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How to Get Rid of Love Handles

The term “love handle” is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, when it comes to the section of back and belly fat, there’s no love lost. Love handles are zones of stubborn fat, the first place men gain it and the last it disappears. And, sometimes, even though you’ve logged hours of cardio for weight loss and dedicated time to the best love handles exercises, it can feel damn near impossible to figure out how to get rid of love handles and burn fat for good.

There’s no arguing societal norms and aesthetics influence our desires to lose weight, but you don’t need to have a six-pack to be healthy and global perceptions of the ideal body type vary drastically. Despite what BMI indexes will have you believe, a man’s body fact percentage isn’t the only indicator of overall well-being. Moreover, there are downsides to having an extremely low body fat percentage—anything under 5 percent—like waning energy, risk for heart issues, and low testosterone

If you’re seeking the right body fat percentage to see abs and have a healthy weight with improvements in comorbidity, aim for the six to 13 percent range. The latter of which is easier to maintain and optimal for lifelong health and wellness.

Here’s what you need to know about how to lose love handles.

What Are Love Handles?

Love handles are subcutaneous fat around the midsection (aka excess abdominal fat). That’s different from visceral fat, which wraps around the organs deep inside your body (more dangerous to your health), but can be accentuated if you have this type of fat as well.

Unfortunately, love handles exist because of physiology—and there’s not much you can do to defeat that.

“For men in particular, there are more fat cells in this region, making it a convenient depot for the body to dump excess triglycerides, the storage form of fat,” says Jeffrey M. Willardson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., a professor of kinesiology at Eastern Illinois University.

Put another way, “fat wants to go to its house—to the fat cells—so that’s the place where you’re likely first going to put your fat,” adds Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., an instructor of exercise science at Quincy College in Quincy, MA.

Of course, love handles develop over time, not overnight. Blame a lack of workouts, empty calories, lots of stress, and/or poor sleep, which can up cortisol and adrenaline levels, encouraging fat storage, says Willardson. And remember: “Some people, due to age or genetic predisposition, will always have a little more fat in that area regardless,” Willardson says.

Love handles are so hard to lose because the midsection has a high percentage of fat cells.

Dylan Coulter

Why Are Love Handles Hard to Lose?

Once love handles appear, biology makes them tough to ditch. “You lose fat in the reverse order that you deposit it,” says Westcott. “And typically for men, the last place they lose fat is that midsection area—the first place they put it on.”

If you think about fat storage from an evolutionary standpoint, it could be that we put fat on in our midsection first because it’s easily accessible energy your body could grab if it was fasting or faced with a shortage of food. So when you aim to lose fat, your body first removes it from arguably “less essential” areas like the face, Westcott says.

Areas with the highest concentration of fat cells are also the most difficult to firm up, says Willardson. The love handles in particular are problematic because the muscles under them—your obliques—are thin, so they won’t bulk up, explains Westcott. Think of your obliques as sections of cable rather than a 6×6 piece of sheetrock—there’s not a lot of muscle to stack on.

How to Get Rid of Love Handles With Nutrition 

While shifting your lifestyle and altering your fitness regimen are essential for overhauling your belly fat, nothing is more vital to lose weight on your back and sides than nutrition.  

“The most important part of losing any fat on your body, especially from your back and belly, is incorporating whole foods—nothing processed, packaged, or chemically altered—as your primary source of nutrition,” says Liz Lowe, C.S.C.S., head program designer at Scorch Fitness, a high-intensity interval training gym in Sarasota, FL. “By focusing on fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats and eggs, healthy fats and anti-inflammatory roots and herbs, you can create a nutrition plan that will shed your stubborn love handles.”

Here, we’ve listed Lowe’s top nutrition, health, and lifestyle guidelines to start shedding fat. There’s no get-ripped-quick gimmick—just tried-and-true rules (think healthy diet and resistance training that gets your heart rate up) that will help you burn fat cells and stay fit for life.

1. Use Carbs Wisely 

Healthy complex carbs, such as sweet potatoes, black rice, and oats, keep your metabolism stimulated and give your body long-lasting energy, Lowe says. When your body feels deprived of this energy, it goes into starvation mode and burning fat becomes a last priority. Ensure you’re consuming carbs pre- and post-workout.

2. Ditch Artificial Sweeteners

“While artificial sweeteners have zero calories, they can still make your body gain and hold on to fat,” Lowe says. Research shows the fake stuff can increase carb cravings, stimulate appetite, and increase fat storage, so ween yourself off.

3. Focus on Healthy Fats

It may sound counterintuitive, but you need to eat fat to lose fat. That’s not a hall pass to eat fast food, but rather a tip to prioritize healthy fats. “Eating a diet rich in avocados, nuts, seeds, olive/coconut oil, and fatty fish is shown to decrease abdominal fat,” Lowe explains.

Healthy fats, wholesome carbs, and leafy greens are essential for helping you get rid of love handles.

Travis Rathbone

4. Go Organic

Don’t roll your eyes. The extra buck at the grocery store goes a long way in providing you with better health benefits. Research has found organic meat and milk have about 50 percent more omega-3 fatty acid. “Eat grass-fed beef and whole organic cage-free eggs,” Lowe recommends. “Both of these foods contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been shown to promote abdominal fat loss.”

5. Add Spice 

“Using fresh or dried turmeric or ginger helps the body fight inflammation, which is a direct trigger for holding on to unwanted back and belly fat,” Lowe says.

6. Drink More Water

Drinking plenty of water is critical for losing your love handles. When your body is dehydrated, it’ll do everything in its power to hold on to water and trick your brain into thinking it’s hungry rather than thirsty, she says. Shoot to drink a gallon every day.

7. Time Your Meals Strategically

“Focus on eating complex carbohydrates pre- and-post workout, when your body will utilize them for energy rather than storing them as fat,” Lowe suggests. If you can, keep your meals small and consistent throughout the day (say, every 3 hours for a total of 5-6 meals a day) to ward off hunger. “When you’re ravenous, it’s a lot easier to reach for a sugary, unhealthy snack.”

Related: 30 Best Nonalcoholic Beers That Taste Like the Real Thing

8. Cut the Alcohol

“Sometimes cutting alcohol alone will make a drastic difference in your love handles,” Lowe says. If you think about it, a beer or a glass of wine has over 100 calories. If you have a glass of either to unwind after work, or go pretty hard on the weekends, you’re tacking on a lot of unnecessary calories. Always be cognizant of liquid calories.

9. Keep Caffeine to a Minimum

One to two cups of coffee is fine, but an entire pot is not! Neither are all the added sweeteners and milks. Try to drink coffee black; or, flavor with a bit of agave or infuse coffee beans with vanilla. You can also mix it up by having 2-3 cups of green tea, unsweetened and preferably caffeine-free.

10. Nix Protein Bars

“Most are so high in sugar they should be considered candy,” Lowe says. If you’re deadset on eating them, for convenience sake, opt for bars with just a few grams of sugar and ingredients who can pronounce. Or, make your own protein balls, bites, and bars.

Kale and other leafy greens are among the best foods to eat to lose love handles because they contain few calories but high volume.

Travis Rathbone

11. Get More Greens

Make sure every meal you eat has a vegetable in it. Seriously. Sneak spinach in your morning omelet. Keep pre-cut veggie sticks in your fridge at work. Do everything you can to get more in your diet since very few Americans get the recommended amount each day.

12. Limit Dairy

“Instead of putting sugar and cream in your coffee, use agave and almond milk,” Lowe says. Likewise, use olive oil or coconut oil instead of butter; and if you must have cheese, stick with hard cheeses versus soft.

The Best Foods to Lose Love Handles

Chicken breast, kale, avocado, and sweet potato provide lean protein, leafy greens, healthy fat, and complex carbs.

Travis Rathbone

Lean Protein 

Recommendation: Eat at every meal. Protein serving size is roughly the size of your fist.

Complex Carbs

Recommendation: 3-4 servings per day. Complex carbs serving size is about the size of your palm.

  • sweet potato
  • brown rice
  • quinoa
  • whole-grain pasta
  • wild rice
  • oats
  • Ezekiel bread

Kale, quinoa, sardines, avocado, and egg yolks are a great source of omega-3s

Travis Rathbone

Healthy Fat

Recommendation: 2 servings per day. Healthy fats serving size is about 2 tablespoons (the size of a golf ball). 

  • avocado
  • almonds
  • cashews
  • pecans
  • coconut oil
  • olives
  • nut butters
  • hummus

Leafy Vegetables 

Recommendation: Eat at every meal. Veggie serving size is two handfuls.

  • kale
  • spinach
  • watercress
  • chard
  • beet greens

Low-Sugar Fruit

Recommendation: 2 servings of fresh fruit a day. One serving of fruit is one piece of fruit, or 1/2 cup of berries or sliced fruit. Stay away from dried fruits because of their high-sugar content.

  • avocado
  • tomatoes
  • eggplant
  • raspberries
  • strawberries
  • blackberries
  • watermelon 

The Perfect Meal Plan for Weight Loss

  • Meal 1: 1/2 cup oats cooked with water and cinnamon; 1 whole egg + 3 egg whites scrambled with spinach, peppers, onions, and coconut oil; one cup coffee with almond milk.
  • Meal 2: Kale, black cherry, whey protein, and almond milk smoothie; one cup green tea.
  • Meal 3: Spinach salad with tomatoes, peppers, avocado, oil and vinegar, and chicken breast; 1/2 sweet potato; one cup green tea.
  • Meal 4: Apple and whey protein shake (post-workout, usually).
  • Meal 5: Salmon with lemon and garlic asparagus; large dark, leafy green salad with oil and vinegar; one cup green tea.
  • Meal 6: Scrambled egg whites (only if you’re hungry before bed).

How to Lose Love Handles With Lifestyle Habits

1. Snooze the Night Away

Sleep is extremely important for losing body fat—especially your love handles, Lowe says. When you’re sleep deprived, your hormones get out of whack, which can impede weight loss. Your metabolism slows to conserve energy; your appetite is higher (due to elevated levels of cortisol) because you’re lacking energy; and your body craves foods higher in carbs and fat because they help produce serotonin, which calm you from this stressed state. Aim for 7-8 hours per night.

2. Make Recovery a Priority

“The biggest mistake people make when trying to lose their love handles is dieting too hard and overtraining,” Lowe says. “In some cases this actually leads to your body holding onto fat since you’re constantly stimulating the stress hormone cortisol.” Change your mindset to train like an athlete: Zero in on your goals and performance to help create a better focus.

3. Get Your Metabolism Started

When you wake up in the morning, before you have anything to eat, drink 16oz of water with the juice from half a fresh lemon. This will help kickstart your digestive system, Lowe says.

High-intensity interval training is among the best protocols to lose love handles due to the afterburn effect.

Justin Steele

How to Train to Get Rid of Love Handles

Overall, a plan of muscle-conditioning exercises, done regularly, with the right nutritional background, will improve your functional fitness, posture, and metabolic after-burn, adds Willardson. 

“A combination of high-intensity interval training, total-body strength training, and the occasional long, slow, distance session will burn the fat off stubborn areas, like your back,” Lowe adds. 

Consider total-body moves like squats, upper-body pull and push days, or core work every other day, plus HIIT on alternate days, Willardson says. Don’t obsess over your core, though.

“When it comes to incorporating certain exercises into your training, countless crunches and side bends won’t do the trick,” Lowe says. Spot training—the idea that you can eliminate fat in a particular part of your body—is a nice idea, but research doesn’t back it up.

“It’s worth noting, however, that specific targeted exercises—when combined with cardio, strength training, and a healthy diet—can indeed impact fat loss,” Westcott says.

His suggestion? Incorporate a few moves three times a week that target the obliques. Cycle through the best abs exercises of all time and the best exercises to lose your love handles.

1. Build Lean Muscle

“Doing compound lifts—like squats, deadlifts, hang cleans, and thrusters—will help build lean muscle mass, which will stimulate your metabolism to burn fat at rest,” Lowe says. To create a strong core and simultaneously strengthen your entire body, perform exercises like a weighted plank and barbell front squats.

2. Burn Calories

HIIT cardio workouts create an after-burn effect, which drives up your heart rate and metabolism. You can increase calorie burn for 24-48 hours after your session. Incorporating HIIT-style training, like sprints on a track or a bike, will help rid your body of excess fat fast.

3. Do Steady-State Cardio

Sometimes your body needs to be shocked. If you’re a gym rat, switching up your cardio one or two times a week and incorporating a 45-minute (or more) cardio session can do the trick, Lowe says. “This form of cardiovascular training taps into fat stores during the actual session for energy,” she explains.

The Workout Plan to Lose Your Love Handles

  • Day 1: Total-body strength training
  • Day 2: HIIT cardio
  • Day 3: Total-body strength training
  • Day 4: Long, steady-state cardio
  • Day 5: Total-body strength training
  • Day 6: HIIT cardio
  • Day 7: Rest

Why You Should Trust Us

Cassie Shortsleeve and Brittany Smith have a combined 20 years of experience reporting as health and wellness journalists. Smith also serves as the Deputy Editor of Men’s Journal, where she oversees all health and fitness coverage. To answer the age-old question, How to get rid of love handles, they tapped leading experts 

  • Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., an instructor of exercise science at Quincy College in Quincy, MA.
  • Jeffrey M. Willardson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., a professor of kinesiology at Eastern Illinois University.
  • Liz Lowe, C.S.C.S., head program designer at Scorch Fitness, a high-intensity interval training gym in Sarasota, FL.

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