Burn belly fat fast with the amazing ___________! (insert revolutionary exercise machine and/or diet supplement in blank). Spot Reduction is the concept of specific body-part fat-loss.
An example of spot reduction in action is the idea that doing sit-ups will melt belly-fat, or that working out on a cross-trainer will tone one’s hips and legs. We know, from many scientific studies, that spot reduction is a fallacy but its appeal lingers…. But why?
It is a fallacy
Spot reduction does not work. You cannot target an area of your body with anything other than surgery and expect that it will become proportionally less fat than every other part of your body. Think about an overweight tennis player. Will that tennis player have one fat arm and one thin arm if she always holds her racquet with her right hand? Will an overweight jogger get skinny legs before he loses his belly fat?
No, of course not. In fact, one of the first studies to disprove the idea of spot reduction was published in 1971 where the researchers studied tennis players and concluded that working the muscle below fatty deposits does not in any significant way affect the fat deposits directly.
Muscles do not suck up fat from wherever it is closest when they need energy. Instead, the muscles use energy from a complicated, multi-faceted process which involves many hormones and organs coming together in concert to draw reserves from all over the body in a controlled, uniform manner.
Think of your body like a country, where the cities (muscles) draw food from farms (fat) all over the world in proportion to its availability and price, rather than just raiding all of the local veggie patches.
Despite the tennis player study and the many hundreds of other research which supports it, an internet search today for “burn belly fat” or “lose your double-chin” will yield pages and pages of targeted exercises and diets. Why do so many people believe that you can get rid of specific patches of fat on specific body-parts?
Probably the single biggest reason that the myth persists is something called “muscle hypertrophy”, otherwise known as Big Muscles. When you train a muscle and provide it with adequate nutrition, it grows bigger. When you do fifty sit-ups each morning, the muscles in your core, including the abdominal muscles (abs/six-pack) grow stronger and bigger.
These stronger muscles are better able to hold your belly in, making it tighter and more compact. If you are not accustomed to the extra exercise, you are probably burning more calories every day by increasing your Basal Metabolic Rate, so you may also be losing fat as your body unlocks the energy stored in fat deposits throughout your body to fuel your faster metabolism.
The uniformly reduced fat layers seem to be reduced more over your bigger muscles than anywhere else in your body, and this gives the impression that you have lost more fat over your belly, thus supporting the idea that sit-ups have melted your belly fat away. The effect can seem very real and it just feels intuitively right to assume that the fat over hard-working muscles should “burn” faster than other fat.
Unfortunately, this thinking is flawed and can lead to frustration and wasted effort.
Why it is not beneficial to spot train
It is not a good idea to attempt a targeted approach to fat loss for these key reasons:
It does not work. You cannot pick and choose which fat burns first. Your body will lose fat uniformly for as long as you have some to lose and you expend more calories than you consume on an ongoing basis.
Isolated exercises are less efficient. Focussing on a specific exercise which targets specific muscles like crunches and leg-lifts is far less efficient for expending energy and thus increasing one’s BMR over time than a varied exercise routine or general aerobic exercises like walking and running.
Mental anxiety is bad for wellbeing. The problem with trying to lose fat in a specific part of one’s body indicates that an unhealthy fixation with body shape has developed. Losing weight in a healthy manner can seldom be reduced to the idea of getting washboard abs or a thigh gap. The frustration that comes with realising that the Four Point Two Minute Ab Machine is not working could lead to a cycle of despair and demotivation.
So how can I lose belly/thigh/face/hip fat?
It is simple, really. Just maintain a calorie deficit (use more calories than you consume) and your belly, thigh, face, hip, arm, leg and toe fat will all melt away.
Is Spot Reduction Possible?
No. You cannot target specific fat packs on your body when you lose weight, unless you go the surgery route.