If a reunion, wedding or beach vacation is coming up, you may want to get slim, svelte legs in the next month. Although you can't directly lose fat on your legs in 30 days, you can make inroads into total body fat loss. As your whole physique slims down, your legs will, too. Weight loss usually happens proportionally, though. And, if you've always had heavy legs, they may be a bit stubborn to slim down. The good news is, in 30 days of a diet and exercise plan, you can expect to lose as much as 8 pounds.
Targeted Fat Loss Is a Myth
Magazine articles and fitness gadgets promise they'll help you lose that pesky fat from your unwanted areas. You might try leg lifts, fancy dancer workouts and squeezing contraptions to lose the fat on your gams -- all to no avail. Fat loss doesn't work by targeting a specific area.
You store fat in fat cells located all over your body, which means you may have a concentration of them in certain "trouble" spots, but where these locations are is a matter of genetics. When your body needs fuel and enough isn't coming in from food or drink, stored fat is broken down and used for energy. Where this breakdown occurs is up to your body -- you can't dictate that you want to lose leg fat first.
Extensive research has shown that targeted fat loss isn't possible, including a small study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2013. Researchers had participants perform hundreds of repetitions of the leg press three times per week. After 12 weeks, the exercise did effectively reduce body fat -- but not in the worked leg. Rather, the participants experienced notable fat loss in their upper bodies.
Realistic Weight Loss Goals for 30 Days
A healthier eating plan with a focus on portion control will get the fat-loss process started. A calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day -- achieved by eating less and moving more -- yields a safe, sustainable loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week. Figure your daily calorie needs to maintain your weight using an online calculator or by meeting with a dietitian. Then subtract 500 to 1,000 calories from that number to get your daily calorie allotment for weight loss. If cutting 1,000 takes your calories below a safe level, then subtract only 500, for a steady loss of a pound a week. Don't eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day if you're a woman, or fewer than 1,800 if you're a man, or you risk slowing your metabolism.
You may desire a faster rate of loss to hit your 30-day deadline for leaner legs, but know that quick weight-loss efforts often backfire. You could end up so hungry that you want to give up on your goal. Even if you can maintain an extremely fast rate of loss, it's often at the expense of good nutrition. Your metabolism also slows down to protect you, as it perceives extreme weight-loss measures as a famine. You're better off settling for a moderate rate of loss so that the weight you lose from your legs and elsewhere stays off for good.
Foods That Focus on Leg Fat
No one food will help you lose fat from your legs, but certain foods are more favorable when you're aiming for fat loss. An easy way to manage portions and stay within your calorie limits is to fill half of your plate with watery, fibrous vegetables -- such as leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower. These food are low in calories and high in fiber, which helps fill you up.
Another quarter of your plate should be dedicated to a quality source of protein. Go for broiled, roasted or grilled lean steak, chicken breast or fish. Tofu, dried beans and eggs are vegetarian options. Aim to consume at least 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily to make you feel satisfied at meals. Eating enough protein also helps you preserve your muscles as you reduce calories.
Fill the last quarter of your plate with whole grains, such as brown rice or 100-percent whole-wheat bread. The whole grains also provide fiber to keep you full and give you carbohydrates for energy, even though your calories are restricted. Whole-grain products, when eaten in place of refined grains, are linked to weight loss. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen had 79 overweight or obese women following a low-calorie diet consume 480 calories worth of either refined grains or whole grains each day. After 12 weeks, the women who ate the whole grains lost more fat than those who ate refined grains. This study was published in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.
Include Exercise to Lose Leg Fat
Cardiovascular exercise burns calories to help you lose weight. Work up to a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. Exceeding 300 minutes per week yields greater health benefits and weight loss, so, as you become more fit, you can shoot for longer or more frequent cardio workouts.
Performing high-intensity intervals during a few of your cardio sessions may expedite fat loss. HIIT helps burn fat more effectively than steady-state cardio, reported research published in the Journal of Obesity in 2011. To do a HIIT workout, alternate very-intense bouts of cardio with light bouts. Sprint or use a step mill to complete HIIT, so you develop leg muscle that will make your legs look shapely as you slim down.
Strength training is also an essential part of your fat-loss plan, because it makes you look leaner and boosts your metabolism. Your body uses more calories to sustain muscle tissue than fat tissue. When you have additional muscle, your body burns more calories all day long so it's easier to lose fat. While leg exercises, such as squats, lunges and step-ups, are valuable, they won't directly burn fat. You will develop some of the largest muscle groups with these moves, however, and create shape in your legs. Also include exercises for the upper body for a balanced-looking physique that effectively burns fat.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Regional Fat Changes Induced by Localized Muscle Endurance Resistance Training
- Yale Scientific: Targeted Fat Loss: Myth or Reality?
- National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Weight Loss and Nutrition Myths
- British Journal of Nutrition: Dietary Protein - Its Role in Satiety, Energetics, Weight Loss and Health
- Journal of Nutrition: Whole Grain Compared With Refined Wheat Decreases the Percentage of Body Fat Following a 12-Week, Energy-Restricted Dietary Intervention in Postmenopausal Women
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- Journal of Obesity: High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss