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. A healthy diet that creates an adequate caloric deficit and regular workouts are the two most effective methods of banishing excess fat from all over your body, and love handles are not an exception. There are a whole lot of exercises that target the back, abs, and hips, tone your obliques and stomach, increase your energy expenditure and boost your metabolism. So, if you are wondering what is the cause of love handles and how to get rid of love handles, then this article is exactly what you need!
What Are Love Handles?
First things first, what are love handles? Love handles are excess fat depositions near your hips and belly. 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. Although those pieces of clothing are often blamed for the creation of love handles, in reality, they only make them more prominent.
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. You see, weight management is all about counting calories. If you consume more calories than your body manages to burn, it stores the excess energy in a form of fat depositions. So, following a diet that daily provides you with a caloric surplus will inevitably make you gain weight. Although certain diets deliberately create an energy surplus, they are designed to help a person grow muscle mass and require regular exercise. These nutritional plans usually require an increased consumption of proteins, since they are building blocks of your body and promote muscle growth.
So, a diet rich in unhealthy fats and sugary foods, which provides you with more calories than you burn in a day is one of the main contributors to excess fat including that in a form of love handles.
4. Lack Of Exercise
As was mentioned in the paragraph above, 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
A lot of people underestimate the importance of sleep. Lack of a proper shuteye can cause various health problems, including weight gain. It is recommended that an average adult should sleep around 7-9 hours per night. Getting less that five hours of sleep each night can increase belly fat in people under the age of 40 (8).
Sometimes not everything depends on your lifestyle. You can follow a balanced diet, sleep 8 hours per night, avoid alcohol and stress, and still have love handles. 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):
Once you start doing bicycle crunches, you will notice how well it works your core. Although originally you don’t require any equipment to perform this exercise, you can use ankle weights to increase the level of difficulty. Here is how to do bicycle crunches:
- 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.
One of the most popular core exercises, plank, is a must-do if you want to get rid of love handles. It is an isometric exercise that doesn’t require any additional equipment. There also is a great number of variations of this exercise, so you are sure to find the one that would work the best for you. To properly perform a basic plank, do the following:
- 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. They target your obliques and the whole core, while also working your legs, shoulders, and hips. To do a Russian twist, follow these steps:
- 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. Mountain climbers are often included in the warm-up routine. To perform mountain climbers, do the following:
- 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.
Burpees are a full-body workout in one exercise. They are often used as a part of a warm-up since they are extremely effective at making your blood pump. A couple of properly performed burpees can burn lots of calories and tone all your major muscle groups. Here is how to do a burpee the right way:
- 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
This exercise will set your core on fire! It is a real challenge for your obliques and a great way to tone your arms. Here is how to perform 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. Don’t worry, it can also help you reach your goal and can be an effective oblique-strengthening tool! To perform a basic side plank, do the following:
- 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.
The exercise is a must-do if you want to effectively tone your obliques. It works your core, shoulders, quads, hamstrings, and other muscles. You can perform the woodchoppers using dumbbells or lower the level of difficulty of this exercise and skip on weights. Here is how to properly perform the woodchoppers:
- 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
Glute bridge is known as one of the best exercises for glutes, however, it also is super effective at working your core and legs. You don’t need any special equipment to perform a glute bridge. It can also be performed by people of any fitness level. If you want to increase the difficulty of your bridge, then use weights. To perform a bridge, follow these simple steps:
- Lie back down on the floor, with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms extended by your sides.
- Engage your core and lift your hips, until they create a straight line with your knees, thighs, chest, and shoulders.
- Hold the position for a second and lower your hips back down in a controlled manner.
- Repeat for the required amount of times.
This exercise also works your whole body, burning excess fat, strengthening and toning your body, and helping you get rid of love handles. It also improves your stability and balance. You can increase the difficulty of this exercise by using dumbbells and ankle weights. To perform a bird dog, do the following:
- Get on all fours, with your knees and hands on the floor, directly under your hips and shoulders respectively, holding your body.
- Simultaneously lift your right arm in front of you and extend your left leg behind you.
- Hold the position for a couple of seconds.
- Lower your right arm and left leg back down in a controlled manner.
- Now lift your left arm and right leg.
- Repeat, alternating sides.
Throughout the exercise make sure to keep your core engaged. Avoid bending or arching your back, keeping your neck, shoulders, back, and hips in a straight line.
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
You can consume naturally occurring sugars, like for example, in fruits, but keep away from added sugar. This is usually found in sodas, pastries, and sweeteners such as sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
5. Eat Healthy Fats
Like carbs, fats are often mistakenly considered an enemy of a healthy diet. It is true that there are certain fats that only harm your health, however, healthy fats are essential for your body, and are an inseparable part of any balanced diet. 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.
- Beans and legumes, including split peas, lentils, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and others.
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. Getting enough shuteye will not only help you lower cortisol levels and fight stress, but also will leave you less time for eating and consuming calories, in such a way promoting weight loss.
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. Although genetics, age, alcohol intake, and lack of sleep can possibly cause the problem of excess fat near your hips and waistline, 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.
Check out this 20-min Full Body Workout at Home.
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)