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Every woman has stubborn fat she just can’t shift — whether it’s love handles, plump knees or chunky thighs. Some of us obsess over our bingo wings, while others know their stomachs will never be flat, however many diets they try.
Until recently, it was thought our body shapes and fat deposits were largely genetic, but this is only part of the story.
According to new research, the way fat accumulates around our body reveals far more about our health and diet than we thought — and the key to banishing these wobbly bits forever is to understand why we pile on the pounds in certain places.
Body beautiful: You can banish your wobbly bits if you understand why you have them
‘The wrong foods, hormonal imbalances, stress and toxins can determine where we store fat,’ says James Duigan, author of the Clean & Lean Diet and trainer to Elle Macpherson and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
‘I’m always being asked: “Why do I gain weight on my stomach or my legs?” I ask a series of lifestyle and diet questions to determine why. Weight doesn’t go on evenly all over. Some women are fatter in their face, thighs, stomach or arms and while it’s largely genetic there are certain lifestyle factors that determine where fat is deposited.’
James also says it’s a myth that you can’t reduce fat in problem areas: ‘You can enhance the body’s ability to reduce fat from a targeted area with the right diet and exercise,’ he says. This will have many women breathing a sigh of relief — especially just before Christmas.
We spoke to the experts to identify the fat trigger spots and find out what you can do to get the best possible body...
Relax: If you want a flat stomach, you need to stress less
THE CAUSE: You're stressed
‘Stomach fat has been linked to stress levels,’ says nutritionist Vicki Edgson. ‘When we’re stressed cortisol is released from our adrenal glands and this causes the body to lay down fat around the stomach.’
A recent study by Yale University in the U.S. found that even slim women are more likely to have excess abdominal fat if they regularly feel stressed.
Professor Elissa Epel from Yale says: ‘We found women with greater abdominal fat had more negative moods and higher levels of life stress. Greater exposure to stress may explain their enhanced cortisol reactivity. In turn, their cortisol exposure may have led them to accumulate abdominal fat.’
That’s because abdominal — or visceral — fat has more cortisol receptors than fat elsewhere in your body.
‘That’s why stressed people, from City bankers to busy mums, store fat around their stomachs,’ says Vicki Edgson. ‘They think it’s because they’re eating too much, but it’s not — it’s due to stress.’
The good news is you don’t have to pound the treadmill for hours to get rid of your belly.
In fact, nutritionist Jason Camm says that’s the last thing you should do. Too much cardiovascular exercise, such as running, can create excess cortisol, so you should include some weights, yoga or Pilates in your exercise regime to help flatten your stomach.
‘Stomach fat can also be caused by imbalanced gut bacteria,’ says Camm. ‘Sugar and grains — such as bread and pasta — feed gut bacteria, so avoid them. Try cutting out citrus fruits, too, to see if it makes a difference, as they can sometimes cause bloating.
‘Sweets, coffee, alcohol, salt and junk food stress out your system, so they’re best avoided, too.
‘Foods that restore cortisol balance — and so can help flatten your stomach — include lean protein, such as chicken and fish, green vegetables, sweet potatoes, beetroot, olives and avocadoes.’
Camm also recommends a good quality fish oil or omega oil: ‘They’ve been shown to slow the absorption of sugar through the gut.’ Try Solgar Omega 3-6-9 softgels, solgaronline.co.uk.
‘Another good supplement for tackling stomach fat is liquorice drops in the morning.
‘They’ll give you a coffee-like energy boost,’ says Camm. Try Good N Natural Liquorice Root Capsule, hollandandbarrett.com.
Rest up: Get more sleep if you want slim pins
THE CAUSE: You're tired
‘Heavy, swollen or large calves can be a consequence of not getting enough rest, waking during the night or not getting enough deep sleep,’ says James Duigan.
‘This deep sleep is known as REM (rapid eye movement) and is the final and most restorative slumber.’
James says that there’s no right amount of sleep, though most people should aim for seven to nine hours.
‘To improve your quality of rest try to avoid eating carbs and sugar three hours before bed because they can overstimulate your system,’ says James.
‘Caffeine, found in tea and coffee, and also chocolate, disrupts sleep. Drinking too much fluid before bed — even something as harmless as water — is also disruptive because having a full bladder will wake you up in the night.’
A vitamin B deficiency can also affect sleep, so eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin B, such as fish, beef, eggs, nuts and yoghurt.
‘Blue light’ gadgets emit a flickering light that is neurologically disruptive. James tells his clients to avoid iPads, iPhones, laptops, TV and Kindles before bed.
‘They stimulate your brain in a way that can disturb sleep. Instead, have a bath or read a book.’
THE CAUSE: Your body can't process carbs
‘Many women store excess fat around their shoulder blades that can be due to your body not handling carbohydrates efficiently,’ says Jason Camm. ‘The telltale sign is often fat spillage all around the bra strap area,’ says Vicki Edgson.
Camm advises clients who have back fat to eliminate grains and refined carbohydrates (such as white rice and pasta) from their diet to see if it reduces fat.
‘It often does, and then I advise them to slowly introduce unrefined carbohydrates, such as wild rice, buckwheat and quinoa,’ he says. ‘Don’t eliminate vegetables, which are high in fibre and low in carbohydrate.’
Camm says back exercises won’t reduce this fat as efficiently as short bursts of high-intensity exercise — try circuit or spin classes.
Solution: Try tricep dips and yoga to banish bingo wings
CAUSE: Environmental toxins
‘This is largely due to toxins in your system,’ says Jason Camm. ‘There was a recent study about BPA (Bisphenol A), a toxin found in everyday products like plastic bottles.
‘They put a toxic load on your body and excess fat is one side effect. Within three days of eliminating them there was a 77 per cent decrease in BPAs in your body.
‘So never heat up soup in a plastic container and try to limit the amount you drink from plastic water bottles.’
Camm says tricep dips — which target the upper arms — are good, but even better are exercises that detoxify the body.
‘Bikram yoga, which is yoga done in a room heated to 40c, is great for upper arm fat because raising the core body temperature helps eliminate a build-up of toxins in the body that strips away bingo wings.’
Body brushing also helps improve circulation, which will help to give the appearance of having smoother and firmer upper arms.
Try Boots Body Detox Brush (£4.99) and use it every morning before you shower, brushing up from your elbow towards your armpit.
CAUSE: Too much sugar
‘A thick waist with excess fat can be a sign that your body isn’t handling insulin well,’ says James Duigan.
He says that a sugary diet can result in fatty deposits around the waist — if you cut sugar from your diet you’ll see at least a 50 per cent reduction in waist fat.
‘This type of fat can also be due to stress, like stomach fat, so dedicate 15 minutes a day to relaxation,’ says Duigan.
Antioxidant rich foods such as berries, brightly coloured vegetables and green or white tea help to stabilise blood sugar levels, which can help reduce fat storage.
There are a number of diet supplements that can help reduce your love handles.
Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan of chromium to help control blood sugar levels. Try Tony Ferguson Chromium Plus or Solgar L-Glutamine for blood sugar.
Zinc can help insulin bind to receptors in the cells, so take a supplement (try Holland & Barrett zinc, hollandand barrett.com) or eat zinc-rich foods, including beef and pumpkin seeds.
‘In terms of toning up, love handles can be fairly stubborn and doesn’t always respond well to targeted exercises,’ says Duigan.
‘However, they do respond well to exercises such as Bikram yoga because stubborn fat is toxic and toxins are released through sweating.’
Drink less: Cut down on your alcohol intake if you don't want chubby cheeks (posed by model)
THE CAUSE: Too much alcohol
‘Having a big face is often due to water retention or excess alcohol,’ says Jason Camm. ‘People who drink regularly tend to have bloated faces and water weight around their cheeks and jawline.
‘Drinking can cause the skin to become dehydrated, which causes you to experience a dehydration rebound.’
‘Ironically, this alcohol-related dehydration later causes water retention and bloating around the face.’
Cut back on drink and have four alcohol-free days a week.
Paolo Lai, a reflexologist at Neville Hair & Beauty in London (nevillehairand beauty.net), performs lifting facial massages.
‘Face massages can de-bloat a puffy face and tone muscles so it looks slimmer, younger and more defined,’ he says. ‘Start from your nose, and work outwards towards your ears.
‘This instantly improves lymphatic drainage, which reduces bloating. Next, rotate your little finger around your eye sockets out towards your cheek bones. Then work from the corners of your mouth up towards the cheekbones.
‘Use a firm touch and a face oil, so your fingers glide across your skin. Use an oil with a high concentration of skin-boosting antioxidants, such as Neal’s Yard Wild rose hip oil. (£17.25 for 50ml, nealsyard remedies.com).’
THE CAUSE: Your parents!
‘Having relatively large thighs with a rounded bottom — and a slim waist and flat stomach — is a classic pear shape and is largely genetic,’ says James Duigan. It is rarely due to diet.
The good thing about this shape is that studies have found that carrying excess weight around the bottom and thighs is healthier than carrying it around your back, waist or stomach (this type of fat sits closer to your heart and other organs).
A recent study from Oxford Brookes University found pear-shaped women are less likely to get heart disease and type 2 diabetes than apple-shaped women, who store fat around their mid-section.
‘One thing that can really make a difference in this area of the body is avoiding soy products such as soya milk, soy yogurts, edamame beans and typical processed foods — such as bread and ready meals —which can sometimes contain soy, so do check your food labels,’ says Jason Camm.
‘In terms of exercise, squats and lunges are good for this area because they tone you up and increase the heart rate, which burns calories.’
Camm also recommends the supplement DIM, which helps reduce fat on the bottom and thighs. Try Nature’s Way DIM-Plus, amazon.co.uk.
A pill to make your bottom smaller? What’s not to love?