I’ve always been a big James Bond fan and one of my favourites is Goldfinger. Despite having a great plot, a legendary set of characters with some outstanding names (Pussy Galore anyone), it has some genuinely cool scenes. One that stands out is when 007 has to stop a nuclear bomb from going off. On opening the bomb up, Bond is confronted with lines of blinking lights and dozens of different wires and moving parts. Not knowing where to start, he dithers frantically. As the last seconds on the timer tick down, a bomb expert walks over and calmly switches the device off with the push of a button. “What kept you” quips Bond. What seemed impossibly complex on the surface was completely simple.
If you’ve ever been really lean, you’ll have noticed that the fat that was once visible when you looked in the mirror has gone, all except for that last little bit. The bit that seems to hold on, regardless of what you do. For me it’s on my lower back, for you it might be on your legs or across your belly. Wherever it is, this last bit of fat is what makes people start dropping money on fanciful supplements, googling HIIT routines, and wrapping clingfilm around their arse. Yet, like switching an off switch on a bomb, the answer to losing stubborn fat isn’t complex at all.
An often touted method of removing stubborn fat from specific areas of the body is known as spot reduction. Even if you haven’t heard of that name, you’ve likely come across the concept. If you’ve ever done a “thigh blaster” workout, wrapped clingfilm around your midriff in the hope of melting your gut away, or performed a thousand crunches to get rid of that pesky belly fat; then you’ve attempted spot reduction. Needless to say, under scrutiny, the efficacy of targeting flab from a specific area is dubious at best.
When something sounds legit on paper, I can’t just tell people it’s BS and leave it at that. I have to get my geek on and collect the facts.
- The longest running claim about spot reduction is that you can sit-up your way to a 6 pack. Sure enough, this was tested way back in ’83, where a sit up protocol failed to show any greater fat loss in the abdominal area than no abs exercises.
- Just to make sure, this was tested again in 2011, but when the calories were the same between two groups, one training their abs and the other doing no exercise, there was no difference in belly fat loss.
- Not happy to leave it just at revealing the elusive six-pack, lab coats have found no difference between fat loss in trained or untrained arms, and no difference between trained or untrained legs.
Even studies that seem to actually prove spot reduction such as a recent one from Palumbo et al, fall down when you have a closer look, with the results being confounded by muscle gain and measurement methods. It seems that targeting fat from one particular area, despite the claims and fancy exercise protocols, is a lost cause.
There’s no fancy, scientific, way to describe stubborn fat. It’s simply the stuff you lose last. For men that usually means the fat on the lower belly or, like me, the dreaded love handles. That’s not the case for women, who tend to lose around the abdomen first and from the waist down last. In fact, women can get much leaner up top while the “stubborn” fat in the body hangs on for dear life. The answer to removing it isn’t complex, you just need a calorie deficit, time and bucketloads of willpower.
If you’re at the point where removing stubborn fat is the goal, you’ll have already been dieting and losing weight for a while. It would be great if our bodies were onboard with our aesthetic goals, but unfortunately, it’s less concerned with how we look on the beach and much more concerned with our survival. After extended dieting:
- Your body has decreased the amount of unconscious movement you make during the day to conserve energy.
- Hunger has gone through the roof.
- Thyroid hormones and other hormones like leptin and ghrelin have been altered to drive eating and weight gain.
- The stress hormone cortisol is through the roof.
- The amount of energy you expend as a whole has dropped 15 to 20%.
Unfortunately, detoxes don’t “flush away fat”. The key to losing stubborn fat is in toughing it out. If you’re consuming fewer calories than you burn then you are losing fat. With my own clients, I concentrate on two key things.
- Taking it slow. While I’m an advocate of faster dieting, this is one time where you want to take things a bit more steadily. Once you’re this lean, the risk of losing muscle mass becomes fairly real. While you might not want to look like a bodybuilder anytime soon, you built those hard-earned gains or a reason.
- Taking breaks. As much as your body will fight you physically, there is also a large psychological aspect of losing the last kilogram or so. A diet break, involving taking a week to eat at roughly maintenance calories goes a long way to keeping you on track. Aim to take a break every 4 to 6 weeks.
This isn’t particularly exciting information I know, but as much as I’d like to write a “one weird trick to lose stubborn thigh fat” type article, I’m not going to lie to you. Getting shredz isn’t about hacking your body or gaming the system. You don’t “flip the switch” on stubborn fat, you keep dieting until it’s gone.
You don’t need special measures to make stubborn fat finally disappear, you need a calorie deficit, time, a decent amount of willpower, and nothing else.
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