomen and flanks (side of your abs), but it can be used on other areas. Typically results are noticeable after about six weeks, with end results arriving after 12 weeks.

If you're looking for a targeted workout…

"Since this fat is associated with hormones, the best way to get rid of it is to cut down on sugar consumption," says Brooke Alpert, a well-known fitness expert. "Specifically, liquid sugar in the form of soda, juice, and alcohol. While you can do all the sit-ups you want, the best bet to banish this fat is to do a high-intensity interval training (I love The Fhitting Room!) to burn this subcutaneous fat."

"When it comes to exercise, remember, subcutaneous fat covers the muscle," states Parris. "As an example, abs are muscle. Spot exercises like crunches/sit ups can tone and define the abdominal muscle, but in order to see the definition of these muscles, you’ll need to reduce subcutaneous fat in the spot area, first. In short, a combination of aerobic and strength training is best."

Fibrous Fat

Fibrous fat is the tougher version of subcutaneous fat and often forms set-in rolls. You can still pinch fibrous fat, but it's tougher and doesn't squish the way fluffy fat does. "Fat is an active tissue and secretes hormones and other molecules, such as proteins, fibers and collagen," says Parris. "Fibrous fat is the result of subcutaneous fat secreting fibers, which often happens during weight gain and in the context of obesity."

Sometimes fluffy fat becomes fibrous due to the constant pressure of ill-fitting clothes, but it can be fibrous before the fat accumulated. Fibrous fat is less easily removed than fluffy fat because the fibers that form around and between those fat cells hold it in place and make it harder for your body to use that fat for energy. So it's typically the last fat that would get burned by your body's natural processes.

If you're looking for a surgical option…

Again, Chasin says, "Laser liposuction offers the easiest and most complete removal of this type of fat, and because the laser will release those fibrous bands, any fat you do accumulate in the same place afterward would likely be fluffy fat, which is easier to lose naturally."

You may wind up more satisfied choosing laser liposuction rather than other traditional methods. A 2018 study found that. compared to traditional liposuction, laser liposuction resulted in greater fat reduction, better skin retraction, and great patient satisfaction.

Also remember that making healthy changes to diet and lifestyle needs to be a priority, otherwise the fat may simply come back.

If you're looking for a nonsurgical option…

"CoolSculpting works best for this type of fat. Because fibrous fat tends to accumulate in rolls, CoolSculpting's unique contour applicator allows us to attack the roll of fat from all angles, for an effective treatment," says Chasin.

This procedure is not only safe, non-invasive, and comes with minimum side effects, but it's also effective. A 2019 study found that fat thickness was reduced by 20 percent after one treatment of cryolipolysis (which CoolSculpting is a version of).

If you're looking for a targeted workout…

"Any type of weight loss will help in this department, but this is where building muscle while losing fat is the best for a solution," suggests Alpert. "This, sadly, is also the type of fat that will often need additional help." To get the ball rolling, focus on amping up your current workout routine.

Don't give up if you aren't seeing results. "Unfortunately, research has shown that fibrous fat can be more resistant to weight reduction, especially in the context of obesity and inflammation," states Parris. "The good news is weight loss has been shown to reduce the fibers/inflammatory markers fibrous fat cells produce."


Do you know 80 to 90 percent of women have cellulite? Remember that next time you feel bad about yours. According to Chasin, cellulite happens when fat gets trapped in the bottom layers of the skin which becomes worse as we age and skin begins to thin. It's important to note that the appearance of your cellulite has more to do with hormones and genetics than age.

If you're looking for a surgical option…

"Cellulaze is a revolutionary treatment that addresses all three causes of cellulite: fat within the skin, fibrous bands that create dimples, and thinned skin," Chasin says. "Using a laser to thicken and tighten the skin, release the fibers that pull in deep dimples, and melting fat bulges trapped in the skin, this treatment creates lasting smoothness."

This procedure has shown significant improvements in both skin thickness and elasticity for at least one year. It also has minimal side effects with high satisfaction rates.

If you're looking for a nonsurgical option…

You can achieve a reduction in cellulite using a combination of noninvasive procedures as well. Chasin's favorite is SculpSure and Exilis. "SculpSure is a noninvasive fat-melting laser that reduces fat one to three centimeters below the skin's surface, [which is] perfect for fat trapped in the skin's lower layers. Exilis is a radiofrequency treatment that tightens and tones skin for a smoother appearance."

These radiofrequency options can help boost your skins collagen content, which is known to decrease with age. Plus, it is beneficial for keeping skin firm and supple. A 2019 article discusses how two weekly treatments of a radiofrequency device for six weeks resulted in a 25 percent improvement of cellulite in over 50 percent of the subjects.

If you're looking for a targeted workout…

"Cellulite is a tough one," agrees Alpert. "Sometimes losing weight can be beneficial, but other times it can almost make it appear worse." Alpert recommends some diet changes to start with. "For my clients complaining about cellulite, I suggest they go on a low-sugar diet, as excess sugar in the body can compromise the skin's structural support system, worsening the appearance of cellulite," she states. "I also recommend a diet high in vitamin C to promote the production of collagen. (I love Reserveage Collagen Replenish, $20.) Muscle-building workouts with moderate weights are great, too."

At this time it is not known if there is a specific type of exercise, duration, intensity or frequency that achieves the best cellulite reduction results. Adding exercise to your routine in general, regardless of type, can show benefits since it increases blood flow to adipose tissue resulting in less severe cellulite.

Firm Fat

Firm fat (also known as visceral fat) is different from the three other types, as it lives below the muscles, surrounding your internal organs in your abdomen. Since it's located behind a thick muscle wall, this type of fat feels firm, not soft or pinchable.

What is Visceral Fat?

Visceral fat is also referred to as intra-abdominal fat because it is located beneath the abdominal wall. You can also find it in the spaces that surround our organs, such as the liver and intestines.

"Visceral fat is a problem that has to be tackled with lifestyle changes alone because there aren't currently any tools in the cosmetic surgeon's arsenal to help reduce this kind of fat," Chasin asserts. However, the good news is that this kind of fat responds faster to lifestyle changes than the others. Here are few ways you speed up your firm fat loss.

Get more sleep

The CDC recommends adults get seven or more hours of sleep, and surprisingly getting less than that can result in unwanted fat gain. A 2019 study linked short sleep duration and insomnia with increased visceral fat obesity. People who slept for at least 7 hours each night had the lowest rate of visceral fat obesity.

If you have troubles sleeping, the CDC recommends removing electronic devices from the bedroom, avoid large meals and caffeine before bed, and be physically active during the day to see improvements.

Combine exercise and diet change to make a bigger impact

"Combining diet and exercise helps with your efforts exponentially when it comes to visceral body fat. Low-carb diets have been shown to be particularly effective, but you'll want to talk to your doctor before you take on a new fitness routine," Chasin recommends. Alpert agrees: "Add green tea to your diet, as the antioxidants are known to promote belly fat loss."

A 2020 study looked for the effectiveness of exercise in terms of reducing accumulated fat. The results showed individuals participating in moderate to vigorous intensity four times per week, 50 minutes per session, for 22 weeks showed a positive effect on the reduction of weight as well as accumulation of subcutaneous and visceral fat.

Stick with it

Don't give up once you start! "For every 10 percent of overall weight loss, you lose 30 percent of your visceral fat," explains Chasin. "So sticking with a program can pay off quickly."

It can be tough to start and continue a weight loss journey alone, that's why research shows social support is beneficial to keeping up the hard work. Other factors that help include planning ahead, awareness and mindful of food choices, nutrition education, and self-motivation.

Article Sources
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