Exercise Health

Let’s Talk Love Handles: What They Are, How We Get Them, and Why You Can’t Spot Train Them Away

Let’s Talk Love Handles: What They Are, How We Get Them, and Why You Can’t Spot Train Them Away

Despite their cute name, not everyone adores love handles. And you’re not alone if you find they are hard to get rid of. 

To put it simply, love handles are excess fat stores that rest above the hips and tend to bulge out of unforgiving pants. While this stubborn fat may stick around longer than you’d like, love handles haven’t taken up permanent residence. Here’s a quick breakdown of what causes love handles, along with our best tips on what works (and doesn’t work) to get rid of them. 

What Are Love Handles Anyway?

Fat cells are all about location, location, location. A majority of fat, or adipose tissue, lies underneath the skin. This is called subcutaneous fat. We form fat cells during the third trimester of pregnancy, and fat distribution begins during puberty. 

While some people are genetically predisposed to love handles, fat concentration largely depends on sex hormones. In general, men store fat in the chest, abdomen, and butt due to testosterone, while women carry fat in the breasts, hips, butt, and waist due to estrogen. 

Once we make it through puberty, our bodies no longer produce additional fat cells. Sounds great, right? Not quite. The fat cells we already have can grow and shrink based on lifestyle, diet, and exercise choices. 

Love handles won’t just crop up overnight. Excess fat storage happens over time due to lack of exercise, poor diet, poor sleep habits, and excess stress. These factors can increase cortisol levels and tax your adrenals, both of which can cause excess fat stores. 

What Doesn’t Work to Get Rid of Love Handles

Though tons of sit-ups and crunches may seem like a helpful way to banish side-belly fat, training the core excessively won’t make much of a difference.

Spot reduction—meaning you can shrink a certain area of your body by doing lots of targeted moves—is a long-held myth, but training a particular area doesn’t mean you burn fat around that body part. Subcutaneous fat loss is general and not associated with the use of surrounding muscle tissue. 

In addition, though fasting, detoxing, and crash dieting may quickly slash numbers on the scale, most of that change can be chalked up to water loss due to dehydration. These quick fix methods won’t lead to permanent fat loss. 

The Better Solution to Shrink Love Handles

Love handles are hard to firm up because the underlying oblique muscle is flat and thin. The good news: Some key lifestyle changes can improve the overall appearance of your body and reduce fat stores in this stubborn area. 

Here’s what you can do to improve the appearance of your side abdominals.

Work on stress reduction strategies

Chronic stress can lead to unhealthy habit changes such as reaching for comfort foods and high-calorie beverages as well as overeating. In addition, it changes our body chemistry by spiking cortisol and insulin levels, both of which contribute to fat storage. Stress may also lead to a decrease in fat oxidation (the process by which larger fat molecules turn to smaller fat molecules used for fuel).

Stress doesn’t magically disappear, but you can change how you respond to it. Daily positive mental habits including meditation, journaling, and various forms of therapy can effectively lower stress levels. 

Let’s Talk Love Handles: What They Are, How We Get Them, and Why You Can’t Spot Train Them Away

Prioritize good sleep

Research shows not getting enough shut eye can lead to insulin resistance in fat cells. This not only causes excess fat storage under the skin, but can also lead to fat accumulation around organs plus health issues such as type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease. 

Establish a good bedtime ritual. Find something that relaxes you—maybe a warm bath, a relaxation podcast, or some gentle stretching. Stay away from screens at least an hour before bed, sleep in a pitch-black room, and avoid caffeinated beverage later in the day. Oh, and those seven to nine hours of sleep are a must for keeping your hormones in check. 

Clean up your pantry and fridge

This is a no-brainer, but bad eating habits can loom when you’re overstressed and under-rested. 

It may feel like a quick fix to turn to severe caloric restriction or fad diets when you want to banish belly fat, but crash dieting often causes even more stress in your life—especially if you already feel under pressure. 

When you manage stress and get better sleep, it’s likely your eating habits will normalize again (and you may not have the same cravings for junk food). No one has to tell you to eat your fruits and veggies. You know that already. 

Get on a sustainable workout plan

You already know spot reduction is a myth. One of the best workout plans to help you scorch stubborn love-handles is one you’ll stick to. 

There’s no perfect exercise or workout to burn belly fat. Finding a routine that motivates you to move more, and move often, will yield the best results. Even a small amount of daily exercise can go a long way—you don’t need to work out for hours at a time to benefit from movement. 

A simple 15-minute walk at lunch, a 20-minute yoga routine after work, or a full-body strength session at the gym will not only help you shed belly fat, but also boost your mood and decrease stress. When you’re happier, you lower cortisol levels, you sleep better, and you tend to better enjoy the taste of healthier foods. It’s a winning combination all around. 

Wrapping it Up

Love handles are your body’s way of storing fat. The best way to get rid of them is to reduce stress, sleep better, chow down on some whole foods, and move more—but don’t fall for targeted love-handle-reducing exercise routines. 

By Kellie Davis

Kellie Davis ran before she crawled and is constantly feeding her insatiable appetite for competition. In 2009, she competed in her first figure bodybuilding show and subsequently started a fitness blog titled to help other moms and career women make positive fitness and lifestyle habits. Her blog spring-boarded her fitness writing career, and shortly after she was in the gym coaching clients. Davis discovered the perfect marriage of fitness and writing, and has since co-authored the popular women's strength training book Strong Curves, launched a handful online fitness programs, and is also the co-founder of, a comprehensive intermediate resistance training system. As a fitness writer and personal trainer, she is known for helping hundreds of women achieve optimal health through her innovative fitness programs designed for those with a busy lifestyle. In her spare time, Davis dotes on her amazing husband and two children, attends The George Washington University as a graduate student, competes in powerlifting, takes the field in co-ed softball, and spends time with her two adoring dogs and brood of backyard hens.