What Are Love Handles and How to Lose Them
Love handles is a term commonly used to refer to the accumulated fat on the sides of one’s abdomen. Despite the name, people rarely associate any love with them, largely because the fat in this region is very difficult to get rid of. While having love handles isn’t a health issue, it can be indicative of conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
Why is it so difficult to get rid of love handles?
The primary and most likely reason is that the love handle region has more fat cells than other areas on the body — there is thus, more fat accumulation in this area.
Age is also a factor in fat reduction. As we age, our metabolism slows and our ability to “burn” fat slows. This is applicable to fat in general, and love handles in particular, thanks to the high number of fat cells in this region. In other words, the more fat there is in a particular area, the harder it is to substantially reduce it.
Spot reduction: Common misconceptions
One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to fat loss is that of the effectiveness of spot reduction. This is especially true when it comes to reducing abdominal and love handle fat. Spot reducing refers to targeting a specific area (ie, love handles) and then performing specific exercises to “burn” fat in that particular area. This is a complete myth.
This brings us to an important point — an increase in strength is not correlated with a decrease in body fat. Take, for instance, the endless products available for “toning” the abs. While these products or abdominal exercises such as crunches/ sit-ups will strengthen the abdominal muscles, they don’t automatically equate to fat loss in this region.
How to lose love handles
The best way to reduce love handles, as well as overall body fat, is to eat a healthy diet and perform a strength training program, which consists of full-body exercises to not just target a lot of large muscle groups, but also to elevate one’s heart rate and thus caloric burn.
Additionally, at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise is recommended three to four days a week. The intensity of cardiovascular exercise should be moderately hard but not exhausting. A good metric to go by is the talk test. While performing cardiovascular exercise, an individual should be able to speak a full sentence, but it should be labored.
If you want to burn fat (including love handle fat) effectively and efficiently, go for strength training exercises that utilize multiple muscle groups at the same time and/ or are ballistic in nature (ie, jumping).
Here are a few exercises that tick the boxes.
Squats with overhead arm extension
Start in a standing position with your arms at your side. Then squat down and back (weight over heels) while keeping your upper body as erect as possible. As you squat down, raise your arms straight in front of you and over your head. Hold for a few seconds at the bottom of the squat with your arms overhead, then return to the starting position. Do two-three sets of 12-15 repetitions.
Step up onto a solid platform (ie, bench, step), while keeping your upper body as vertical as possible. Step back down. Do the same leg for 10 repetitions then switch legs. Do a total of three sets on each leg.
Do four 1-minute jump rope intervals with 20 seconds in between each interval.
Lunges with arms extended overhead
Start in a standing position with your arms fully extended overhead. Then step back with one leg and lower your body until your front leg (knee) has a 90-degree bend in it. Then step back up and switch legs. Keep your arms overhead the whole time. Do 10 repetitions on each leg for a total of three sets (10 reps on each leg).
It is often tempting to blame your metabolism for weight gain. Although you can’t completely control your basal metabolism, you can control the number of calories you burn through physical activity. Calorie deficit, which means burning more calories than you take in via the combination of diet and exercise, tunes your body to utilize fat as an energy source, ultimately leading to weight loss.
You can do so by cutting down saturated fats to less than 10% of your total calorie intake, along with overly processed foods and drinks that are high in sugar, sodium, and unhealthy trans fats. Include sources of lean protein such as chicken, fish, turkey, lentils, beans, tofu, and quinoa, along with complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain bread, whole wheat Indian bread (roti), fresh vegetables, and fruit.
Aim to drink 11-14 glasses (1glass=250ml) of water per day. Drinking around two glasses of water before breakfast will reduce the overall intake of calories from the meal. Specifically, in regard to losing one’s love handles, water may increase lipolysis — the process by which the body burns fat for energy. Conversely, being dehydrated likely slows the body’s metabolism of fat.
Sleep is like nutrition for your brain. The influence of having a good night’s sleep and reduced stress on fat loss and overall health is as important as diet and exercise. It is the time when the body regenerates itself. Therefore, if you’re not getting enough sleep, your body is not able to sustain itself and not only will it be hard to gain fitness/ lose fat, but you’ll also be more susceptible to getting sick.
Purely in respect to fat loss and more specifically, losing one’s love handles, lack of sleep and/ or stress reduces your body’s ability to burn fat due to increased and elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that naturally occurs in the body. However, when stressed or lacking in sleep, its levels are increased for long durations of time. This increase in cortisol can manifest itself in both an increased appetite (in particular sugar) and decreased metabolism, thus making losing one’s love handles that much harder. So, aim to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
There are many simple ways of getting rid of love handles and it starts by making simple lifestyle changes. Combining cardio and strength training, along with good nutrition and healthy duration of sleep will give your body a way to lose them for good.
1. Thornton SN. Increased Hydration Can Be Associated with Weight Loss. Front Nutr 2016; 3: 18.
2. The Best Diet: Quality Counts. Harvard School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/best-diet-quality-counts/ (accessed Mar 30, 2021).
3. Sleep More, Weigh Less. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/sleep-and-weight-loss#1 (accessed Mar 30, 2021).