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It's not uncommon for people to want to keep an eye on their bodies. After all, society places such a premium on looking thin and fit that it almost feels like an obligation to be thin. Losing weight isn't a pursuit that one would call easy, but it is something you definitely have some degree of control over. In other words, if you feel like you're already overweight, there are clear steps available to reduce your body fat.
Of course, this extreme level of concern about fat isn't just about aesthetics and looking good alone. Countless studies have established, over the years, the link between body fat and health risks.
But what if you are one of many people who suffer from uneven fat distribution? It may seem like your body chooses to ONLY store fat in your thighs... only in your midsection, and for some of us, only in the upper body. How frustrating!
Interestingly, not all types of fat are created equal. In other words, it's not just how much fat you have that should concern you, but where the fat can be found on your body as well.
Consider this: Have you ever wondered why some people are generally thin, yet seem to have a spare tire, so to speak, around their midsection? Or how other people seem to have really chunky thighs and hips? Perhaps you have those problems as well.
Isn't it annoying? Don't you wish you could just control where your fat goes and stays on your body?
What many people may not know is that fat distribution -- or the way fat is located across the different parts of your body -- plays just as much of a significant role in your body as your actual level of fat does. In some cases, perhaps even greater.
And the worst part of it? You don't really get a say in where your fat pops up.
You might be tempted to think that fat distribution is mostly random (and entirely unfair). However, there's a more intricate and science-based explanation for how your fat is distributed throughout your body, and it involves your overall biological traits.
Admittedly, this knowledge doesn’t offer much comfort when you start noticing yourself stockpiling fat in the hips, thighs, and buttocks, as well as other regions of your body you’d rather see toned and lean. Nevertheless, it is important to understand how and why fat accumulates in places where we’d least like to see it. Knowing, after all, is half the battle — and in this case, knowing why the body treats fat this way can help you make better health-related decisions to minimize the impact of uncontrolled fat distribution in your life.
The thing about fat is that it isn't simply "fat."
There are three major kinds of fat that you'll find in your body -- and one of them is significantly more dangerous than the others.
Brown fat is most abundant in infants, but can also be found in adults (surrounding the chest and shoulder areas). Interestingly, this type of fat serves a special purpose, as it enables the body to burn extra calories to keep itself warm (2). This is what heats us up when we step inside a fully air-conditioned car or bedroom.
Subcutaneous fat is the kind of fat that we think about when the word "fat" is mentioned. It's the soft layer of fat under our skin that we can pinch. This particular type of fat is so commonly found on our bodies that only about 10% of our fats AREN'T subcutaneous.
Visceral fat is the type of organ-clogging fat that doctors warn us about. Sitting deep within the abdominal cavity, visceral fat accumulates in vital organs. It's also the kind of fat that you can have plenty of, without you even knowing (3). If left unchecked, it's a silent and lethal killer.
Too much visceral fat in the body has been linked to higher incidences of heart disease, stroke, elevated blood pressure, higher blood sugar levels, and even cancer.
Preventing the accumulation of visceral fat in your vital organs depends largely on your lifestyle. Unfortunately, the activities that lead to increased levels of visceral fat in your body are habits that are incredibly easy to fall into -- especially when their impact isn't immediately apparent in your outer appearance.
A few examples of such habits are:
Now that we've highlighted the importance of minding the fat that we can't see, let's delve into the specifics of the fat that we can.
As mentioned earlier, subcutaneous fat comprises about nine-tenths of your overall body fat. It's the kind of fat that results in chubby cheeks, chunky arms, tubby bellies, big butts, and thick thighs.
It can be quite frustrating to see your flabby body parts in the mirror. Up to a certain age, people tend to consider an abundance of subcutaneous fat socially acceptable and even adorable; it's a different story, though, when you become an adult who feels societal pressure all around you.
Subcutaneous fat is the primary reason for spikes in gym memberships; it's what makes people sign up and commit to stay fit. Unfortunately, many of these people go in hoping to reduce just one spot in their bodies -- setting, say, a flatter stomach or thinner arms as their targets.
This approach of identifying specific focus areas of the body for fat reduction is called spot reduction. And unfortunately, there is hardly enough evidence to prove that the concept isn't just hogwash.
Spot reduction is not strongly supported by science. However, many people still cling onto it, especially those who are desperate to lose fat in specifically targeted parts of their bodies.
A number of studies have already looked at the impact of spot reduction on the abdominals, both with and without making dietary adjustments (5). In both cases, it was found to be highly ineffective (6).
As a matter of fact, if you exert a certain amount of effort towards losing fat in a particular area of your body, you'll feel the impact all around, and not just on the specific body part.
While there are a handful of studies that provide some degree of support to the spot reduction concept, they are not large or conclusive enough to definitively establish spot reduction as a targeted weight loss strategy that actually works.
What would work, though, is toning your muscles in the visibly problematic areas of your body.
Targeting certain areas of your body where you can tone your muscles is different from attempting to reduce the fat altogether. Through toning, you can increase the definition of specific muscles in your body, giving it a tighter and leaner appearance.
Of course, targeted toning increases in effectiveness when paired with strenuous workouts for weight loss. This is because while targeted toning exercises do build muscle, they accomplish little in the way of burning actual calories.
In fact, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and exercises that engage the entire body have been shown to be most effective at shedding pounds.
Long story short, unless you start actively losing weight, you won't see that six-pack, no matter how many bicycle crunches you do.
That said, there are different kinds of exercise that help facilitate the fat loss process, such as cardiovascular exercises, whole-body exercises, and the aforementioned HIIT.
Simply put, the body loses fat when it is converted into fuel.
The fat-burning process actually begins when the triglycerides (your body's fat reserve for times when it requires energy) are broken down into free fatty acids and glycerol.
Once transformed, the resulting fat reservoir can be turned into fuel to give yourself sufficient energy for day-to-day tasks and physically demanding activities.
By now, we've already established two things. One, you don't really get to pick how and where your fat gets stored. Two, there's likely no such thing as eliminating fat from just a single spot in your body.
However, while you can't dictate where your body will store its fat, you can adopt better habits and techniques to prevent your overall fat levels from increasing (and to avoid getting your organs bogged down by visceral fat).
Here are eight strategies you can adopt to reduce your fat and be fit.
One cannot be faulted for wanting a faster and more efficient avenue for weight loss. After all, the problem of losing fat has been addressed countless times already in various resources..
However, it becomes an issue when, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, you still choose to believe in the myth of spot fat reduction. Still, this strategy is far from your only option; you can engage in more physically demanding activities, or monitor your eating habits (more of protein, less of X) to ensure optimal fat burning.
With a combination of ample physical activity and careful, selective eating, getting fat should be the least of your worries, regardless of how your body distributes fat.
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3. Tigbe W. W., Granat M. H., Sattar N., Lean M. E. (2017). Time spent in sedentary posture is associated with waist circumference and cardiovascular risk. Int. J. Obes. 41, 689–696. 10.1038/ijo.2017.30
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7. Sardeli AV, Komatsu TR, Mori MA, Gáspari AF, Chacon-Mikahil MPT. Resistance Training Prevents Muscle Loss Induced by Caloric Restriction in Obese Elderly Individuals: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2018 Mar 29;10(4). pii: E423. doi: 10.3390/nu10040423.
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