How to Differentiate Stomach Fat and Muscle

If you look like this, you don't have much belly fat.
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Most people tend to store their excess fat in the abdominal area, although there are differences from person to person. The fat may be visceral -- surrounding your internal organs -- or the more obvious subcutaneous fat that jiggles around your navel area. Determining the precise amount of fat that surrounds your stomach muscles requires a high-tech medical test, such as an MRI. But other methods can offer a good picture of the muscle-to-fat ratio around your belly.

    Stand erect in front of a large mirror, then turn your shoulder toward the mirror. Relax your abdominal muscles. If you see a curving, rounded shape around your belly, then you have some extra fat. If you have perfect “six-pack” abs you’ll literally see six firm, rectangular sections of muscle in your abdominal area.

    Tighten your stomach muscles, then press your fingertips into your belly. The firm area underneath is muscle. The loose matter on top is fat.

    Measure the circumference of your waist with a tape measure. Keep the tape parallel with the floor and run it around your navel, while breathing normally. Take several measurements to assure the best accuracy. Because muscle is denser than fat, any change in your waist measurement, whether larger or smaller, likely means you’ve either gained or lost fat.

    Check your waist-to-hip ratio. Determine your waist measurement at the narrowest spot, then measure your hips at their widest point. Divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement. The larger the ratio, the more stomach fat you have. In women, for example, a ratio of 0.8 or more puts you at greater risk for heart disease or stroke, according to Harvard Medical School.

    Determine whether you’ve lost fat via an exercise program by finding a pair of pants that fits perfectly around your midsection. Perform your exercise program for about a month, then try on the pants again. If there’s now a gap between your belly and the pants, that distance is the approximate amount of fat you’ve lost.

    Receive a skinfold caliper test from a qualified medical practitioner to determine your overall body fat percentage. The calipers cannot measure your visceral fat, but the test can tell you about the amount of fat sitting on top of your stomach muscles.

    Things You'll Need

    • Mirror

    • Tape measure

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