Q: I eat pretty healthy and work out when I can, but I still have a muffin top! You know, that extra fat/love handles on the sides of the lower back and hips. How do I get rid of that?
A: If we took a poll right now and asked women what the most stubborn areas of the body are to lose fat, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that the majority would say the legs/butt, and second would be to get rid of love handles.
Get Rid Of Love Handles
The Bad News first…
This area of the lower back is a favorite fat storage spot for your body. Genetics play a big role in how easy it is to store fat there. Genetics also play a role in how fast you can lose body fat in that area.
For most people it happens to be the first place fat shows up and the last place to go.
Unfortunately all attempts at creating supplements and gadgets for spot reduction (losing fat from a specific targeted area of the body) have fallen short.
You also can’t spot reduce fat around your waist no matter how hard you work that area with exercise, so we need a different strategy.
Here’s the Good News...
The good news is that even though you can’t spot reduce with exercise, you do not have to resort to liposuction to get rid of belly fat.
A well designed exercise regimen combined with a diet that supports your goal of losing love handles and a muffin top.
Body Fat Percentage and Weight
The first thing you need to realize is it’s all a matter of total body fat percentage. When you get your overall body fat percentage down, a certain amount of that fat will come from the lower back area.
We all have a little imaginary thermostat in our brain that pings when you get a bit too close to “too fat”. It’s usually signaled when your pants get too tight or you see something extra you haven’t noticed before in the mirror.
At this point one of two scenarios usually play out. The first scenario is scrambling behavior. The second scenario is you buy bigger clothing.
Do you buy bigger clothing?
I’ll deal with the second scenario first. This is where you acknowledge that you’re reaching the “too fat” point, but take on a mindset that says “it’s ok”.
There are multiple versions of this mindset from “I’m ok with it, I love myself” to “it’s not that bad”; and you decide to buy bigger clothing.
The “it’s ok” mindset is the worst possible mindset to have. It causes you lower your standards for yourself and takes the fight out of you. This is the mindset that greases the slide to gaining a lot of weight in a short period time.
I’ve had many consultations where people have shared stories of their weight truly spiraling out of control and when you finally wake up from the “it’s ok” state, you’re fifty or a hundred pounds overweight but you don’t know how you got there.
Adopting a mindset that says it’s ok undermines your mind and body’s internal mechanisms. Not only do you find yourself down the river without a paddle in terms of having gained weight but it fuels the demise of all your health markers.
If you find yourself in the “it’s ok” mindset and can’t get out of it, visit a local professional to get on track.
The benefits and drawbacks of scrambling:
The second and more common response to the “too fat” signal of your imaginary thermostat is scrambling behavior. This means that you will fight and scrap and do whatever it takes to get back to where you think you should be.
This isn’t from statistics on your doctors chart. This is your internal feeling of where you should be in terms of your self image. You know when you feel and look good.
Scrambling is like a ball of energy that kicks you into gear to do whatever it takes to get back to where you want to be. Scrambling can be beneficial when you channel the energy into a healthy strategy like following the triad of effective weight loss- nutrition, resistance training and cardio.
Unfortunately if you don’t have a proper game plan on hand, scrambling behavior can also open your mind up to some questionable tactics like the popular crash diet of the moment or over exercising.
What to do?
The scrambling feeling is not necessarily a comfortable, pleasant feeling. It’s not necessarily a bad feeling, but it’s an urge to move. An urge to make it happen.
As with so many other things (like when you’re starving, logic goes out the window and you eat that pizza), when you reach a scrambling point, you’re going to reach for whatever is available and will make the most impact.
The secret is to anticipate and make a better decision.
So, lets get to it!
What Are Love Handles?
Love handles are the fat deposits you can feel on your side below the waist. It is a simple deposit of fat, and it is also called “hip-rolls” or “muffin top.”
Love handle development doesn’t happen overnight. Love handles form when you’re gaining weight- that is, taking in a number of calories through eating and drinking that surpass what you’re body burns.
Weight Loss Is The Key To Losing Love Handles
Weight loss is key for getting rid of love handles because when you lose weight, your body is using that body fat as fuel (as opposed to carbs you eat).
To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit, which means you’re taking in fewer calories than you’re burning.
When you create a calorie deficit, your body is forced to use fat as fuel as opposed to carbs. When this happens, love handles start disappearing as the fat gets burned up from the inside out.
Love Handles Are A Matter Of Body Fat Distribution
Body fat distribution is different for each individual. Some people store fat primarily on the chest, while others store fat in the love handles, hips and waistline. Either way, losing weight is key to having a healthy body mass index (BMI), getting rid of embarrassing fat deposits, and reducing love handles.
Get Rid Of Love Handles In A Month
Is it possible to get rid of love handles in a month? Absolutely! By creating a calorie deficit daily, throughout the month you will start to see your love handles lessen.
A month is a good timeframe to shoot for. If you’re less fat, you could see results sooner. If you’re storing a lot of fat in that area, it may take a bit longer, but it’s worth it.
Fat Loss In The Belly Area
Losing belly fat will come along with your calorie deficit. When you lose belly fat, you’ll lose your love handles at the same time.
Again- the calorie deficit is the key.
Body fat accumulation in the love handles is happens when you’re taking in more calories than you’re burning.
A typical woman burns between 1,400-1,600 calories per day. If you’re eating above this number daily, your body is storing fat in the love handles.
You can increase the number of calories you burn through exercise and non-exercise activity. You can also follow a diet that brings you in under 1,400 calories per day.
If you combine the two, your results will come quicker.
Can Love Handles Be Targeted With Exercise?
While it’s true that cardio and weight training can help you lose weight and burn fat, you cannot target fat loss to a specific body part.
There are no specific exercises to lose love handles, your body will use fat as fuel (in general) and your love handles will burn off.
Do Ab Workouts Burn Love Handles?
Ab workouts are great for strengthening and “toning” the abs, but won’t have much of a fat-burning effect on your waistline.
Ab workouts are good to do nonetheless; because the muscles are being worked, they tend to strengthen the muscles in the area, which gives a “tighter” appearance. In other words, the muscle pulls closer to the body, which gives you a leaner look.
Love Handles Workout
As mentioned earlier, there’s not a workout that specifically targets love handles, however, there are exercise routines you can do that will burn fat in general, with love handles contributing some fat to be burned.
If you’re a beginner to exercise, you’re in the right place!
Here are some exercises that will burn calories, which in turn, will help you get rid of love handles.
Bodyweight Workouts to Sculpt Your Body
Bodyweight workouts can be done at home, or the gym. It’s one of the best workouts to get rid of love handles because you’re using your whole body to complete each exercise, which burns a lot of calories.
Example bodyweight workout
- 10 push-ups
- 15 squats
- 30 walking lunges
- 25 crunches
- 20 bicycle crunches
Do this circuit 2 or 3 times if you’re a beginner, 4 or 5 times if you have some experience under your belt. Make sure to give yourself enough rest in between exercises!
Weight Training Workouts
Weight Training is great because it’s a more intense workout, and it helps strengthen the muscles in the area as well as burn fat.
Not only does weight training burn calories while you exercise, but it helps your muscles grow stronger, which in turn, burns more calories even when you’re not exercising.
Muscle is metabolically active, meaning your muscles are using up energy even while you’re sitting. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn, even when you’re not exercising!
Here is a great article on weight training for fat loss.
Exercises To Reduce Love Handles and Sculpt Your Waistline
A good way to reduce love handles (or give the appearance of a slimmer waistline) is using planks, which activate your core muscles and obliques (the muscles under the fat).
How To Do Planks
Instructions for Performing Planks
- Lock your ribs down with your abs
Tuck your tailbone between your knees
Do not let your lower back sag
How To Do Reverse Crunches
Instructions for Doing Reverse Crunches
- Keep your toes pointed up and heels pulled tight to your hamstrings.
- Exhale your ribs downward toward your pelvis and try to keep them in this position.
- Bring your knees to your shoulders by pulling your pelvis forward.
- Pull slowly and under control, and return to neutral starting point before each rep. Keep your head down.
- Don’t use momentum or jerk your head up.
Stir The Pot- Exercise for Obliques (Love Handles)
Instructions for the Stir The Pot Exercise
- Lock your ribs down with your abs.
- Tuck your tailbone between your knees.
- Do not let your lower back sag.
- Move without losing your positioning.
Cardio helps you burn even more calories while strengthening your heart. It can be done at the gym on one of the cardio machines, or outdoors if you like running or cycling.
A 60-minute jog will burn about 500 calories (depending on your weight), which is great for losing love handles!
Once you’re used to exercising each day, feel free to mix it up and try out different routines.
Of course, it’s important to make sure that you’re following a reduced-calorie diet as well. You can’t expect to lose weight if you’re not watching what you eat. Why? Because you need to know you’re taking in fewer calories than you’re burning, so your body digs into the love handles for fuel.
Diet for Weight Loss
Exercise is only one part of the fat-burning equation. The “calories out” part. Arguably, the “calories in” part is even more important- and can give you a bigger bang for your buck.
As we spoke about earlier- you want to create a larger calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories.
Any successful diet can create a calorie deficit if followed properly. However, for the best results, we favor diets that keep a moderate to high amount of quality protein.
Because protein provides your body with the raw materials it needs to regenerate the processes in the body- and recuperate from the workouts you’re doing.
Protein is what your muscles use to repair themselves after they’ve been beaten down in your workout.
This is good for two reasons- you actually burn more calories in this recuperation phase due to the metabolic demand. And, after you’ve recovered- you’ll have a bit more lean muscle mass, which burns calories on its own. Without you doing anything.
The best forms of protein are chicken, turkey, fish, lean red meats, and dairy. These have the highest quality amino acid content for building muscles.
I’m a big fan of eating fish or taking fish oil when you’re trying to lose weight. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil will greatly reduce inflammation, which is a hallmark of poor health and helps you accumulate fat in the love handles.
Fish oil also reduces your appetite and helps you stop cravings. This, in turn, makes it easier to keep your total calories for the day low.
The best fish to eat are:
- Wild salmon- salmon raised in the wild tend to have a much higher omega-3 fatty acids content.
- Canned tuna- low mercury levels and high protein content. I highly recommend you do not eat any form of tuna other than canned white albacore tuna, which has a lower mercury level than canned light tuna. White albacore also happens to be very high in protein.
- Sardines- low mercury levels and just as high protein content.
- Mackerel- high omega-3 content.
- Herring- high omega-3 content, but also high mercury levels.
- Anchovies- low mercury levels and high protein content.
You can also take fish oil supplements if you don’t like the taste of fish.
Your goal should be to eat approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. This will help you keep your metabolism up and prevent muscle loss when you’re in a calorie deficit.
We’ve written about some of the diets we recommend. Feel free to check out our articles on intermittent fasting, and the keto diet.
In conclusion, to get rid of love handles you need to reduce fat in general. This will shrink the size of your love handles. You can do this through exercise and diet to create a calorie deficit. Then, to tone the area, use workouts that target your abs.