Ask the Expert: Does spot reduction actually work?

People cardio workout in gym

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Q: I had my third child a year ago and put on a lot of weight during this pregnancy. I’ve been working very hard to get back into shape and while I’ve lost 11 kg, I just can’t lose my belly fat. Even after doing thousands of sit-ups, very little has changed. Are there exercises that will specifically target my unwanted belly fat?

— Celine

A: Dear Celine,

Many people struggle to reduce their waist line—this is one of the most commonly researched internet topics. Trying to lose fat from a specific body area is called “spot reduction.” An example of this would be doing biceps curls to try and reduce your upper arm fat. The misconception behind spot reduction is that by using the muscles in a specific body area you will burn the fat that is stored in that area. Biologically this simply isn’t possible, and many people waste a lot of money on products that falsely advertise they can target their fat loss efforts.

Here is how fat actually works. If you eat more calories than you burn, your body stores the excess calories as fat. Where this fat gets stored depends on a number of factors and is highly individual. To lose fat, you must burn more calories than you eat. When this happens you draw on your fat stores to provide the extra energy you need. Unfortunately, you can’t dictate which specific fat stores you draw upon and this is why spot reduction is impossible. As a general rule, the first place you put fat on will be the last place you lose it.

Losing fat isn’t easy. It requires a combination of dietary changes and exercise to ensure you burn more calories than you eat. Consistently doing this will reduce the fat stores over your entire body and some of these stores will be from the area you are hoping to spot reduce. If you do this long enough you will eventually succeed in your weight loss goals.

The bottom line: no matter what the infomercials say, spot reduction does not work. Your genetic programming has limits and while it helps you to do many amazing things, it simply will not allow you to pick where you will lose your body fat. Your 11 kg weight loss clearly shows you are doing something right. Keep up the good work and I am sure you will eventually see your abdominal fat disappear. Exercise is medicine!

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