Your hips and belly may be where you want to lose weight, but your body has other ideas. When you lose weight, these areas may slim down, but, despite what magazine articles and ads for fitness gadgets tell you, it's impossible to target them directly for fat loss. Weight loss usually occurs proportionally all over your body. When you lose weight, your general shape stays the same; you just create a leaner, svelter version. Belly fat may be slightly more responsive than hip fat in your attempts to slim down. That's a good thing because belly fat is the most dangerous type of fat to harbor.
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The fat on your hips is largely subcutaneous, a type of fat that sits just under the skin. It's stubborn against efforts to shrink it but not considered a serious health threat. Large hips usually appear on people who are genetically pear-shaped, with slender upper bodies and more generous lower bodies.
Belly fat, however, poses a more serious health threat. Your large middle increases your risk of developing chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Much of this fat packs between your internal organs and it releases inflammatory compounds. Although it's more threatening, it's also easier to lose than subcutaneous fat. Belly fat responds well to classic weight-loss efforts that include exercise and careful eating, so it might just shrink a bit more than other areas.
The Myth of Spot Reduction
You can't target belly fat with sit-ups and crunches -- these only strengthen the muscles under the fat. The same is true for your hips. Lunge and squat your way through every workout, and you still won't see fat loss in this area unless you lose a significant amount of weight all over your body. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2013 demonstrated the inefficacy of targeted fat-loss training. Researchers had participants do between 960 and 1,200 repetitions of leg presses against light resistance three times per week for 12 weeks. Participants lost upper body fat during as a result of their exercise, but they didn't lose any from the leg that did all the work.
The American Council on Exercise notes that fat seems to be lost first in the place where you gained it last, rather than the area you train the most.
Fat-Reducing Dietary Efforts
Belly fat is somewhat unique because when you lose weight it's usually one of the first areas to shrink naturally. This loss doesn't come from planking and bicycle crunches; instead, it comes from sensible eating and more movement.
A diet to help shrink your tummy minimizes sugar, refined grains and saturated fat and focuses on lean protein, leafy greens and whole grains. You'll need to eat fewer calories than you burn, too, so keep portions of these whole foods moderately sized. The weight loss achieved from this diet isn't isolated to your stomach either. As you lose weight, you'll notice other parts of your body -- including your hips -- shrink too. They may just not shrink as quickly as the belly, and the results will not be notable until after you drop a significant number of pounds.
Exercise to Reduce Fat
You can't target fat loss, but total body workouts do help you lose weight, especially at your tummy. Get at least the 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on most days of the week. Consider increasing this amount to 60 or 90 minutes for better results.
Also strength train all major muscle groups two to three times per week to develop more overall muscle mass, not to burn fat at certain areas. When your body has a higher proportion of muscle, you raise your daily calorie burn, which helps you lose weight and makes your body more efficient at burning fat. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Cardiology found that high-intensity resistance training induces fast visceral, or belly, fat loss, the quickest, but moderate-intensity resistance training also had a positive effect. Abdominal and hip-specific exercises help work the muscles underneath the fat so that when you do lose weight, they appear more toned. In addition to exercises for your back, chest, arms and shoulders, do rotation and anti-rotation exercises, along with planks for your core and step-ups, donkey kicks and lunge variations for your hips. Get the okay from your doctor before embarking on any exercise program, especially if you have any health problems.
- Rush University Medical Center: https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/losing-belly-fat
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Regional Fat Changes Induced By Localized Muscle Endurance Resistance Training
- CNN: Can You Really Control Where You Lose Fat?
- CNN: When You're Losing Weight, Where Does the Fat Go?
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- American Council on Exercise: Why Is the Concept of Spot Reduction Considered a Myth?
- International Journal of Cardiology: Different Modalities of Exercise to Reduce Visceral Fat Mass and Cardiovascular Risk in Metabolic Syndrome: The RESOLVE Randomized Trial
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?