In a dream world we’d get to choose exactly which areas on our body we shed excess weight from first.
It seems to make sense: you want to get rid of trouble spots on your thighs, so you take up jogging. Carrying some excess baggage around the midsection? Must be time to increase the sit-ups and throw in some planks for good measure.
Unfortunately, when it comes to fat loss, we don’t live a dream world. The human body is a complicated organism and we don’t have any say in where we lose — or gain — weight.
Even more annoyingly, for most of us, the first place we put fat on is usually the last place it comes off.
Fat as fuel.
For your body to burn fat as fuel, a complicated set of processes must first take place.
Fat is stored in our cells as triglycerides, but in order for your muscles to use it, your system needs to break it down into free fatty acids and glycerol, which are transported into your bloodstream to then be used as fuel.
The fat being used comes from anywhere and everywhere in your body, not the area you’re working at the time.
Studies on targeted fat loss date back to as far as the early 1970s, when University of California researchers compared the limbs of tennis players.
They discovered that despite the athletes being one-arm dominant, the subcutaneous (top layer) fat percentage between limbs was the same.
The University of Connecticut conducted a study in 2007 using resistance training and got a similar result.
Where your body loses fat from first comes down to your sex, genetics and body shape, explains exercise physiologist Brooke Norgate.
“Some women are apple-shaped (store fat around the midsection), some are pears (store fat around the waist and bum). Many men are apples as well,” she explains.
“There are probably many more women who are pear shaped because of our boobs, bums and hormones.
“We’re more likely to hold onto weight in those areas hormonally for child bearing.”
Trifecta of fat loss.
You might not be able to control where fat takes a hike from first, but you can make sure you’re doing enough exercise to lose weight from somewhere.
“To reduce body fat you need to be burning more calories than you’re consuming,” Ms Norgate explains.
“So if you’re doing something as little as a sit-up to lose belly fat, you’re not getting much burn at all.
“Essentially you’re just strengthening the muscle fibres underneath — not impacting the body fat tissue.”
Lifting heavy weights in certain areas through strength training, such as your lower-body, for example, will increase the muscle size, but it won’t make much difference to the subcutaneous fat that sits on top.