Slaying the Spot-Toning Dragon: The Myth of Targeted Fat Loss

By Lisa Rhea

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Want to get rid of belly fat? Forget the crunches and focus on fat-burning workouts and healthy eating. Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Long, long ago, in the land of trolls, dragons and fairies, someone told a tale that you could burn fat from a specific area of the body by doing exercises that focus on that body part. They prescribed crunches for a flat stomachs and kickbacks for buns of steel. And for years and years, and even to this day, the people crunched and kicked, yet muffin tops and saddle bags abounded. It seemed their efforts were in vain and all hope was lost.

Here’s where the knight in shining armor rides in. Well, more like me wearing a cape as I type away in fury – but just go with it. Let me slay the spot-toning dragon once and for all.

You cannot spot tone. Science proves otherwise. No matter how many magazine headlines you see, targeted fat loss is still a myth. You cannot pick and choose where you lose fat from on your body. Doing abdominal exercises does not burn fat on your abs. All the lunges in the world will not make your butt less jiggly, trust me, I know this one for sure.

Your body loses fat in a predetermined order and often our trouble zones are the one place our body likes to hold on to fat for dear life, like a security blanket of unsightly flubber. The only way to have a six pack or a tight tushy is to lose body fat in general, and specifically, to lose enough body fat that your body is forced to hand over its binky.

You can improve the muscle underneath the fat, sure. Without doing core exercises or leg exercises or whatever the troubled area may be, you won’t build the muscles to have the shape you are probably looking for. Plus, muscle does “wear” fat better, giving it a shape to latch onto, so I’m not discouraging you from doing exercises for your troubled areas. But don’t expect that the exercise will melt the fat away from that particular region.  That’s the myth.

But how can all those magazines be wrong?  

Photo credit: MiamiFitnessTV / Foter / CC BY-NC Yes, crunches are great for your core, but her abs were earned by doing a lot more than just side bends and sit-ups.

Photo credit: MiamiFitnessTV / Foter / CC BY-NC
Yes, crunches are great for your core, but her abs were earned by doing a lot more than just side bends and sit-ups.

For the same reason we have an insane market for fat burners, tummy toning wraps and magic creams – because it sells, because like a fairy tale, we want to believe there’s an easy answer, a quicker solution. Something. Anything other than having to work really hard to get what we want.  We want to believe that wearing some absurd corset (what the hell is a squeem anyway?) or drinking some ungodly apple cider vinegar concoction or by doing 15 minutes of ab exercises a day, that we can get the appearance we want, without the day-in and day-out dedication that losing body fat or maintaining low body fat entails.

But this is no fairy tale.  Sadly, by destroying the spot-toning dragon, I’m telling you that you have to work hard for the results you want. And you may, in fact, even decide it’s not worth it to you. For some of us, we have to get super, super lean to get rid of fat in our trouble zones. I can personally attest that to have the booty I want requires me being far leaner than I care to be on a daily basis. It’s just not a maintainable goal for me, so I accept a little more fluff than I’d like back there.  On the flip side, I can get nice abs pretty easily. Sometimes you have to cut your losses and focus on the positive.

Instead of wasting your time doing crunch after crunch or leg lift after leg lift, focus on burning calories and building muscle.  Clean up your diet and pay attention to the quality of food you are eating. Challenge yourself in your workouts – add in some high intensity intervals or try metabolic circuit work. Make sure you’re getting enough protein, sleeping well and drinking plenty of water. These are the things that will help you shed body fat and will ultimately bring those trouble zones under control.

If you need one further witch test to prove spot-toning dragon isn’t real, consider this: if repetitive use of certain muscles DID burn fat on those muscles, everyone who is right-handed would have much leaner right arms, right? Compare your arms. Is one significantly thinner than the other? I didn’t think so.

Consider the dragon officially slayed.

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