Unwanted body fat comes in many shapes and sizes. For some of us, it can be found on our hips (i.e. love handles), for others it’s belly fat, and still for others it’s on our backs or arms.
Shedding this stubborn fat can be a real pain, and it’s something many individuals who take part in our transformation challenge are looking for help with.
Most likely you’ve tried searching for “how to get rid of love handles, arm fat, back fat, etc.” and been told that you need to perform special workouts to spot reduce fat.
But, in all honesty, you can’t spot reduce fat to any considerable extent.
This is why performing thousands upon thousands of crunches doesn’t eliminate the spare tire around your midsection and give you a lean, toned six-pack.[1,2]
The keys to losing stubborn fat like love handles or back fat are the same keys to losing fat anywhere else on your body:
- Follow a reduced-calorie diet high in protein
- Lift heavy weights a few times per week
- Perform cardio as needed
That’s all there is to it.
You don’t need to follow any special “fat burning workout” or eliminate entire food groups or confine your eating window to a certain time of day.
Fat loss comes from creating an energy deficit where you take in fewer calories than you burn each day (i.e. a reduced-calorie diet).
To make up for the shortfall in energy you’re not getting from food, your body turns to its own stored energy (body fat) for the calories it needs to keep churning and burning.
Stay in this energy deficit long enough and you will lose fat, even the most stubborn body fat like love handles, back fat, and arm fat.
Now, at this point, you might be wondering why it seems that certain areas of your body seem to lose fat more easily than other areas.
Well, this boils down to a combination of blood flow and fat cell receptor densities.
Without making things too complicated, fat cells have two types of receptors on them:
- Alpha-adrenergic receptors -- limit fat burning and promote fat storage
- Beta-adrenergic receptors -- promote fat burning by releasing stored fatty acids into the bloodstream
These receptors are activated by hormones in your body called catecholamines.
Stubborn fat areas typically have a higher proportion of alpha-adrenergic receptors and they also have poor blood flow to them, which means they receive fewer amounts of fat-burning catecholamines like norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and epinephrine (adrenaline).
Furthermore, you can really choose to which receptors on your fat cells that the catecholamines bind. In an ideal world, you’d choose for the catecholamines to bind to your beta-adrenergic receptors so that they release their stored fatty acids into the bloodstream, which could then be picked up by your muscles and burned for energy.
But, this isn’t an ideal world, and the combination of low blood flow plus high alpha-adrenergic receptor concentrations can make losing certain regions of body fat very challenging.
Rest assured though, that eventually even the most stubborn body fat will be burned off as long as you adhere to your diet.
With the basics out of the way, let’s now discuss a few more specifics for how to get rid of love handles, back fat, or arm fat.
Consume a Reduced-Calorie, High-Protein Diet
Weight loss is primarily a function of calories in vs calories out.
If you eat more calories than you burn, then you will gain weight. Conversely, if you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight.
Therefore, the first step that needs to be taken in regards to getting rid of your love handles or arm fat is to create a calorie deficit.
To help you estimate what your current energy needs are, we’ve created this step-by-step guide to determining your total daily energy expenditure (maintenance calories).
Once you have an idea of how many calories you need to lose weight, the next step is to configure your macronutrients such that you encourage your body to lose fat and retain muscle.
Anytime you place your body in an energy deficit, there is a risk for increased protein breakdown and muscle loss. Due to this, the most important macronutrient when it comes to body recomposition is protein.
When dieting for fat loss, we like to set protein between 1-1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight.
This means that if you weigh 130 pounds, you would want to consume between 130-156 grams of protein each day.
Now, if you’re not used to consuming sufficient amounts of protein each day, it can seem quite daunting to get that much protein from whole foods. If you’re someone who experiences low appetite, 1UP makes a delicious-tasting whey protein shake that is low in calories and can help you hit your protein needs each day.
Limit Added Sugar and Refined Carbs
Dieting is synonymous with increased feelings of hunger and decreased feelings of satiety. Since calories are at a premium when dieting, you need to make sure the foods that you do eat are high-quality (meaning they’re rich in vitamins, minerals, etc.) and, just as important, filling.
Based on this, your fat loss diet should consist of whole, minimally processed foods like:
- Lean protein (chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, etc.)
- Fruits (berries, apples, oranges, etc.)
- Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, potatoes, squash, asparagus, etc.)
- Whole Grains
- Healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, etc.)
The reason we suggest that you limit refined carbs and foods that contain added sugar (sodas, gourmet coffees, fruit juices, cookies, cakes, pastries, etc.) is that they contain a lot of calories per serving with very little micronutrients to offer. And, they’re also not very filling.
In fact, some research indicates that consuming sweetened beverages can lead to an increase in belly fat.[3,4]
For these reasons, we recommend getting your carbs from fruits, veggies, and whole grains. These whole food carb sources are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as fiber, which helps delay gastric emptying and increase feelings of fullness.
Lift Weights 2-4x Per Week
For the longest time, it was believed that the best form of exercise to lose weight was cardiovascular (endurance) exercise.
Recently though, the tide has started to shift and researchers, coaches, and trainers alike are emphasizing the need to lift weights for those seeking fat loss.
The reason for this is that (as we mentioned before), whenever you diet, your body is at risk for muscle loss.
Lifting weights several times per week gives your body the “reminder” it needs to hold onto its muscle.
Furthermore, muscle also helps boost metabolism and increases the number of calories your body burns each day (even at rest). And, muscle is also what gives your body its appealing shape and curves.
Research has also shown that resistance training was more effective for enhancing fat loss when coupled with reduced-calorie diet than aerobic exercise alone.
Building lean body mass can help boost metabolism and increase the number of calories burned at rest throughout the day
If you need help finding an effective resistance training workout, we provide a customized training plan to each one on our transformation challenge contestants.
Click here if you’re interested in learning more about the transformation challenge and getting your very own customized workout program.
Perform Cardio As Needed
While cardio is not as essential to the weight loss process as it was once touted to be. That doesn’t mean it is useless or serves no purpose in your training program.
Cardio can be used as an additional tool to help create the calorie deficit needed to facilitate fat loss.
For example, let’s say that you need to create a daily deficit of 500 calories to lose one pound of fat per week.
You could do this by removing 500 calories from your diet, or you could create the deficit from a combination of diet and cardio.
How you divide it is entirely up to you.
For instance, you could remove 250 calories from your diet and perform 250 calories worth of cardio from your preferred exercise modality of choices (walking, jogging, rowing, etc.).
Or, you could remove 300 calories from your diet and perform 200 calories worth of cardio.
Just be weary of performing excessive amounts of cardio, as it can impair recovery, reduce performance in resistance training workouts, increase muscle breakdown, and increase appetite.
Sleep 7-9 Hours Per Night
When it comes to losing stubborn fat, many individuals focus on diet and exercise.
And, make no mistake, those are two HUGE pillars of successful dieting, but so too is getting enough sleep.
It is when we sleep that our bodies replenish energy stores and repair the damage done to our bodies during the day.
Sleep also has a tremendous impact on our hormone levels.
Specifically, not getting enough sleep decreases leptin (the satiety hormone) and increases ghrelin (the hunger hormone). Cortisol (a catabolic stress hormone) also increases and insulin sensitivity drops.
Basically, when you don’t get enough sleep, you feel hungrier throughout the day while also feeling less full from your meals. You’re also more stressed (due to the increased cortisol) and your ability to properly partition nutrients is hindered due to the reduction in insulin function.
Moreover, protein breakdown is also increased the day after a poor night’s sleep, increasing your risk for muscle loss.
To top it off, sleep deprivation also makes you more irritable and lethargic, which makes it that much more likely you’ll skip your workout and be more sedentary during the day.
Suffice it to say that you NEED sleep to efficiently lose body fat.
We all have stubborn body fat that we would like to eliminate.
Some individuals deal with love handles while others struggle with arm fat or back fat.
Spot fat reduction is not an effective means to reducing the stubborn deposits of fat on the body.
The only way to reduce stubborn fat like love handles is to do the following:
- Eat a reduced-calorie, high-protein diet
- Sleep 7-9 hours per night
- Lift weights two to four times per week
Cardio can be added into your weekly training plan to help increase energy expenditure and create the energy deficit needed to facilitate weight loss, but it is not a “must” to lose weight.
A few other things you can do to help lose love handles and arm fat are reduce stress and stay hydrated as both of these will help stop you from mindlessly snacking on junk food during the day and ruining your diet.
Lastly, if you’re looking for support, encouragement, and motivation while trying to lose your love handles, check out our Transformation Challenge.
We provide customized training and nutrition advice to help you achieve your goals, and they individuals with the best transformation qualify for a chance to be one of our 10 winners.
- Vispute, Sachin S., et al. "The Effect of Abdominal Exercise on Abdominal Fat." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 25, no. 9, 2011, pp. 2559-2564.
- Kordi, R., Dehghani, S., Noormohammadpour, P., Rostami, M., & Mansournia, M. A. (2015). Effect of Abdominal Resistance Exercise on Abdominal Subcutaneous Fat of Obese Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial Using Ultrasound Imaging Assessments. Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics, 38(3), 203–209.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmpt.2014.12.004
- Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Keim NL, et al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. J Clin Invest. 2009;119(5):1322–1334. doi:10.1172/JCI37385
- Pollock NK, Bundy V, Kanto W, et al. Greater fructose consumption is associated with cardiometabolic risk markers and visceral adiposity in adolescents [published correction appears in J Nutr. 2013 Jan;143(1):123]. J Nutr. 2012;142(2):251–257. doi:10.3945/jn.111.150219
- Willis LH, Slentz CA, Bateman LA, et al. Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012;113(12):1831–1837. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01370.2011
- Schmid, S. M., Hallschmid, M., Jauch-Chara, K., Born, J., & Schultes, B. (2008). A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men. Journal of Sleep Research, 17(3), 331–334. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00662.x