Imagine you’re in your car and there was a fast fat-loss drive-thru place (like McDonalds). You drive through and place your order “I would like some fat taken from my butt, with a side of flab removed from my arms. Oh, and you may as well throw in some flat abs too.” Then you proceed to the check out, pay and your order is processed. Now imagine when you open up the bag with your order you find you’re still left with a fat butt, flabby arms and podgy belly! What a waste of time, effort and money. Well, sadly this is what is happening every time you fall for a gimmick that markets instant fat loss from specific areas, or as it is better known, spot reduction. The body doesn’t work like that, so let us bust some myths so you avoid the drive-thru hype and unrealistic expectations.
We all have that ‘problem’ body area that we would like to fix. But how much of our bodies can we actually change through diet and exercise?
Know and understand your body to fix your problem body area
Knowing and understanding your body allows you to set realistic, achievable goals and utilise exercise to best accentuate your figure. Your genetics determine your body shape, however, where you deposit excess fat (from overeating) will be determined by your sex, age, hormones and unique physiological make-up.
While we all have individual areas that our bodies tend to deposit fat, there are some commonalities. Body fat is distributed across your entire body. However, women tend to deposit subcutaneous fat (fat beneath the skin – hence cellulite) to their breasts, hips, thighs and tummy’s. While men generally have a lower percentage of body fat, when they gain weight, their fat deposits tend to be in the abdomen as visceral fat.
Busting the myth of spot reduction
You cannot ‘spot reduce’ fat. It is not possible to target and burn fat from one specific area of your body. So even though your body tends to deposit fat in certain areas, burning it off doesn’t work the same way. Or said another way, you don’t always lose fat in the way you stored it. The human body is only capable of losing fat from the entire body as a whole. When you do bench press or pushups, the fat cells in your chest and arms don’t automatically give up their fat. The body will just mobilise its energy from wherever it needs to. It isn’t picky where it takes stored fat from.
If you can’t choose where you lose, then what can you do to fix problem body area?
It’s frustrating to not have specific control over where you lose your fat from. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t make dramatic improvements in the areas that bother you most! The solution is to focus on making healthy choices that you can control. Small changes over time to your diet, exercise patterns, mindset and sleep routines can help you achieve the body you want.
1. Diet plays the biggest role to enable you to fix your problem body area
The best chance to fix your problem body area is by adjusting your eating habits. Up to 80% of your fat loss will come from nutritional changes. This doesn’t mean you have to go on a harsh, restrictive diet. Rather, you need to start being conscious of the foods you are nourishing your body with and the amount of food you are consuming, compared to the calories you are burning. This is important because fat loss comes from being in calorie deficit.
Calorie deficit means your body needs to draw energy from within itself as the calories from the food you have eaten have already been burned. Ideally, it would automatically take it from your problem body area fat stores but that’s not how it works! Improving your diet will see you drop weight, as well as an overall reduction in body fat, including your problem body area. However, that leaves a further 20% of work to fix your problem body area. Cue Exercise!
2. Exercise is essential to fix your problem body area
Most people assume you need to slog away at long cardio workouts to burn fat and fix your problem body area. This is also a misconception. Yes, you definitely have to do some cardio work in the fat-burning heart rate zone to burn calories. But it is imperative to balance this with weights and resistance exercise.
Your cardio exercise lowers your overall body fat (along with a good diet). Your weight and resistance exercises help you build lean muscle (we are not talking about big, bulky muscles like bodybuilders). The simple math is less fat + lean muscle = that toned appearance.
What’s even better is that maintaining and building lean muscle makes you become more efficient at burning fat because muscle burns more calories than fat. It is also important to note that there is a difference between losing weight and losing fat. You want to lose body fat first and foremost. Sometimes your body takes energy from the most readily available source and this could also be your muscle mass. If you lose weight because you lose muscle, you have not improved your body composition. In fact, you are setting yourself up for long-term failure. You weigh less, but you’ve lost muscle not fat, which is the equivalent of being “ skinny fat”, and your problem body area more than likely still exists!
3. All change starts with a healthy mindset
Changing your mind and hence your focus is totally (and solely) up to you! Making small changes to your mindset can result in achieving more of what you want. You will also find your doing less of what’s holding you back from getting what you want. In the case of fixing your problem area your thoughts are the most powerful and effective way to change your appearance. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you just ‘think’ yourself into a lean, fit, toned body. It means, by reframing your self-sabotaging thoughts into a growth mindset you are better able to succeed at what you put your mind to. Instead of thinking about trying to fix your problem body area with spot reduction, focus on the opportunity to improve your whole body and health.
4. Stress and poor sleep can stop you from improving your problem area
Imagine you are doing all the right things – clean eating, watching your portion sizes, drinking plenty of water paired with adequate ratios of cardio and resistance workouts. But, you feel like a hamster on a wheel – you are getting nowhere with it. The normal human habit is then to give up. Forget about ever fixing that problem area or living the healthy lifestyle you dreamed of. I mean, why bother?
The power and impact of sleep and stress are often completely overlooked when it comes to physically trying to fix your problem body area. The intangible qualities of these mechanisms make it difficult for people to see that high stress levels and lack of sleep (and recovery) can be inhibiting your ability to lose weight and reduce fat.
A study in Sleep and Breathing journal found that having less than 5hrs sleep per night is significantly associated with weight gain and obesity. In addition, stress can be a product of, or directly related to, lack of sleep. During times of stress, you release the hormone Cortisol, which slows your metabolism and causes your body to retain fat, leading to slowed weight loss. Not what you want when trying to fix your problem body area!
The benefits of trying to fix your problem body area
We hope you’re now well informed enough to know that the myth of spot reduction is well and truly busted. Spot reduction or specifically losing fat in your problem body area is NOT possible. What IS possible though is the ability to lose fat from your whole body. This thereby improves not only your problem body area, but your health and appearance at the same time. And, that is definitely worth it!
Also, a final tip – like anything in life, if you focus only on the problem it often seems a lot larger than it really is. Focusing on a healthy, sustainable solution is a much better approach. Remember, small changes to your diet, exercise regime, mindset and sleep patterns can have a huge impact. Implement changes in these areas in isolation you will see some results. However, the most effective results to fix your problem body area will be when you make good changes in all four. You can do this!