How do I lose weight in specific areas of my body?
April 4, 2013 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm having more trouble than I thought I would in getting rid of these love handles and my usual methodology is proving ineffective.

I'm a reasonably fit guy. I stand 6'1" and used to weigh 185 lbs, which (according to the BMI scale) crosses the line into just slightly overweight.

Most of this is upper body mass - I have a broad, muscular chest, to the extent that it's hard to get dress shirts that fit me. This V-shaped build build helps conceal a physical flaw that I don't particularly like, which is my love handles. However, I decided a couple of months ago that even though I'm pretty fit, I can do better. I decided to lose the love handles and maybe bring my weight down to 180, which would put my BMI into the completely average range. This did not work out the way that I thought.

I assumed that the love handles were simply extra weight, so if I ate less and started exercising more they would disappear naturally. My exercise routine now is 15 pushups each day, 30 situps each day, cycling on my exercise machine for half an hour, and lifting weights for half an hour. I also run a 5k once each week. Also, I never eat breakfast anymore - I just eat an apple in the morning to get my metabolism going.

However, instead of losing weight, I have gained it. When I last stood on the scale, I saw that I am now 195 lbs. Based on observation, I'm confident that this added weight is mostly muscle rather than fat. However, my love handles are completely unchanged. Completely. All this exercise has not made the slightest dent in them.

How can I get rid of these damn love handles? Adjusting my diet and exercise routine has altered the rest of my body, but hasn't seemed to make the slightest bit of difference in that area. Are there any specific exercises that I need to be doing?
posted by wolfdreams01 to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Spot reduction is a myth. The way to lose love handles is to lose more fat. It's frustrating but true.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:08 AM on April 4, 2013 [30 favorites]

Your body may simply have changed how/where it stores fat, over the years. If you lose a lot of weight, the love handles will probably disappear. But you'd have to weigh that against the effort it would take to lose lots of weight, and the effect that would have on the rest of your body...
posted by like_a_friend at 9:12 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Build up until you can run a 5k M-W-Th and then 5-8miles on saturdays.
posted by Grither at 9:12 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Honestly, you can't decide where fat comes off your body. You can cut down until you have the lowest bodyfat percentage possible, but you may look skeletal there. If you do that and then start bulking up by eating VERY CAREFULLY, you may be able to build muscle without the fat sneaking back in.

However, if you gain on your waist, that's probably where any excess fat is going to land no matter what.
posted by xingcat at 9:13 AM on April 4, 2013

Your body has a set way it gains and loses weight, and where these locations are is out of your hands.
posted by griphus at 9:14 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Short of liposuction, you can't.
posted by aramaic at 9:15 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

An apple in the morning might not be enough to kick-start your metabolism. Vary your exercise routine throughout the week, try eating more at breakfast, and possibly get a more detailed analysis than just straight BMI-- what are your measurements? Is your waist getting smaller/more defined? How about your chest, neck, arms, legs?
posted by RainyJay at 9:15 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

And to clarify: I'm not saying you can spot-train, that is a myth. Just that when I started training for a marathon a couple years ago, that was what I was doing, and it definitely helped me to get rid of that stubborn little spare tire hanging around my waist.

Of course, it's back now, but that's because I no longer run that much and I eat crap.
posted by Grither at 9:22 AM on April 4, 2013

Your goals are very likely achievable, but not the way you're going about them. There are no exercises for reducing fat in any particular place. Your issue is with your body composition -- you want less fat and more muscle. The most efficient way of altering your body composition is by focusing on resistance training (i.e. lifting weights) and manipulating your diet.

15 pushups and 30 situps every day will have a negligible effect on anything. The running and cycling will increase your cardiorespiratory fitness, but won't impact your body composition absent a tightly controlled diet (and even then, resistance training would be more beneficial). To build more muscle through resistance training you need to create progression by introducing more difficult movements, increasing the loads, increasing volume, etc.

You can read lots of details and links to some pre-made training programs at Harsh's worksheet and the r/fitness FAQ.

Also, eating in the morning is fine, and not eating in the morning is fine, too -- you don't need to eat at a specific time to get your metabolism going.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:25 AM on April 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

Spot reduction is a myth, and your body likes to store fat where it likes to store fat. However, dude, you sound like you are looking at your flaws with a microscope. I know because this is something I do myself, and remember, there's nothing less sexy than staring at yourself in a mirror and pinching your fat.

THAT HAVING BEEN SAID: How intensely are you cycling? Low intensity "cardio" is useless if you're not completely out of shape. You run 5k once a week - I say ditch the cycling a couple days and run three to four days a week.

And what are you eating the rest of the day? Zero tolerance for junk food. Portion control. Low carb. And so on.

But honestly: You probably don't have love handles. Olympic swimmers sometimes look like they have love handles because that's the way people are built. Don't get dysmorphic about your body, all right?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:25 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you'd either have to reduce your bodyfat to single-digit percentages, which isn't really sustainable in the long run, or get liposuction.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:31 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

One issue is that you shouldn't be concerned about gaining or losing weight, you should be concerned about gaining or losing fat. So reframe this for yourself as "how do I reduce my bodyfat?" because reducing your bodyfat is going to be what it is going to take to reduce your lovehandles. Also, I have the same body type as you except I'm shorter. This is an issue for me, too. I have had success at this in the past. You need a plan, and you need to work the plan with discipline. I'll tell you what my plan was.

My plan had three parts: nutrition, exercise, and rest. All were important. I'll address each in turn.

Nutrition: the bottom line is that you need to burn more calories than you take in. Start by estimating your daily metabolic rate by using an online BMR calculator. This probably won't be accurate, so it's just a starting point to work from. After you've figured out your presumptive BMR, you want to take in an average of 3500-7000 fewer weekly calories than you consume. Exercise will account for some of this burn, so I would typically aim to construct each day's nutrition to give me 300-500 fewer calories than my estimated caloric maintenance rate. I'd eat more on days I lifted weights. I split my meals into 5-6 per day, but you can do this however it works for you, so long as you hit the caloric target. I used a scale to weigh food, and cup and tablespoon measurements, etc. and used to input my data so I had a pretty accurate account of how much I actually took in each day in calories.

In designing a nutrition plan, I prioritized protein, making sure I got at least 1g/lb of bodyweight in protein. Protein has 4 calories per gram, so I would first find ways to get protein, then I would see how many total calories in protein, carbs, and fat I was up to. I'd fill in the rest of my eating plan around that, making sure I was getting at least 25% of my calories from fat, too (9 cal/gram). I ate lots of egg whites, protein powder, greek yogurt, nuts, and vegetables. I had to eliminate most starchy carbs to make this work. Every week I'd write out several days ahead exactly what each day's meals would be. Then I would buy the food and prep those meals ahead of time, so I never wondered what or when I was going to eat. It took self-discipline to do this.

Exercise: I prioritized strength training over cardio. I lifted weights 3-4 days a week, prioritizing the major muscle groups. I built my program around squats, deads, pull ups, bench press, overhead press, dips, and lunges. I also did abs. I typically aimed for lower reps at higher weights rather than a lot of reps. Sometimes, I did cardio, but this was more an adjunct to my plan, not strictly necessary. I just made sure I accounted for the increased calorie burn if I was upping my mileage when I would run.

Rest: I got to sleep at a reasonable time. I stretched. And, most importantly, I did not lift every single day. I gave my body time to heal and grow and recover.

I've done this a number of times in the last several years, and it has always been effective. If I don't act with as much precision or self-discipline, my body doesn't really change. But if I take the time to plan my meals, figure out my calories, and stick to exercising, etc, I will see results. I found it worked best when I did my plan consistently--minimized skipped workouts, minimized exceptions to the healthy meals; when I did my plan intensely--rigorous adherence to eating healthy foods, serious effort at the gym; and when I did my plan for a significant length of time. It took self discipline to achieve the consistency, intensity, and longevity necessary to go from being "in decent shape" to "in very good shape."
posted by MoonOrb at 9:32 AM on April 4, 2013 [14 favorites]

You'll need to lose more fat overall to lose the love handles. As others have said, there is no way to spot reduce. Try adding some HIIT into your regular cardio routine 3x/week to shake things up. Really try to push yourself in your workouts. Change things around frequently. Most importantly, stick with it. You may actually be changing and not realizing it because you look at yourself in the mirror every day. Take progress pictures and take your measurements to track yourself. Way more accurate than just relying on memory.

Diet is SO SO SO important when trying to lose weight. You'll need to be consuming less calories than you expend if you want to shed fat. What's your current diet like? Track your food intake for a month through a calorie counting site like My Fitness Pal. You may be surprised by the results. At the very least, calorie tracking will make you more conscious of what you put in your body.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 9:33 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding the fact that spot reduction is a myth and the body gets rid of fat where it damn well wants to. (Generally, that's the reverse of the order in which it was added.) You can fight for a lower body fat percentage (with diminishing returns), but generally it's either impossible or extremely unproductive to try to eliminate fat in a specific area.

With regards to fixing the issue: there's a difference between exercise and training. Training is a ramp, exercise is merely a constant level of activity.

A given amount of exercise--15 pushups, 30 situps, 30 minutes cycling, then lifting weights does not challenge the body indefinitely. How long have you been at this routine? Are you increasing the weights, decreasing rest periods, switching between similar exercises, increasing the intensity of the sprints during your cycling? "Lift weights" is quite vague--are you Oly lifting? Bodybuilding on machines? Powerlifting? CrossFitting? Different methods of lifting have different effects. Also, are your diet and sleep really dialed in with regards to quality, timing, and quantity? The apple thing doesn't tell us much. We need to know a lot more to diagnose why your approach is not working.

As an aside, BMI is spectacularly ill-suited to use as a metric for improvement.
posted by daveliepmann at 9:43 AM on April 4, 2013

I won't speak to the weight gain, but you might try to kill the situps. If you build up the obliques and abs, the payer of fat on top of those will stick out more - love handles.

Beyond that, yeah, you can't spot-remove fat.
posted by notsnot at 9:44 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Write everything down that you eat. You're probably eating more than you think you are.

Also, the fitness industry makes money selling us food products, but unless you want to bulk up like crazy, you don't need protein shakes and the like. You should eat a little right after a workout, but if you're not doing serious endurance training (which you're not), a piece of fruit and a few almonds should be enough.

And I've said this here before, but: Abs are made in the kitchen.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:48 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Write everything down that you eat. You're probably eating more than you think you are.

This was what did it for me. I had some hand-wavey ideas about how much I was eating and was sort of chagrined to not only not be losing weight but actually gaining it. I have a pretty normal metabolism (that is, no medical conditions that would make the general calorie measuring thing not work for me) and so a year ago I started really paying attention to what I ate using MyFitnessPal. There are a bunch of different ones of these, I like this one. The deal is you say "I weigh X, I want to weigh Y. I am this tall and this heavy and this sedentary" and then it says "Okay you can eat this much and if you stick to it, you will weigh this much in this amount of time." and then it also allows for exercise so on days when you exercise, it takes those "lost calories" into account so if you're allowed 1600 calories a day and exercise 400 calories worth, you can either eat up to 2000 calories and lose at your current weight or take a loss and lose weight somewhat more quickly.

I am a nitpicky bean counter and this approach worked for mentally and it also worked for me physically and helped me lose the last 20 lbs I was looking to lose and keep it off. I also love food so this gave me an excuse to get more creative in my cooking to stay within calorie limits, track all my nutrition and now I have a pretty stable exercise routine that goes along with it.

I agree with what people are saying about spot reduction, all you can really do is change the appearance of your general fat distribution (dressing well for your shape is a huge part of it) and work on dropping your overall body fat amount. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 9:55 AM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

You will have to lose way more than 5 lb if you want the love handles to go away. I can tell you right off that your exercise routine is far too sedate to have any real impact. The sheer desperation of public health agencies to get people to do something, anything has led to misconception that 30 minutes of low-intensity exercise 3 - 5 times a week is somehow enough. Unless you otherwise get around on foot or bicycle alone, it isn't.

Not only is spot reduction a myth, but so is the idea that you can "gain muscle and lose fat" at the same time. You can slow the loss of muscle when losing weight, but it's inevitable that you'll lose some, even if it's only a little. One thing that does help mitigate that loss is first-class nutrition coupled with intense exercise, without overtraining. This is what bodybuilders do in the cutting phase.

I'm with ablazingsaddle: write down everything you eat. MoonOrb's got all the elements of a good strategy. Focus on lifting heavy, concentrating on the major muscle groups. You are unluckily to make much progress without this. And if all you care about is getting rid of the love handles/losing the weight, then get serious about running. Nothing makes the weight melt off like a good running routine. Aim for 20k a week, that ought to do it :)

The bad news: it's hard.

The good news: hard soon becomes fun.
posted by rhombus at 10:09 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Walk more. The human body was designed to walk. It is the best way to burn fat.

Also, check your memail.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 10:10 AM on April 4, 2013

If your ultimate goal is to lose fat, and you're in a bit of a hurry, check out keto.

The best way to lose fat is to have a clean diet. Lifting and running help, but the vast majority of calories a person burns in a day, they burn by just existing. Running/lifting/whatever burn calories sure, but not much relative to how much one burns just by living.

Keto is a low low carb diet, you'll lose water weight first, and the fat will start go soon after.
posted by irishcoffee at 10:55 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Everything MoonOrb said above is great! I just wanted to say, though, that a traditional BMR calculation is supposed to be what you burn at rest (like, bedridden). Please don't use that as your 'caloric max' starting point; it's dangerous. You'll want to use something like the Harris Benedict Equation to estimate your daily caloric need for your activity level. There are a number of calculators out there but I just wanted to caution against going way too low by using a true BMR number.
posted by xiaolongbao at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2013

The human body was designed to walk run.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:47 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Short of liposuction, you can't.

This is so not true.

No, you cannot spot reduce, but your overall body fat % going down will reduce your love handles. I know because that's where my fat hangs when I let it - but most of the time, I don't, and they go away.

What you need to do, frankly, is diet and not exercise related - your exercise habits, assuming you stick to them, are pretty good. Walking more is a good suggestion - it's a low impact, sneaky way of cutting a few more calories without getting tired and preventing other workouts.

Get a kitchen scale, prepare meal plans, track the food you eat and cut out calorically-dense, nutritionally inferior food - breads, pastas, sugars, fatty meats. The staples of your diet should be things like eggs, nuts, lean protein, vegetables (lots of them) and water, water, water. The more you can be vigilant about what you eat, the better chance you have of cutting out the handles.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 12:49 PM on April 4, 2013

Lipo is not the counterfactual for you, it is the solution. You are the perfect case for it -- a fit person who wants to do a little sculpting.
posted by MattD at 5:02 AM on April 5, 2013

Thanks for all your advice everybody. In addition to my weekly 5k, I am adding a second weekly 8k. I've also started counting calories much more rigorously.

I'm pretty fit already, so I don't think I'll do lipo. My love handles aren't so noticeable that anybody has ever remarked on them - they're just a minor pet peeve of mine.

I appreciate all the helpful suggestions and tips.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:54 AM on April 15, 2013

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