One of the most frustrating falsehoods I see perpetuated constantly on the internet is the idea that you can lose fat in one targeted area of your body.
I completely understand why people would want to be able to do this. It sounds so nice: get that classic hourglass shape by keeping fat in your bust and hips and losing fat around your waist and thighs.
I’m really sorry to tell you, however, that this is NOT how fat loss works.
The idea seems to make sense in the moment: you feel the burn in your triceps and assume that the fat around that area is burning away as well.
Unfortunately, fat burning is not nearly so immediate. In fact, fat is the last source of energy to be burned for fuel. Your body first uses the free glucose in your blood. Then glycogen (chains of glucose) gets broken down and released as glucose into your blood for your body and muscles to use. Finally, once glycogen stores have been depleted (which is usually about 1 hour into your workout), your body will turn to fat.
When your body senses it is running low on glucose and glycogen, its releases several hormones (glucagon, epinephrine, and cortisol) which signal your body to start breaking down fats. The hormones travel in your blood and spread out into your entire body, causing you to break down fat equally everywhere.
It’s the fact that the hormone signals travel in your blood that makes localized fat burning simply a myth. There is almost no directly adjacent signaling that goes on in the body. The signals (hormones) and fuel (glucose and fatty acids) are released directly into the blood, which goes right back to the heart, before getting pumped back out to the entire body. So whatever hormones or fuels get released get immediately spread out to the entire body.
I find this myth so frustrating because I think it causes women to give up on their fitness and weight-loss goals because they don’t see the results they are told to expect.
So I’ll tell you, what you CAN expect is to lose a little bit of fat basically equally over your entire body.
But one of the big reasons why weight-lifting is such a fantastic option for women is that, although you can’t selectively reduce fat, you can selectively grow areas of your body by building muscle there!
Expect many future posts about how to target and grow certain body areas and muscle groups. And one of the best parts of building muscle is that it helps to make losing fat over your entire body so much easier.
Dr. Elle, MD
Belle of the Barbell