Is targeted fat loss possible?
Excess weight (fat) usually accumulates on the waist, thighs, buttocks and arms.
Nobody is happy about it, but the order in which we want to lose fat is different for everyone – some want to reduce the circumference of the abdomen or thighs first, others want to lose weight in the hips, get slimmer arms and so on.
Body recomposition through diet and exercise takes time and effort.
For those who want a fast solution, there are fat reduction methods (mostly exercises) which, according to their authors, can only reduce fat in specific body parts.
In this article, we will look at the mechanics of fat loss and whether targeted or spot fat loss is possible.
Problem areas for women and men
For some people, excess weight is distributed proportionally over the whole body, while for others, it accumulates more in certain areas, such as the buttocks, thighs or abdomen.
Where fat likes to be is determined by our gender, age, genetics and lifestyle. For example, women have a higher body fat content than men and tend to accumulate excess fat on their hips, thighs and buttocks.
During perimenopause and menopause, hormonal changes can cause excess weight to relocate to the abdominal area.
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to accumulate fat on their waist throughout their lives.
Theory of Targeted or Spot fat reduction
The Theory of targeted weight loss is that certain exercises can be used to reduce fat in specific areas of the body. For example, abdominal crunches can reduce fat on the abdomen, squats on the thighs, etc.
This concept is still quite popular in fitness culture and is justified or believed in for the following reasons:
- When we perform exercises targeting a particular muscle group, we often feel something like burning in that area. This sensation is sometimes misinterpreted as evidence of fat burning in that area. In fact, this sensation is due to muscle fatigue and muscle fibre damage, lack of oxygen, lactic acid build-up, etc., not fat loss.
- Exercises that target specific muscle groups can cause a temporary change in the appearance of that muscle group. For example, abs exercises can increase muscle tone in the abdominal area, which may create the illusion of fat loss from that area. However, these changes are related to muscle development, not fat loss.
- If we want to improve the appearance of any part of our body, we tend to pay more attention to it. This selective attention can lead us to believe that that particular part of the bodyfat decreases or decreases faster. The truth is that fat decreases throughout the entire body, not just in the body part we want to improve.
- Marketing and misinformation – The fitness industry responds very quickly to different requests. In this case, if you want to lose weight from your belly fast, please, there is a specialized exercise programme that is particularly effective for losing belly weight, there is also diet, special detox programmes, etc. Unfortunately, not all is gold that glitters.
As you can already guess, there is little scientific evidence for this theory, and what evidence there is is not conclusive.
That’s not the way fat burns.
How Fat Burns?
To understand why local fat reduction is impossible, it is important to understand how the body burns fat.
Fat is stored in our body cells as triglycerides, and when we need extra energy – triglycerides have to be broken down into smaller parts, which can enter our bloodstream. Triglycerides are broken down into their constituents – glycerol and fatty acids. This process is called lipolysis.
In other words, to use the energy stored in the adipose tissue, the body has to carry out a series of actions involving the breakdown of triglycerides, the release of fatty acids into the bloodstream, their uptake by muscle cells, activation, beta-oxidation, the Krebs cycle… The result is ATP molecules, which then provide us with energy at the cellular level.
For the body to start to burn fat, it needs to create a calorie deficit – you need to burn more calories than you eat. And to avoid losing muscle, the calorie deficit should be no more than 10-15 per cent.
When the body starts to use the energy stored in fat – these fat cells will begin to shrink, and our body will slim down.
The energy comes from the whole body, not just from the cells in the area where the muscles are engaged. In other words, lifting the legs alone won’t do much to slim the thighs.
Leg exercises can stimulate muscle building and increase strength and endurance in the lower body.
And – the more muscle mass we have, the more energy our body spends to maintain it, and the easier it becomes for us to lose weight. And that includes the thighs.
Where do you lose fat first?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
Which part of your body will lose fat first depends on your genes, sex, age, muscle-to-fat ratio and body type. Human beings are complex creatures, so it is impossible to say where exactly the most fat will be lost or where it will fall off first – unfortunately, we have no control over this.
In most cases, the first place you accumulate fat is usually the last place it disappears. For example, if your arms have recently become rounder, you will lose fat from your arms first when you start exercising and eating a balanced and healthy diet.
Fat loss also doesn’t change the shape of our bodies – for example, if you have a pear-shaped build, you can reduce your girths, but your body shape will stay the same.
Most people first lose visceral fat, then subcutaneous fat starts to melt.
Women have wider hips, buttocks and thighs compared to men. These areas also have a higher fat cell count, so women usually find it most difficult to lose weight in these areas, and the fat on the face, neck and chest starts to decrease first.
How do you reduce fat and tighten problem areas?
While we can’t choose where to lose fat first and where to lose it later, we can decide which parts of our body we want to improve.
The best way to transform the body is to develop and train your muscles because the muscles are the ones that give shape to your belly, butt, thighs…
Muscles are best grown and strengthened through strength training, but strength training burns relatively few calories, and if you don’t reduce the fat layer over your muscles, no one will see your beautiful figure.
To transform the shape of your body, you must also actively burn calories.
In other words, you can have very strong and expressive abdominal muscles, but they will only become noticeable when the fat pad over them disappears.
High-intensity interval training and exercises that involve the whole body are proven to be the most effective for weight loss.
The best exercises for overall fat loss are:
- Cardio workouts (running, cycling, rowing, etc.). They involve large muscle groups and have been shown to burn calories efficiently and can be particularly effective in reducing belly fat.
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT) consists of short periods of intense activity immediately followed by a rest/recovery period. Studies have shown that HIIT can be more effective in burning fat than steady-state cardio training.
- Whole body exercises (all major muscle groups are engaged). Exercises that target the whole body (Full Body) rather than one or a few body parts (Split) have been shown to burn more calories and promote higher fat loss than exercises that target individual muscle groups.
- Combining exercises. Combining resistance (strength) workouts and cardiovascular (cardio) workouts is more effective than focusing on just one type of exercise to lose excess weight.
Low-impact exercises such as swimming and walking (at least 40 minutes) are also highly effective for losing excess weight and do not require extra equipment or a private trainer.
What is the best way to lose weight?
The key is to realise (and accept) that weight loss is not a one-off, short-term action but a marathon over a lifetime.
In fact, even small changes in diet and physical activity over time can significantly impact both – appearance and health.
Giving up high-calorie beverages, like various sodas and packet juices, is a good start.
Increasing physical activity can also have a positive effect on metabolism.
Remember that when it comes to weight loss, 80% of success is achieved in the kitchen – if you regularly eat more calories than your body can consume, no amount of workout programmes, diets, teas, pills, or Voodoo will help you.
The most effective and healthy way to lose weight is a combination of diet and exercise – diet directly affects energy intake, and exercise speeds up your metabolism and helps you lose (or maintain) weight.
The best way to find out to what extent we can change our bodies is to set a goal and start working towards it consistently.
Advertisements, magazines, online trainers and social media promote and will most likely continue to promote the idea that by exercising small isolated muscles, such as the abdominals, the fat above them will disappear. However, if you train your abdominals only – you most likely will be disappointed. But if you follow a balanced diet, pay attention to portion sizes and train your whole body – your abs will eventually become visible to everyone.
Remember that fat cells don’t go away – if you increase your calorie intake, you’ll gain weight again.