Tackling stubborn fat: what the experts say
As the name suggests, stubborn fat can be tricky to shift and often proves to be a sticking point when it comes to achieving a streamlined silhouette. It is notoriously difficult to ‘spot-reduce’ – lose weight purely from selected areas of the body – and more often than not dieting and exercise results in the face, bust or arms becoming trimmer and ‘problem areas’ such as stomach, hips, thighs or chin seeing little difference.
To find out more about tackling – or disguising – stubborn fat, we spoke to experts in the health, fitness and fashion worlds. Here’s what they had to say:
Will is a nutritionist at Push Doctor. He’s worked with a range of clients, including Premier League footballers, models and businesspeople to help them improve their diet, wellbeing and body composition.
Ben is a fitness and conditioning expert at online GP service Push Doctor. He’s worked with elite athletes in sports such as football and rugby and is an accredited member of the UK Strength and Conditioning Association (UKSCA).
Lisa is a fully qualified personal and fashion stylist and accredited member of the Federation of Image Consultants. She works with both individuals and organisations to help them find their own unique style, basing her consultations on personality, lifestyle and body shape.
Will Hawkins – Dietician
Why is fat so difficult to shift from the stomach, hips and chin?
A calorie deficit is required for weight loss. However, when body re-composition, toning or ‘getting in shape’ is the goal, we’re usually looking for fat loss, rather than just weight loss. When we are short of energy (i.e. consuming fewer calories than we expend) our bodies can get this additional energy from various places, such as the breakdown of body fat from ‘stubborn’ places, or the breakdown of muscle protein.
Do the areas where stubborn fat is stored vary between men and women?
In terms of where adipose tissue (fat) stores between male and females, the answer is that it’s very much down to the individual and their lifestyle. What we do know, however, is that females tend to carry a greater body fat percentage than males, on average, due to their genetic make-up.
Is there a ‘quick-fix’ solution to spot reducing these areas?
Increasing protein consumption can decrease the breakdown of muscle for use as energy. This will help maximise the amount of ‘weight’ being lost from body fat rather than muscle.
Equally, while resistance training encourages your muscles to grow, the process of training itself actually breaks down your muscle protein. Without a sufficient increase in dietary protein, this process of repair and growth can be significantly impaired, hindering muscle toning efforts.
For the purposes of a fat loss goal you are likely to be both in a calorie deficit, and taking part in resistance training. For these reasons, to help maximise fat loss rather than muscle loss, and help your muscles grow and recover from training, it’s important to appropriately increase your protein intake in line with your goals. As long as the diet you choose is full of protein, manipulates carb intake based on daily energy demand and contains a variety of fruit and veg, you’re onto a winner!
Recommended protein intakes will vary, but a good guide for this goal is around 1.5-2.2g per kg of bodyweight. So for a 60kg person, this would be around 90-130g per day.
Ben Fletcher – Fitness expert
Are there any particular exercises that would help these areas?
I would recommend performing a combination of muscle-strengthening exercises twice per week and endurance training two to three times per week. As Will mentioned, it’s important you perform resistance training in order to maintain and potentially increase lean muscle while also improving your strength. This will in turn have a positive effect on your body composition, but more importantly, your health.
With your strength training, focus on exercises that require the use of multiple muscles and multiple joints working together; for example, lunging patterns. With regards to endurance training, both steady state and interval training will help you improve your endurance.
What’s important is that you find what works for you. In order to stick to a training plan, you need to find something you can learn to love. What’s also important is that you don’t criticise yourself. Keep your fitness mindset free from negative thoughts. Even the smallest bit of activity contributes to a healthier life, and if you’re doing that, then you’re doing well.
Is there a ‘quick fix’ solution to spot reducing these areas?
I’m a strong believer that the end goal of your exercise routine shouldn’t be aesthetic.
Too many people exercise for the wrong reasons. Exercise should help you get stronger and to be healthier, not just get leaner. Reflect on the other benefits of working out – reducing joint pain for example, or clearing your mind after a busy day – rather than losing weight.
When starting an exercise programme, you need to focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. You need to understand your own lifestyle. Work out what you have time for and how much time you’re willing to put aside each week. Start with small, achievable goals – fast weight loss is rarely healthy or sustainable.
Lisa Talbot – Personal stylist
What advice can you offer about dressing to create a more streamlined silhouette?
We all have certain parts of our bodies that we’re not happy with, but there are some handy hints for styling those problem areas so you can start feeling more comfortable with yourself. A little tip to remember is that dark colours are always more slimming as they carry a blue undertone, whereas a lighter tone – especially a metallic – allows the light to reflect on the area and make it appear larger than it is.
As we go through life our bodies do change for various reasons but I am a massive believer that wearing what we love to suit our lifestyle, personality and body shape makes us feel more confident and happy.
In terms of dressing to disguise areas of stubborn fat, how would you recommend tackling different areas of the body?
Choose tops that scoop down and gently cover the belly at the front and stay away from bulky buttons and zippers as this will draw the eye to the area. Look out for trouser designs with a flat front and side or back zips which will complement your figure. Leggings and stirrups are perfect but make sure that they’re not too tight.
Avoid any clothing combination that defines your waist, including any belted or drawstring styles. You can wear support pants but they can be uncomfortable – my recommendation would be to just wear a pair of high-waisted, seam-free knickers.
Wearing dark colours on the bottom can make your bum appear smaller. Avoid wearing trousers with high waistlines and opt for bootleg or flare bottoms that draw attention away from the problem area. When it comes to skirts, go for an A-line silhouette as the fullness at the bottom flows nicely over a larger behind.
Some ladies carry weight just above their knees which can make wearing shorter skirts or dresses feel uncomfortable. If you want to wear a skirt or dress above the knee wear opaque tights as they will give the illusion of a slimmer leg.
Skinny trousers can also cling to the area, so the best cut for trousers is either a straight, boot-cut or flared leg as they drop from the knee.
If you don’t have toned arms like the A-listers, don’t fret as there are plenty of tops to wear to flatter your shape. Avoid sleeves that end anywhere between the elbow and shoulder, instead
go for half and three-quarter length sleeves as they make the arm appear slimmer, as does a batwing or fluted sleeve. Off-the-shoulder and sweetheart necklines remove the emphasis off your arms by drawing the eye to another area.
Non-invasive surgical alternatives
If you have tried all options and still haven’t had any success in shifting areas of stubborn fat, body-contouring can be an effective alternative. Non-invasive surgical treatments such as SculpSure –where fat cells are permanently destroyed by means of light based laser technology – can help achieve a slimmer silhouette without the need for any surgery or downtime following the procedure. Body-contouring can show notable results in a matter of weeks and can be applied to problem areas including stomach, love handles, lower back, thighs and chin.
Get body confident
Taking steps to address those problematic lumps and bumps will help improve more than physical appearance. A streamlined silhouette will undoubtedly improve body confidence, not to mention self-esteem in general, ultimately achieving happiness inside and out.