Losing fat from certain areas of the body, like the lower back and waist, can seem trickier than others and — unfortunately — spot reduction (aka targeted weight loss) is a myth.
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But by reducing your calories, cleaning up your diet and exercising strategically, you can lose fat across your entire body, including those hard-to-target love handles.
Cut Calories for Fat Loss
While weight loss looks a little different for everyone, reducing your calories to create a calorie deficit (when you burn more than you consume) is the key to all fat loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.
To create a calorie deficit, you should first establish how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. This value is pretty easy to find out by simply tracking your daily caloric intake for several days. Assuming you don't lose or gain any weight in this period, this value is your caloric maintenance. Alternatively, you can use an app — like LIVESTRONG.com's MyPlate app — to do the job for you.
Once you've found your caloric maintenance value, you can safely cut between 500 to 1,000 calories per day to create a sustainable deficit, according to the Mayo Clinic. This will lead to weight loss at a rate of about 1 to 2 pounds per week. However, if this cut feels unsustainable (i.e. you're left feeling overly hungry or tired), you can add calories back so that you're only cutting 200 to 300 per day instead. This will likely mean a slower rate of weight loss, but you'll be more likely to stick with it and reach your goal.
Choose Healthier Foods
Choose healthy, nutrient-dense foods, as they're low in calories but high in fiber, a carbohydrate that helps promote satiety (the sense of being full) and healthy digestion. Fiber has actually been linked to lower levels of fat around the midsection, too. According to an April 2015 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate diets richer in fiber were much less likely to have high levels of fat in this area.
To get more fiber, aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, which will also help you cut down on calories while getting the vitamins and nutrients you need, according to Harvard Health Publishing. For instance, swapping a cup of pasta for a half cup of pasta and a cup of green veggies like broccoli can cut about 100 calories.
And consider replacing refined grains (like white bread) with whole-grain options for a more filling, nourishing alternative.
Eating more lean protein, like chicken and fish, rather than red meat can also save you calories, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Eliminating deli and other processed meats can also help promote belly fat loss, as higher processed meat consumption has been associated with larger waist circumference, according to a 50,000 person study published August 2011 in PLOS One.
Also, avoiding ultra-processed foods is a great rule-of-thumb when it comes to cutting calories, too. Usually these foods (think: chips, cookies, cereals) are high in calories but low in nutrients. So, try to swap sugary sodas for unsweetened iced tea. Or replace breakfast cereal with whole-grain oatmeal and fruit.
Exercise to Reduce Lower Back and Belly Fat
Exercise can not only help you create a calorie deficit but will also benefit your overall health. You should aim to get about 150 minutes of moderate cardio activity (like walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (like running) each week to benefit your overall health and help decrease the risk of chronic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Incorporating some high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can also help spur fat loss, especially when it comes to belly fat. This form of exercise — where you alternate between intervals of intense activity and rest — can help boost your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) and keep your body burning calories even after your workout is over.
Indeed, HIIT has been found to be more effective in reducing waist fat than other types of training, according to a September 2019 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Introducing some strength training into your usual workout routine will also help boost your metabolism, according to the Mayo Clinic. Plus, people with a higher muscle-to-fat body ratio burn more calories performing everyday activities, so increasing your muscle mass with some strength training is a great way to promote fat loss.
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Eating Frequency and Weight Loss"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Walking"
- Mayo Clinic: "Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "MRI-determined total volumes of visceral and subcutaneous abdominal and trunk adipose tissue are differentially and sex-dependently associated with patterns of estimated usual nutrient intake in a northern German population"
- PLOS One: "Food Composition of the Diet in Relation to Changes in Waist Circumference Adjusted for Body Mass Index"
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: "High-Intensity Interval Training in Cardiac Rehabilitation: Impact on Fat Mass in Patients With Myocardial Infarction"