Can you really target specific areas for weight loss?

We’ve all seen the ads promising targeted weight loss. Supplements that can reduce belly fat. Exercise regimens that will give you slimmer arms, legs or whatever else you’re insecure about. But is it actually possible to target weight loss in that manner?

Are you looking to shed a few kilos from any particular trouble spots around our body? It’s natural to look in the mirror and wish for a smaller bum or less wobbly under arms.

But is it really possible to target specific areas of your body for weight loss? Turn on the TV or go on the internet and you’ll be bombarded with advertisements for fad diets, pills and exercise all promising just that.

The concept is known as ‘spot reduction’, and the short answer, unfortunately, is no, it isn’t possible, despite what the ads might say. But the news isn’t all bad.

What about targeted exercises?

Weight loss occurs when your body burns more calories than it takes in, leading to a calorie deficit. That deficit triggers your body to use stored fat for energy, resulting in overall weight loss. 

Writing in The Conversation, Dr Nick Fuller explains that this fat loss is distributed across the entire body and not to just one specific area. That is, he says, because our bodies are ‘hardwired’ to access and use all our fat stores for energy.

Where fat is used up first in your body is determined by your genetics and you are not able to influence that process externally.

“Fat stores serve as a vital energy reserve, with our bodies mobilising to access stored triglycerides to provide energy during periods of prolonged exercise. We also draw on these reserves when we’re dieting and fasting,” Dr Fuller says.

“However, contrary to what many spot-reduction ads would have us think, our muscles can’t directly access and burn specific fat stores when we exercise.”

There is a common misconception that targeted exercises such as crunches or leg lifts can miraculously melt away fat from specific regions. While those exercises can help tone and strengthen muscles, they do not exclusively burn fat from the targeted area.

Instead, they contribute to affect overall calorie expenditure and muscle development. So, while you can’t target specific areas for weight loss, reducing your overall weight will naturally reduce fat stores in your desired areas anyway.

What about dietary supplements?

You’ve most likely seen ads for capsules and tablets promising you a flatter stomach or a thinner face, if you’d just buy their product. Often, these ads will come with claims of being ‘backed by science’ or ‘clinical trials’.

But the real science shows a different story. Two recent studies from the University of Sydney into herbal and other dietary supplements found neither provided any meaningful reduction in overall weight reduction at all, let alone in the targeted body areas.

What does work?

It might not be the fun answer, but the key to effective and sustainable weight loss lies in adopting a balanced approach to diet and exercise. Reducing your overall weight will mean that the areas you’re worried about will shrink.

“While you may not lose the weight in a specific spot when exercising, all physical activity helps to burn body fat and preserve muscle mass,” Dr Fuller says.

“This will lead to a change in your body shape over time and it will also help you with long-term weight management.”

Genetics plays a significant role in determining where your body stores and loses fat. Some individuals are genetically predisposed to store excess fat in certain areas, and these areas might be the last ones to show visible changes during weight loss.

Unfortunately, you cannot alter your genetics, but you can focus on overall fat loss through a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise.

Would you like to lose weight in any particular areas? Have you tried targeting your weight loss before? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Lose weight and feel great after 40

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