Love Handles, Belly Fat, and Bat Wings

01 Jan

Can the body spot reduce?

I hear, almost daily, a question that goes something like, “How do I get rid of _____ (point to a spot)?”

  • Stomach fat
  • Back fat
  • Back of arms
  • Front of the arms
  • Inner thighs
  • Outer thighs
  • Love handles
  • Hate handles
  • My teenage daughter

Sound familiar?

Well, I have some news.  The answer to this question may be disappointing.  The body cannot spot reduce.

There are many products out there making a killing on the “spot reducing” mentality.  “Wear this 20 minutes a day.” “Put this cream here as you do crunches.”  Just watch some early morning or late-night infomercials.  Plus, how do you know who/what to trust?

As a general rule, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Sounds easy?  Use caution!

Years ago, in an experiment of favorability between Pepsi vs. Coke, people drank 2 unmarked containers and then expressed which one they preferred.

However, the experiment discovered something profound.

Initially many people preferred Pepsi in the first couple sips (because it is sweeter I suppose), but by the time they got to the last sip, Coke dominated.

Strange huh?

Maybe there’s a bigger truth here.  If people don’t endure to the finish, they don’t know what they are missing.  Pepsi seems to win out based on immediate reaction.  Coke wins out based on true satisfaction.

Who just drinks one sip of a soda anyway?

Certainly, people didn’t think Pepsi was gross by the time they got to the finish but, those who stuck to the finish, found greater satisfaction in Coke.

Many companies prosper on our natural inclination toward choosing immediate gratification over delayed satisfaction.

(And, yes, I do realize the irony of using the favorability of soda in a health and nutrition blog.)

Many products promoting their ability to spot reduce actually provide substantial evidence for their claim.

However, do the effects last?

Typically, the results can be immediately gratifying but unsatisfying in the end.  Immediate gratification versus delayed, lasting, satisfaction.

The truth is, a product or service that doesn’t promote a positive, healthy & habitual lifestyle change will not produce lasting results.

So, can anything be done for those bat wings?

First, we must understand how the body deposits and reduces fat.  Every person’s body is slightly different regarding the dispersion of fat cells.  Likewise, when the body loses fat, some places are reduced more quickly than others.

What affects the deposit and reduction of fat?

1. Exercise type and intensity

The body needs to move.  It is made to move.  Exercise increases our metabolism and, thus, calorie burn.  Our activity level is directly correlated to our accumulation of fat cells (the less we move, the more fat we gain).  Simply by moving, we can reduce fat.  There is a variety of types of exercises, and the body needs all of them.


Cardiovascular conditioning refers to any exercise that increase the heart rate (i.e. walking, jogging, swimming, biking, hiking, running, elliptical, etc.)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can also be considered a cardio workout.

HIIT is a bout of highly intense exercise for a shorter period of time (i.e. 20-30 mins).  Of course, the rank of intensity is relative to the individual.  HIIT includes exercises like circuit training, CrossFit type workouts, wind sprints, interval runs or cycling, etc.  HIIT is designed to get the heart rate up higher than traditional cardio exercise; plus, it can incorporate resistance training as well.  This is not for everyone.  Please consult your doctor if you have heart or breathing conditions.

Strength and resistance training

Strength training builds muscle.

More muscle = more horsepower.  Horsepower is likened to our ability to burn calories (metabolism).  The more horsepower we have, the more calories we can burn.

More caloric burn = the more fat we can lose.

When we strength train, our bodies take longer to recover than from a bout of cardio exercise because of the muscle breakdown, the lactic acid buildup, depleted energy storage, and nervous system reboot.  The body often burns more calories in the recovery (3-6 hours post workout) than in the workout itself.


Stretching keeps the muscles flexible and the joints mobile.  Stretching also releases endorphins and reduces cortisol levels (more on this below) which can help reduce fat.

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)

This overcomplicated name refers to any movement our body makes outside of deliberate exercise (i.e. walking around the house, fidgeting, minor daily activities).  Basically, NEAT is accessory movement.  Some people by nature move more than others, but we can all increase movement.  The more active we are the more calories we burn.

Park further away in a parking lot

Get up and walk at least 5 mins per hour

Keep our feet moving while we wash dishes or brush our teeth

Hand wash our car instead of going to a car wash

2. Stress and rest

Stress is helpful in the right amounts.  However, when stress is chronic and without relief, the body sustains high levels of cortisol which increases belly fat. Managing stress levels via exercise, meditation, sleeping, relaxing, stretching, massaging, etc. can help reduce fat.

Studies show that most people need approximately 7-8 hours of sleep per night.  Sleep helps restore and rejuvenate our body.

Chronic stress is cumbersome to manage.  Sleep can help reduce cortisol levels.  Too much stress can impact our sleep.  We need more good quality sleep if we have and want to lose fat.

3. Nutrition and metabolism

Food is a huge beast to conquer.  Nutrition CAN have the greatest impact on fat loss over anything else.

Before we ask, “how do I lose ____ (point to a spot)?” first we must ask ourselves, “How did I get ____ (that spot)?”

Understanding how the body has accumulated the fat leads to understanding on how to lose it.

For instance, if we have been eating junk and not exercising, then simply doing the opposite of that will put us in the right direction.

Then, there are some people who have been eating what they think is right and exercising but are stuck.  Maybe they have seen some results when they first began getting on track, but the progress has slowed.

If this describes you, then simply try something different.  Chances are, the body has adjusted to the changes you first made, and now, the effects are wearing off.  Simply trying new recipes, lowering calorie intake (or even increasing calorie intake if it’s too low), or increasing exercise can restart results.  Essentially, change promotes change!  Read some personal testimony of my struggle with peanut butter.

However, you may have a deficiency, like: a vitamin/mineral, water, protein, carbs, and/or fats.  Sometimes, particular deficiencies are revealed when the body does not reduce fat in a specific area. (How much water are we suppose to drink anyway?)

You may also have a food intolerance or sensitivity you are not aware of.  These can be subtle symptoms like bloating, inflammation, sinus issues, tiredness, or brain fog.  A sensitivity can definitely inhibit fat loss.

Finally, some food additives such as sugar, sugar substitutes, fillers, sulfates, or salt are sneaking their way into your body and are causing the halt.


The food we consume directly impacts our metabolism, health, healing, muscle gain, & fat gain.

So, what do we need to eat?

4. Genes

Our genetics do play a role in our retention of fat, but they play a much smaller role than people want to believe.  If we are truly honest, we can use genes as an excuse not to change our lifestyle.  But before we run and blame our family for our condition, let’s first exhaust the other aspects we can control.

Next time you are inclined to point out a particular “spot” remember – fat loss is complicated.  You want to get rid of that particular problem spot?  Focus on the whole and the spot will take care of itself.