That hard to shake, stubborn belly and hip fat can really try and throw your weight-loss goals off course. It might feel like, despite your efforts to shed the dead weight, it clings to you for dear life. It’s beyond frustrating.
“For men, love handles are hard to lose because most of their fat cells are located in this area,” explains personal trainer and nutritionist, Jim White, RD. Women’s bodies like to deposit fat into the hip and thigh area, too, which creates the illusion of love handles, says Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN.
“When women begin to lose weight, it happens in other parts of the body first,” she says. “I oftentimes hear my patients say that their face may appear thinner, but they are still having trouble losing in their midsection and hips.”
While these facts may sound dismal (you can’t do much to alter your genetics, after all) there are other things you can control that will help you shrink your hips and melt away that pesky stubborn fat once and for all.
Read on to find out exactly why you can’t seem to lose this dreaded fat, and to help you reach your goals even quicker, be sure to try out these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
While it may seem obvious, but if you want to lose your love handles, you need to consume fewer calories. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to simply reduce your portion sizes. “Creating a deficit of 500 calories a day can help someone lose a pound a week. This can help with reducing fat around the love handles and all around the body,” notes White.
One of the easiest ways to reduce your calorie intake? “Swap in broccoli, spinach or other non-starchy vegetables to replace higher calorie foods that may be packing in the calories,” advises Marisa Moore, RDN, LD. For even more simple ways to shave calories from your diet, don’t miss our report, ways to cut 250 calories.
When you’re cutting calories, note that you don’t want to decrease your intake too quickly. Excessive dieting and not eating enough can wreak havoc on your hormones. Not only is this bad news for your metabolism, it can mess with your sleep quality, energy levels, mood, and strength, too, cautions Victoria Hartcorn, Co-Founder of Excelerate Wellness, LLC. “If your hormones aren’t in balance then physique goals are going to be much more challenging to attain,” she explains, adding, “Eat adequate amounts of wholesome food, resistance train with intensity, and don’t over-exercise or abusing cardio. If amending your diet and exercise routine doesn’t help you to feel and look better, then getting bloodwork done to check hormone levels would be the next best step.”
Don’t get us wrong, cardio can help you burn calories and lose weight, but if you want to slim your hips, you’ll have to lift some iron, too. “Cardio activity may work to burn calories, however, it won’t necessarily target the specific area you’d like to lose from. Although you can not spot reduce, targeting certain areas with weight training may help to build lean muscle mass, decreasing overall fat, explains Kaufman.
Sure, stress causes levels of wait widening cortisol to spike, but relying on booze to unwind is not the answer. “Alcohol contains a lot of calories and Americans are simply overdoing it by turning alcohol consumption into an everyday event,” says White. Just two glasses of wine a day can add nearly 1,500 calories to your weekly calorie intake. That can add up to a half-pound of weight gain per week and two pounds per month.” And unfortunately, if you tend to gain weight in your love handles, that’s exactly where those extra pounds are bound to wind up. For those few times that you do choose to indulge, though, do so wisely with the help of these healthy alcoholic drinks.
Looking for more helpful tips? Sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!
“Hip and belly fat is often a result of high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol,” explains Jacobson. “Stress is inflammatory and can lead to spikes in blood sugar, which is what happens when you eat a pastry!”
To keep waist-widening stress at bay, Jacobson suggests reassessing how you react to stressful situations. “Engage with people and activities that bring you joy. This not only helps uplift the spirit, but it also makes you leaner and more confident.” Hartcorn agrees that stress can lead to love handles, adding, “many people look at stress management as a luxury, another thing on the to-do list that doesn’t ever get done. Some people even consider it to be boring. However, there are so many ways to uniquely alleviate stress, so you just have to think outside the box and customize stress management tools so they work for you. For example, while others may be able to complete periods of passive or active meditation, some aren’t at all interested in these practices and would do much better with something like coloring or a leisurely walk. The options are endless.”
If oblique exercises and crunches were all that was needed to be done in order to banish love handles, we’d be a nation filled with swimsuit models. If only it were that simple! “I see so many women coming into the gym and doing an entire working consisting of crunches, sit-ups, and side bends to try to burn stubborn fat from their bellies,” says Miriam Fried, a New York City-based personal trainer. “In reality, while core exercises will help to tone your abs, your main focus should be on doing full-body workouts and eating a healthy diet to create an overall caloric deficit which is the only way to lose fat from any region of the body.”
Many people assume that they need to run, and run, and run some more if they want to shed the pounds. However, if you overdo it with the steady cardio, you could do more harm to your body than good, warns, Hartcorn. “Spending months doing excessive steady state cardio like long-distance running can lead to adaptation, lowered testosterone levels, and a sustained release of cortisol. While our bodies cannot adapt to anaerobic efforts (like jumping and sprinting), they can adapt to prolonged aerobic activity. This means that over time, the body will not need to use as many calories to power you through your miles. That also means that you will need to continue to run just as much to simply maintain your weight. Further, excessive running has been proven to lessen testosterone levels, a key hormone in muscle preservation and growth.” For even more tips that can help to whittle your middle, check out these things you must do for a flat belly.
“Love handles start and end in the kitchen,” says chef and wellness expert Dean Sheremet. “I’ve [played] with intermittent fasting and the results have been incredible. I’ve shortened my window of eating to 8 hours a day. Outside of 1 to 9 pm, I consume water, coffee, and amino acids in a beverage. I used to eat five times a day, so overcoming the mental aspect was much more challenging than the physical. I turned it into a meditative act and eventually it gave me great satisfaction to be able to control myself better.”
A recent study recently presented at the Obesity Society’s annual meeting backs Sheremet’s suggestion. For the study, researchers followed 11 overweight men and women, over two four-day periods. During one period, the study participants ate all of their meals within a six-hour time span. During the second period, they consumed their meals between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Despite the fact that both diets included the same number of calories, participants reported being less hungry while following the time-restricted feeding schedule. Restricted feeding may “positively impact body composition both by increasing fat oxidation and by reducing energy intake,” the study concludes. For even more ways to melt fat around your middle, don’t miss these foods that melt love handles.
“Love handles typically form when a person has excess stomach fat. For a lot of us, this is usually a result of eating too many processed starches and grains,” says functional medicine dietitian, Miriam Jacobson, MS, RD, CDN. “These foods spike blood sugar levels and make it biologically impossible for you to burn fat. Look at the areas of your diet where you are reliant on carbohydrates and begin replacing things like white bread and pasta with healthier options. For example, you could replace the toast that you typically enjoy along with your eggs with some avocado and kale.” For more ways to dial back your intake of the starchy stuff, don’t miss these essential carb cutting hacks.
It may seem obvious but if you have too much fat on your frame, you’re going to have a pretty tough time targeting the fat that’s covering your hips. “If a woman’s body fat percentage is above 25 percent or a man’s body fat percentage is above 15 percent, the shape of their body may be less than ideal,” Piya Tony Vacharasanee, NASM, ACSM, of Body Space Fitness tells us. To lower your overall body fat percentage, hit the gym five days a week, incorporating both cardio and weight training, and add some of these fat-fighting ingredients into your daily diet.
You know you have to challenge your muscles with weight training in order to improve your overall body composition, but if you’re targeting tiny muscles like the triceps and biceps, you’re not getting as much bang for your buck. “Larger movements that involve the total body helps to increase muscle mass, which then allows glucose to be used by the muscles instead of stored as fat,” explains Vacharasanee.
Exercises that help you lose love handles should incorporate a variety of muscles. Examples include:
Bent over row
Reverse lunge to overhead press
“Do eight reps of each exercise in order and you should feel the benefits within a couple of weeks,” shares Vacharasanee.
Running from work meetings to the kid’s soccer game and back to the office, again, is enough to leave anyone feeling strung out. Which, in turn, could lead to extra pounds around the hips. “A stressful work or personal life can lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which triggers the storage of belly fat and can lead to less desirable food choices,” says Jess Horton, personal trainer, adding “When you are rushed or stretched thin, making healthy eating choices is more difficult and can fall off of your priority list.”
You may not be able to rid the amount of stress in your life, but you can develop a better plan to help you handle it. Horton recommends this morning schedule to reduce stress and help target love handles:
Wake up 15 minutes earlier
Allow yourself to wake up slowly and use this time to set the tone for the day
Start your day in quiet and sit with a cup of detox tea in the dark
Pray, meditate, and enjoy those precious morning moments
Resist the temptation to check your email or hop on social media
If you follow these morning tips, “you will feel more in control and you’ll be in a better place to make healthier decisions through the day. Over time, this can help you reach your body goals,” notes Horton.
When it comes to weight loss, slow and steady wins the race. That means it’s super important to find a diet and fitness routine that’s sustainable, says Fried. “If you really want to burn fat from those stubborn, tricky areas it takes time and patience. If you can’t adhere to your fitness routine long term, chances are you’ll lose patience quickly and are more likely to give up before reaching your goals. So eat healthily, but allow yourself a cookie or burger every now and again. Work out hard, but give your body appropriate rest when needed. Find workouts and food choices that suit your goals and your life.” Better yet, find ways to make healthy living fun with the help of these fun ways to lose weight.
While complex carbs like oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and beans are definitely not the enemy to weight loss, eating them all the time may be slowing your progress, says Sheremet. To fight back against the bulge, try carb cycling, which simply means eating more carb dense meals on workout days a few hours before you hit the gym and limiting carbs on days when you’re not training. “This strategy has helped me put on muscle and shed fat in a way I never thought possible,” Sheremet adds.
Studies show that when goals are aesthetic-based, rather than health or strength related, they’re more difficult to stick with long term. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to slim down, burn those love handles, or build a little bit of muscle and definition. But I find that when you focus your energy on non-appearance-based goals, you’ll enjoy your workouts more and feel better about your body all around!” says Fried. “Want to do a pull-up? Run a 5k? Great! Set your mind on those athletic-based goals and the aesthetics will follow.”
White recommends following the 60/5 rule when you’re trying to get rid of love handles. In addition to cutting 500 calories a week through diet, White explains the rule is based on working out for “60 minutes of exercise five times a week.” This amount of time should be enough to help you burn an additional 500 calories a day by incorporating weight training and cardiovascular training into your routine.