What Is The Cause Of Love Handles And How To Get Rid Of Them?
The question ‘What is the cause of love handles’ is quite familiar to many men and women. This stubborn fat on the abdomen’s side can be quite frustrating to get rid of even to people who work out regularly. However, despite how frustrating love handles are to get rid of, you can still do away with them. It just requires some dedication and lifestyle changes on your part.
What are love handles?
This is the pinchable fat on both sides of your stomach that leads to a “muffin top” when you wear tight underclothes, jeans or shorts.
What is the cause of love handles?
If you are wondering, ‘What is the main cause of love handles?,’ fat retention is the main culprit of love handles. However, love handles, like other belly fat, in general, is caused by other factors. They are:
This metabolic hormone is the body’s primary stress hormone. When you are stressed out, levels of cortisol increase, and this can lead to overeating and weight gain (10). If you live a pretty stressful life, you will have a high production of cortisol, which leads to Cushing syndrome (4). This syndrome leads to unhealthy abdominal fat which causes love handles.
As we get older, fat distribution tends to shift and we can accumulate more fat in the belly and around the love handles. Lower levels of estrogen in women and testosterone in men also contributes to this (6).
Sugary drinks and foods that are high in fats and calories will eventually make you gain weight, belly fat and love handles.
4. Lack of exercise
If you consume more calories than you burn, then you are most likely to gain weight, and some of this extra fat will settle in your belly, and love handles.
Yes, your favourite wine or beer could be the cause of your ever-expanding waistline and muffin top. Like fat, alcohol is processed by the liver (3). For heavy drinkers, your liver spends more time processing alcohol than fat, which causes it to accumulate in your body. Also, alcoholic drinks have more calories than people know which leads to overdoing how much calories you consume a day (11).
6. Lack of sleep
Getting less that five hours of sleep each night can increase belly fat in people under the age of 40 (8).
If you are doing everything right, genetics may be the cause of your love handles (16).
What causes love handles and lower back fat?
As stated above, there are multiple causes of love handles and lower back fat. How old are you? Are you exercising enough? How is your diet, and are you always stressed? All these factors cause weight gain and fat deposits in the love handles. Try keeping an eye on all these points, and you may be able to find out why you are gaining fat in these areas.
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What are some great exercises to get rid of love handles?
Most love handle workouts are tailored to exercise your core. If your usual belly/core workouts are not getting rid of this stubborn fat, here are some other workouts that your can incorporate in your routine (9):
- Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Brace your core by pulling your navel in.
- Put your hands behind your head, bring your knees in towards your chest and lift your shoulder blades off the ground. Be sure not to pull on your neck.
- Straighten your right leg out to about a 45-degree angle to the ground while turning your upper body to the left, bringing your right elbow towards the left knee.
- Make sure that your rib cage is moving and not just your elbows.
- Switch sides and make the same motion on the other side to complete one rep.
- Repeat this 10 – 15 times for one set. Try doing 3 sets.
- Lie face down with your forearms and toes on the floor.
- Place your elbows directly under your shoulders. Your forearms should be facing forward.
- Engage your core and lift yourself up, keeping your body straight and your torso rigid.
- Drive your elbows into the floor, and squeeze your quads, glutes, and core. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth – do not hold your breath.
- Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
Be sure not to sag your hips, arch your back or tilt your head up. If you cannot hold the position on your elbows, balance on your hands instead.
This can be done with a barbell, kettlebells, dumbbells, water bottles, or soup cans if you do not have any gym equipment at home.
- Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of you with an overhand grip (your palms should be facing the body).
- Hinge forward at your hips, slightly bending the knees, lowering the dumbbells to the ground without allowing your back to round.
- Brace core and lift back to the starting position. Keep your shoulders together and your spine in a neutral position throughout the workout.
- Try doing this 15 times for one set.
Be sure not to arch your neck or curl your chin into your neck.
Hanging leg raises
This workout requires a lot of upper body strength, so try working on your strength and endurance as you build up towards it.
- While standing, grasp a bar placed well above your head. Engage your hips and core and tilt your pelvis slightly backward.
- Lift your feet off the ground by raising your legs outward in front of you, keeping them straight.
- Raise your legs parallel to the ground at about a 90-degree level or higher. If your legs cannot go this high, lift then to whatever height you are comfortable with. Do not be frustrated if you cannot achieve the 90-degree angle in your first few tries.
- Slowly lower your legs back down to a standing/vertical position.
- Aim to do this 10 – 15 times for one set.
Please note that you should inhale on the lift and exhale as you lower your legs.
Alternating toe touch
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lift your left leg, stretch your right arm in the direction of your lifted leg, and try to touch your toe.
- Bring the leg and arm back to the normal position.
- Do this 15 times before switching to the other leg and arm and repeat the movement.
Russian twists or trunk twists are among the top best exercises to get rid of love handles.
- Sit on the floor and bring your legs out straight.
- Lean back slightly, so your torso and legs form a V-like shape. Brace your abdominal wall to engage your core by drawing your navel to your spine.
- Balancing here, twist your torso from side to side without moving your legs.
Do not be tempted to do these twists fast. Slow and steady does it as it engages your core, especially the love handles area, quite effectively.
Not only is this a great exercise to get rid of love handles, but it is also a fantastic cardio workout.
- Begin in a traditional plank position with your shoulders directly over your hands and wrists.
- Be sure to keep your back flat and your butt down, maintaining a neutral spine. Do not curve your back or sag your hips.
- Engage your core and lift up your right knee, bringing it toward your elbow (or as far as you can). Return the right knee back to the starting position as you simultaneously drive your left knee up toward your left elbow.
- Return to the starting position and continue switching legs as you pick up the pace. It should feel like you are running in place in a plank position.
These are great compound workouts that target the love handles, glutes, legs, shoulders, and pecs.
- Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart as you hold a kettlebell in front of your body with both hands, arms straight.
- With a slight bend in your knees and a flat back, hinge at your hips and swing the kettlebell back through your legs.
- Use that momentum to stand and swing the kettlebell out in front of your body, up to shoulder height. Thrust your hips forward, and engage your glutes and core as you stand up straight.
- When the kettlebell hits shoulder height, your knees should be straight, and glutes contracted in a full hip extension.
- Allow the kettlebell to swing back down through your legs.
- Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Squat down with your back straight and your hands on the floor between your feet.
- With your weight on your hands, kick your feet back so you’re on your hands and toes, and in a pushup position.
- Do one push-up before jumping your feet back to their starting position.
- Push strongly from this position and jump, reaching your arms over your head.
Burpees are considered a pretty hard workout even by gym veterans. If you are a beginner, here are some things you can do to make this exercise easier:
- Omit the push-up entirely or do it on your knees.
- Instead of jumping, just stand and stretch your hands in the air.
Side plank dips
- Begin in a side elbow plank on your right side with straight legs and your feet stacked.
- Inhale and lower your pelvis to the floor, so your right hip hovers just off the floor.
- Exhale and press up through your right waist to lift your pelvis and return to the side plank. Pull your right shoulder blade down your back to stabilize your shoulder.
- Do this 10 – 15 times for one set before switching to the left side and repeating the process.
If the side plank with a dip is too much for you, you could try this simple variation instead.
- Lie on your right side, legs extended, and stacked from hip to feet. The elbow of your right arm should be directly under your shoulder, and your head is in line with your spine.
- Engage your core and lift your hips and knees from the mat while exhaling.
- Do not sag your hips or bend your torso.
- Hold this position for 10 to 60 seconds before switching to the left side.
The amount of time spent holding this position depends on your endurance. Do not hold the position for too long as you might injure yourself.
- Holding a dumbbell, stand with your feet hip-width apart with your weight on your left leg.
- Start by holding the weight in both hands up by your left shoulder.
- Twist to make a chopping motion down towards your right hip.
- Allow your feet and knees to pivot with the twist and then raise the weight back up to your left shoulder.
- Repeat this motion 10 to 15 times before switching to your right side
Remember that spot exercises or spot reduction workouts do not work (7). You cannot just do the above workouts and expect that your love handles will disappear. These are just exercises that you should add to an already established routine. You must do full-body high-intensity exercises such as squats, jumping high knees, lunges, jumping jacks, chair dips, and more (1) to help you lose weight and burn fat.
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Do love handles pose risks?
Yes and no. Before you get confused, here is why. Most of us want to get rid of love handles for aesthetic purposes. What most of us tend to overlook is how this fat is quite unhealthy.
Before getting into the risks posed by love handles, you must understand that the body has two types of fat; subcutaneous and visceral fat:
- Subcutaneous fat.This is visible and pinchable fat found directly under the skin (12). Everyone has some subcutaneous fat in their body. It is usually harmless and can even protect the body in some instances (14).
- Visceral fat. Unlike subcutaneous fat, you cannot touch or see visceral fat. This type of ‘deep fat’ wraps itself around your abdominal organs deep inside your body. Visceral fat can be found in both obese and thin/skinny people (15).
As seen above, love handles can be considered subcutaneous fat, however, an expanding waistline (love handles included) is a sign of visceral fat (12). To know if your love handles are a sign of visceral fat, just measure yourself, 35 inches or more in women and 40 inches or more in men is a clear sign of visceral fat.
Some dangers of visceral fat include:
- Insulin resistance which puts you at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Production of cytokines. These are immune system chemicals that increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Its close proximity to the portal vein. Free fatty acids released by this fat enter the vein and travel to the liver, influencing blood lipids that can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol (2).
- High blood pressure.
- Increases the risk of cancer. In 2017, a study found that a certain protein released by this fat can turn non-cancerous cells to turn into cancerous ones (13).
How to Get Rid of Love Handles?
While love handles are notoriously hard to get rid of, it does not mean that you cannot do it. Here are some things you can do to fast-track this process:
1. Switch to complex carbs
Most people tend to think that carbohydrates are the enemy, but this is not true. Not all carbs are bad for you. Eliminate cakes, cookies, most morning cereals, and sugar from your diet. Instead, replace them with healthy carbohydrates that can be found in oats, brown rice, wholewheat bread, sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin.
2. Avoid sugary drinks
3. Reduce your alcohol intake
As stated above, alcohol has a lot of hidden calories and prevents your liver from breaking down fats.
4. Avoid added sugar
This is usually found in sodas, pastries, and sweeteners such as sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
5. Eat healthy fats
These can be found in avocados, nuts, and seeds. You can also consume healthy fats from fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout.
6. Consume fiber-rich foods
Foods that are high in fiber keep you fuller longer, thus helping you not go over your calorie budget. Examples of such foods include (5)
- Grains such as quinoa, barley, oatmeal, and popcorn.
- Nuts and seeds such as chia, almonds, and pistachios.
- Vegetables like turnips, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, sweet corn and carrots
- Fruits like apples, bananas, oranges, and pears.
7. Reduce your stress levels
Try yoga and meditation, avoid alcohol as it makes things worse, carve out some time for your hobbies, take a vacation, speak to understanding friends and family members. Seek therapy for matters that cannot be fixed by any of these other methods.
8. Sleep more
Lack of enough sleep boosts cortisol production, which makes your body hold on to fat, which settles mostly in your belly and extends to the love handles.
9. Lower your calorie intake
If you are wondering what is the cause of love handles, take a look at how much you eat every day. Consuming more calories than you need over a long period of time means gaining weight and fat. To lose body fat and love handles, cut your daily caloric intake by at least 500 calories. This amounts to a 3500 calorie reduction per week and will help you lose 1 to 2 pounds a week.
10. Exercise more
And not just the above-listed workouts. Remember that spot reduction is a myth. Add a number of these workouts to your routine, which should include cardio and weight lifting.
Are Love Handles Genetic?
They can be. Some people are genetically disposed to getting love handles. However, a healthy diet, a proper workout routine, and decreased stress levels can help you get rid of them.
The Bottom Line
The answer to ‘what is the cause of love handles’ is quite varied. However, weight gain and extra fat are at the top among the causes of love handles. There is no secret to losing love handles. You will need to put in work at the gym (or at home for home workouts), make healthier food choices, watch your calorie intake, and sleep more.
That being said, make sure to speak to your doctor before attempting any new diets or workouts.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A 15-minute full body HIIT workout — no equipment required (2019, nbsnews.com)
- Abdominal fat and what to do about it (2019, health.harvard.edu)
- Alcohol Metabolism: An Update (2007, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov)
- An Overview of Cushing’s Syndrome (2019, verywellhealth.com)
- Chart of high-fiber foods (2018, mayoclinic.org)
- How Your Body Shape Changes With Age (2020, verywellfit.com)
- Myths and Misconceptions: Spot Reduction and Feeling the Burn (2013, acefitness.com)
- Sleep Linked to Gains in Abdominal Fat (2020, sleepfoundation.org)
- The 10 Best Moves to Lose Your Love Handles (n.d, menshealth.com)
- The Cortisol Weight-Loss Controversy (2020, verywellhealth.com)
- The Truth About Beer and Your Belly (2010, webmd.com)
- The Truth About Fat (2009, webmd.com)
- This is how belly fat could increase your cancer risk (2017, sciencedaily.com)
- Ways to lose subcutaneous fat (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What Is Visceral Fat? (2019, webmd.com)
- Why Am I Losing Weight Everywhere But My Love Handles? (2018, livestrong.com)