You carry a spare tire in your car in case of an emergency, but you don't need the one encircling your torso. This layer of fat that sits around your waist, back and sides, is likely visceral fat -- which is a metabolically active form of fat that greatly raises your risk of developing certain diseases. Although targeting a specific part of your body for weight loss is futile -- you can't cherry pick where weight loss occurs -- trying the traditional weight-loss methods of diet and exercise will usually reduce back and side fat quickly.
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The Trouble With Visceral Fat
Visceral fat -- also called intra-abdominal fat -- lies deep inside the abdomen. It encases the internal organs and releases inflammatory compounds that make you more vulnerable to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and -- in women, breast cancer and the need for gall bladder surgery. Visceral fat is often referred to as belly fat, but fat around your middle can include both visceral and subcutaneous types of fat, and can expand your tummy to the front and sides. Subcutaneous fat -- which sits just beneath the skin -- doesn't create the same health risks that visceral fat does, however.
Side and Back Fat Is Responsive to Exercise
A physically active lifestyle is one of the most effective strategies for combating visceral fat, explains Rush University Medical Center. The first weight you lose with exercise is belly fat. Get at least the 30 minutes per day, five days per week, of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you can fit in more exercise, you'll experience greater weight loss all over -- including side and back fat -- and have better health results.
Strength training provides critical support for a visceral fat-loss program. You build muscle -- which burns more calories at rest than fat does -- so your overall body's energy usage improves. A study published in a 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that consistent strength training two times a week for two years prevented increases in visceral fat and total body fat in women. A paper in Current Sports Medicine Reports from 2012 noted that strength training's positive effects on decreasing visceral fat help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. Adopt a program that targets every major muscle group at least twice per week.
A Dietary Way to Address Fat
Exercise alone isn't enough to trim your back and side fat. You must reduce calories and make healthier food choices. A pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories; burn 500 to 1,000 calories more than you consume every day to lose 1 pound of fat a week. For most people, increasing physical activity helps contribute to this deficit, as does trimming the number of calories consumed. How many calories you need to consume to lose your back and side fat depends on your age, gender, activity level, hormones and size. Use an online calculator or consult with your medical provider to estimate your calorie needs.
Until then, changes in the way you eat can help. Eliminate refined grains -- including white bread and pasta -- as well as extra sugar. Soft drinks and baked goods are foods to eliminate first. Make your meals using lean protein -- such as white fish, skinless poultry, lean steak or tofu -- and watery, green vegetables. Starchy vegetable or whole grain servings should not exceed about 1/2 to 1 cup per meal. Skip processed snack foods such as crackers, cereal bars and pretzel mixes. Instead, snack on plain yogurt, nuts, fresh fruit or low-fat cheese.
Lifestyle Changes for Fat Reduction
An overly stressed lifestyle contributes to the accumulation of fat around your back and sides. Having too many work deadlines, trying to keep up with paying your bills and meeting your family obligations can create a chronic state of stress. Learn to deal with stress healthfully by confiding in friends, engaging in yoga or meditation or seeking help from a behavioral therapist. Stress may induce mindless eating, which causes weight gain, and incites your body to release the hormone cortisol, which encourages fat to accumulate around your middle.
Stress can lead to poor sleep, which also contributes to the development of visceral fat. Aim to get 7 to 9 hours most nights. Getting too little or too much sleep often results in overeating and poor food choices because you're too tired to focus.
To further boost your daily calorie burn, get up and move more, even when you're not formally exercising. Fidget, do household chores, choose stairs over the elevator or park farther away from your destination.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- American Council on Exercise: Myths and Misconceptions: Spot Reduction and Feeling the Burn
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- AARP: How to Lose Your Spare Tire
- American Council on Exercise: 6 Strategies for Losing the Spare Tire
- Rush University Medical Center: Is There 'One Trick' to Losing Belly Fat?
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Strength Training and Adiposity in Premenopausal Women: Strong, Healthy, and Empowered Study
- Current Sports Medicine Reports: Strength Training Is Medicine: Effects of Strength Training on Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?