Myths about spot reduction: can you target them?



I would bet that it’s rare the person who can stand naked in front of the mirror and not identify a trouble spot or two. Most of us stand there pinching, prodding and wishing that those extra bits of fat – whether on the belly, the behind or the back – would just disappear. I thought the myth of spot-reducing had been pretty well busted by now, but I still get asked all the time if there are any special diet or exercise tricks that will target specific pockets of body fat.

The answer is – in a word – no. Your body parts don’t ‘own’ the fat that cover them. When a regular walking regimen leads to *weight loss, you lose weight all over – not just in your legs. Performing hundreds of pushups or situps a day might eventually uncover a toned chest or six-pack abs – but it isn’t because you’ve burned off only the fat on your chest or your belly. It’s because you’ve increased your calorie burn – and reduced your body fat from nearly top to toe.

But here’s one reason the myth may still persist. Everyone has their own unique body fat distribution. Some might carry it like saddlebags on the side of the hips, or have a stubborn spot on the belly. When these folks *lose weight, it may appear that they’re actually spot reducing – but it’s just that they’re losing from those areas where their fat happens to be. If you look at how people’s bodies change with *weight loss, what really happens is that they pretty much stay the same shape – they just get smaller.

Men and women do have different issues when it comes to their trouble spots. Due to hormonal differences, women – at least before menopause – tend to store their fat in the hips and thighs, while men tend to gain weight around the middle. And men naturally carry less total fat than women do. With less fat overall – and most of it around the middle – it’s no wonder that men seem to have an easier time achieving washboard abs than women do. But spot reduction, it’s not.

In the end, improving the appearance of those trouble spots comes down to diet and exercise. Strength training helps you build a solid base of muscle, and that can help you look trimmer. But don’t neglect regular aerobic exercise and attention to your calorie intake, too. Your trouble spots might be less troubling if you build and tone your muscles … but not if they’re hidden under a layer of body fat.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD.

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