While the term “love handles” implies affection, there is no woman on earth — at least, not one I’ve ever met — who likes her love handles. Also known as “muffin top” (because instead of sitting flush with the pant’s waist, they hang over it like a muffin top), love handles are common among women — especially as we age, and most notably, when we enter menopause. While completely natural, they can make us feel self-conscious about our size and silhouette. Though we’re all perfect as we’re made, there’s no denying that weight loss — specifically, the reduction of body fat and belly fat – has health benefits. Thus, the search for how to get rid of love handles continues.
The good news is that a healthy diet rich in protein, veggies, and healthy fats combined with a regular exercise routine of strength training and movements that burn fat can go a long way towards reducing and even getting rid of love handles. Here’s what you need to know.
What are love handles?
Before going after stubborn love handles, it’s helpful to understand what they are and why they develop. Love handles occur when the body stores excess fat — typically resulting from a surplus in calorie consumption — in the midsection. (Because many of our vital organs are near the hips and waist, the body deposits excess fat there to protect them.)
A common myth that persists around love handles is that they can be targeted. While it’s true that some parts of our body may respond more quickly to certain exercises, spot reduction — wherein visceral fat is reduced only in one area of the body — isn’t actually possible. Rather, love handles must be reduced over time by increasing muscle mass and strengthening the entire body.
That said, people’s body composition varies and weight loss journeys look different for everyone, which explains why some people develop pronounced love handles and others have none.
How To Get Rid of Love Handles
Love handles can be uncomfortable, especially in form-fitting clothing, and excess weight is a risk factor for several chronic conditions. Here are steps you can take to reduce the appearance of love handles and improve your overall health.
1. Adjust Your Diet
Fat loss, especially losing the abdominal fat around the midsection, requires a healthy diet. Since love handles can’t be targeted on their own, losing weight overall is the goal (as this will shrink love handles and other trouble spots simultaneously).
To start, find a diet that works for your needs; punishing or restrictive diets often result in fat retention because the body perceives that it’s in starvation mode. Instead, make small changes like reducing consumption of sugar, alcohol, and processed foods, all of which cause weight gain and inflammation. Replace these with foods that build abdominal muscles like proteins and healthy fats, and swap sugary sweets for fruits.
A healthy diet is one that works for your needs, so adjust and adapt ingredients as you go. It’s worth noting a one pound weight loss per week is equal to a deficit of 3,500 calories a week (or 500 calories a day). A healthy diet provides sufficient calories, but it gets those calories from foods that nourish the body.
2. Stay Active
Many of us work sedentary jobs that keep us pinned to a chair all day. Adding regular movement to our routine can thus have a big impact on our bodies, including how we hold onto weight. A comprehensive workout routine with cardio, squats, and lunges is, of course, the ideal. But even simple movements, like yoga, stretching, biking, and walking, can spark weight loss. These small changes can also help reduce risk of developing chronic conditions related to obesity, like diabetes. To start, create a practical routine that works with your life’s rhythm. This is what’s known as a “success environment,” and it greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll stick to your weight loss goals. Why? Because a program that’s convenient and accessible is easier to maintain long-term.
3. Focus on Strength-Building
There are, of course, benefits to more intense workout routines, like weight training, HIIT (high-intensity interval training), and exercises focused on core muscles. Resistance training, and strength training exercises like crunches, obliques, and reps with dumbbells can help your body burn fat at rest. (This means that the weight loss effects of your workout continue even after you’ve stepped off the treadmill.) That said, it’s important to listen to your body when working out, particularly when performing upper-body strength training exercises like push-ups and pull-ups, as there is potential for injury. Start small and increase the intensity of your workouts over time.
4. Stay Hydrated
Reducing love handles requires increased physical activity. This, in turn, means increased water intake, both to stay hydrated and to spur weight loss. Water helps to suppress appetite, so we eat only as much as we need and only when we need it. It also keeps us happy, active, and energized, which makes us less inclined to sit on the sofa eating chocolate. Keep a water bottle at your desk and practice reaching for a glass of water instead of a snack serving throughout the day.
5. Find Stress Management Techniques
Stress can have a big impact on weight gain and loss, so it’s a good idea to find management techniques for the things that invoke it. In simple terms, stress causes the body to produce cortisol, which is the stress hormone that provides bursts of energy. Often referred to as the fight or flight hormone, it functions as a trigger alerting us to danger. Today’s world, however, doesn’t present the same dangers as existed in the past — when we might, for example, need to run from a lion or avoid approaching marauders — so when cortisol levels increase due to stress at work or school, we lack an outlet for ridding ourselves of the excess energy.
The result is a swift and dramatic drop in energy levels, which — along with a drop in blood sugar — causes cravings for sugary foods and snacks. Long-term heightened cortisol levels have also been shown to increase your belly fat, so reducing stress will help you reduce your love handles, too.
6. Get More Sleep
Sleep is another important piece of the weight loss puzzle. To start, when we don’t get enough sleep, it can increase our stress levels and cause overeating. Additionally, when we’re tired during the day, we reach for sugary snacks to give us energy. Lack of sleep has also been directly correlated with overeating. This comes from both pressure to stay energized and chemical changes in hormones. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep, if possible.
A little excess fat around the waistline and lower back is relatively common and affects women of every age. There are many benefits to addressing love handles and fat build-up in sustainable and long-term ways, including an increase in energy and a reduced risk for chronic conditions. Simple changes to lose your love handles include dietary changes that reduce sugar and alcohol intake and increasing hydration and your activity level, either low-impact or high impact. Ensure, too, that you’re getting enough sleep and managing stress, as both can cause hormone changes that lead to weight gain. At the end of the day, losing your love handles is more about feeling good than “looking” good. You’re already gorgeous — and don’t you forget it!