‘It doesn’t work that way’: Why spot reduction is a myth when it comes to weight loss

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We’re here again: A couple of months from swimsuit season. And you might be looking in the mirror at any number of eyesores — beer belly, thigh rub, bra bulge, love handles, saddlebags — and asking: Can I get rid of that through exercise and diet?

In other words, spot reduction.

“No, it doesn’t work that way,” says Todd Miller, professor of nutrition and exercise sciences at George Washington University. “Fat in your body is like gas in your gas tank. Thinking you can reduce fat from your stomach alone is like saying you want to use gas only from the right side of your gas tank.”

Fat, just like gas in your car, is stored energy. It gets recruited equally from all over your body and sent to the muscles to be burned, Miller says.

But why then do we carry more of it in certain areas?

“Genetics is the most important determinant for where fat is stored,” says Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness. “Often we have relatively similar shapes as our parents.” Gender and age are also part of the equation, Kahan says. Men tend to carry more fat in the midsection, and women tend to have more around thighs and hips.

A toned look — let’s say six-pack abs — requires not only low body fat but also a genetic predisposition to have a fairly equal distribution of fat all over the body. (Low body fat means roughly 15 per cent for a woman and less than that for a man. In comparison, the American Council on Exercise lists 25 to 31 per cent body fat as average for women; for men, 18 to 24 per cent is average.)

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