Is It Possible To Spot Reduce Fat?
The Myths (And Truths!) About Spot-Reducing Fat
Can we really spot-reduce fat, or is it a total fallacy? Here’s the truth about targeted fat loss.
Spot-reduction is a nice idea: being able to torch body fat from troublesome parts of the body, but keep it on where we need it.
Shredded abs and lean legs, but big round glutes. Sounds like a dream…
But can it actually be achieved, or is targeted spot-reduction the mythical unicorn of fat-loss?
The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between.
Let’s start with the facts. You can not command your body to lose body fat from one area. It doesn’t work like that (and apart from anything else, how would you specify the boundaries of the area to be reduced?) When you lose body fat, it happens across the entire body.
The Basics Of Fat Loss
As we know, fat loss happens when you are in a consistent calorie deficit for long enough. Whether you achieve that by eating less than your body needs, or expending more than you take in (or a bit of both), calorie balance is fundamental to fat loss.
Here’s how it happens inside your body:
Stage 1) glucose stored in your liver is released into your blood stream, and your body uses this energy
Stage 2) when this glucose energy supply runs out, your brain signals your body to use stored body fat for energy.
Stage 3) hormones in your blood stream activate the lipase enzyme, which signal your fat cells to release triglycerides
Stage 4) your liver converts some of the triglycerides in your blood into glycerol, which your muscles use for energy
Stage 5) the rest of your fat cells are used as fuel by your working muscles
Stage 6) your depleted fat cells shrink (although they don’t disappear), reducing your fat tissue
When you put on body fat, you aren’t making extra fat cells. Your existing fat cells are becoming “filled up” with lipids, and getting larger. Fat cells can shrink and grow, but they can’t multiply.
And that subcutaneous fat will come off from all over your body. It might not seem that way to you, but that is what’s happening any time you are in a fat loss phase.
If you think that you’re losing fat faster from one area than another, it is likely to be because:
– you can see some bits of your body more easily
– you have more muscle mass or larger muscles in some areas than others
– you naturally carry less fat in some areas than others
– your individual fat storage pattern
– your gender, genetics, hormones, and insulin sensitivity
What About Stubborn Fat?
There’s no such thing as stubborn fat (just areas of your body that haven’t got lean yet).
However, you can have areas that are more resistant to the fat loss process, and that’s a different matter. Here’s why that can happen…
As you get older, chances are you become less active and/or eat more.
This leads to weight gain – which most people think is their metabolism slowing down. Your BMR can go down (if you lose muscle mass, for instance) but it’s more likely to be a combination of moving less and eating too much as you get older.
This leads to an insidious laying down of excess body fat: usually on the belly and lower back for men, and glutes and hamstrings for women.
Obesity researchers have proven that some people will lay down more fat in response to overfeeding than others.
This study was performed on sets of identical twins which showed a staggering difference between people’s responses to excess calorie intake.
Fat cells alpha-receptors (which store fat) and beta-receptors (which encourage fat to be burned).
So-called stubborn fat areas have more alpha-receptors.
One way to try and rebalance the ratio is optimizing your insulin resistance.
To put it simply, stubborn fat is insulin-sensitive. And, the more body fat you have, the less optimal your relationship to the hormone insulin. It’s a vicious circle, but you can get out of it.
One solution is to reduce carbs to a sensible level, and exercise in a fasted state.
This doesn’t mean slashing carbs or going keto, nor does it mean caning a load of HIIT sprints every morning before breakfast.
Rather, you have to bring your carbs down to a reasonable level, making smarter food choices, and doing some low-level cardio before eating could help.
This study into breakfast, exercise, and metabolic impact has the science.
The Myths Of Spot-Reduction
You can’t burn fat from one area of the body by targeting that section with exercise (sit ups will not burn fat from the abs), nor by doing high-rep, low weight exercises (100s of bodyweight squats will not burn fat from your thighs).
There’s no specific foods you can eat (or eliminate) which will specifically reduce fat from any areas of the body. Remember, slashing your calories super low will not lead to fat loss from one area of the body over any other.
That isn’t not the end of the story though. It turns out that there IS some truth to the idea of spot-reducing body fat. It’s just not what you think.
The Truth About Targeted Fat Loss
Whilst you can’t spot-reduce body fat by doing certain exercises, there may be some benefit to focusing on those stubborn fat body parts.
This 2007 study looked at the impact of doing high rep work on a specific body part, and concluded that blood flow and fat breakdown were increased around the working muscles.
It might not amount to much, but it’s worth knowing. The key will always lie in reducing fat from across your entire body, via a calorie deficit.
Increasing blood flow to stubborn fat areas could help the fat loss battle, even if it’s not the spot-reduction we’re all dreaming of.
The truth is that sluggish blood flow to an area can contribute to slower fat loss from that same area. If you are determined to try and lose more fat from some areas of your body, it’s worth thinking about boosting your circulation (especially if you are sedentary).
Bigger Muscles = The Illusion Of Less Fat
20% body fat looks very different on an untrained, under-muscled person than on a jacked body.
If you want to look leaner, remember that muscle is what shapes a body part. Bigger ab muscles will “pop” through body fat more easily than small ab muscles will.
It’s not a solution to spot reduction, but actually building muscle tissue can help to reshape your body.
Think of it as spot-toning, not spot-reducing: focusing your hypertrophy on certain body parts will make a big difference to how that body part looks.
Plus, weight training is a powerful way to burn calories and increase your metabolic rate – both of which will help you lose body fat over time.
So keep training, and focus on heavy compound moves like squat, deadlift, bench, and overhead press as well as the isolation work.
What’s The Best Way To Lose Fat?
Here’s the bottom line…
There are no short-cuts to fat loss (sorry!) You must be in a sustained calorie deficit, for long enough, in order to lose body fat.
And it will come off from all over your body – head to toe.
Combine a calorie deficit with strength training, some high rep “pump” work, and cardio training…and be patient. It will happen.