Despite their seemingly cute and innocent name, nobody wants anything to do with love handles.
Not only are love handles aesthetically displeasing, they can also be a sign of poor metabolic health on a deeper level.
To be clear: the term “love handles” refers to the excess fat that accumulates around the waist, particularly on the sides of the waist, and ends up hanging over the top of pants, shorts or bathing suits. Love handles are a problem spot for many men and women alike, so don’t panic if you fall into this category.
While getting rid of love handles is nice to feel more confident about how your body looks, the primary reason to focus on fat around the waist is that it can actually be a marker for many chronic diseases. It is more technically called visceral fat.
What are Love Handles, and What Causes them?
Love handles are more than just a pesky annoyance, unfortunately. Visceral fat (or love handles) is fat that accumulates around the midsection, versus subcutaneous fat that accumulates under the skin. Common reasons for excess visceral fat come back to an unhealthy diet, inadequate sleep, high stress and a sedentary lifestyle. Hormonal imbalances can also be at play, such as a thyroid issue.
The scary part is that excess belly fat (like love handles) has been shown to contribute to your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases.
The good news is that there are some relatively simple and painless ways to start getting rid of your love handles today, and living a healthier life overall. Here are nine ways to get rid of those pesky love handles:
1. Lower Your Sugar Intake
Sugar is rampant in the Standard American Diet (SAD) and wreaks havoc on your health, and your love handles. White sugar and processed foods made with it-like commercially prepared cookies, candies and cakes-have been shown to be a leading cause of visceral fat accumulation.
In an ideal world, omit or greatly reduce commercial baked goods, sodas, fruit juices and other foods with white and processed sugar. Keep in mind that only four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon, and many commonly consumed products like juice contain upwards of 20 grams or more, which equals five teaspoons of sugar.
2. Eat Real Versus Processed Foods
Many health experts agree that the onset of excess belly fat and other markers of metabolic dysfunction increased exponentially when the modern diet shifted to a diet high in processed foods versus real foods. Most processed and packaged foods contain a long list of artificial ingredients, preservatives, coloring and flavoring agents, which can potentially be negative for health and weight management.
If you stick to the perimeter of the grocery store, you’re more likely to be buying real foods. This is where foods like vegetables, fruits, plain yogurt and dairy and meats live. Venture into the aisles only to buy healthy oils (more on this in a moment), nuts and seeds. Treat yourself to some 70% or higher dark chocolate to satisfy a sweet tooth.
3. Stick to Whole Food Carbohydrate Sources
Lower-carb diet models have also been linked with a reduction in belly fat. However, this doesn’t mean you have to go on an extremely low-carb diet, like the ketogenic diet, but instead it can simply mean that you get the bulk of your carbs from whole food sources.
In practice this means ditching breads, pastas and other processed carbs for nutritious options like sweet potatoes, potatoes, root vegetables, plantains, fruit, whole grains and legumes. A serving of starchy veggies, grains and beans is 1/2 cup, so keep that in mind when envisioning your “perfect” plate.
4. Focus on Healthy Fats
Many people have yo-yo dieted on and off their entire adult lives, and many of these diet trends promote a low-fat eating model. Unfortunately, this strategy usually ends up leading to more love handles in the long run, and is not a sustainable or healthy approach for most.
Healthy fats along with adequate protein work to control the body’s hunger hormones and keep us feeling satisfied and better able to resist cravings. They are also essential to absorb certain key vitamins, for a healthy immune system and much more.
Opt for nourishing fats like extra virgin olive oil and olives, coconut and coconut oil, grass fed butter and ghee, avocados, nuts and seeds. I love the book Eat Fat Lose Fat to learn more about the benefits of healthy fats and how they can help you lose weight.
5. Don’t Skimp on Fiber
Fiber also works to keep you full, and supports a healthy gut microbiome. Fascinating research has come out connecting a healthy gut microbiome to a healthy weight, and an unhealthy one to obesity.
Get lots of fiber from plant foods, mainly veggies. Along with that, enjoy moderate amounts of fruits, whole grains and legumes. For additional microbiome support, include daily fermented foods for probiotics, such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi, whole fat plain yogurt, kefir and kombucha tea.
6. Do Strength Training
Many people make the mistake of only doing side crunches or sit-ups to get rid of love handles. In reality, a total body strength training routine is necessary not only to get rid of love handles, but also to increase the body’s resting metabolic rate (RMR), meaning more muscle will enable you to burn more calories while at rest.
Core exercises that especially target belly fat and love handles include planks, side planks, leg raises, bicycle crunches and roman twists. Full body movements that benefit the core and other muscle groups and joints include squats, lunges, push ups and pull ups.
7. Incorporate Intervals
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has become popular these days, and for good reason. While some people can actually increase their stress hormones (which leads to excess body fat) with long distance cardio, HIIT has been shown to scorch visceral fat.
Add two HIIT routines of 20-30 minutes to your weekly regimen. HIIT can be adapted to every fitness level, so no need to feel intimidated.
8. Move More
Modern day society tends to put exercise into a box, and the vast majority of the day is spent sedentary. While a gym session or at-home cardio or strength workout is great, find opportunities within your day to simply move more.
Think of this as opportunistic exercise. Do lunges while you brush your teeth, take calls at work standing up or walking around, do planks during commercial breaks, walk or bike instead of driving. The options truly are limitless.
9. Manage Stress
Stress is a huge contributor to belly fat and love handles, as it raises a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol and other stress hormones are normal and necessary for survival, but chronically elevated levels become highly problematic and contribute to obesity and chronic diseases.
Stress management is very personal, so find what works for you. Maybe this means daily meditation or yoga, ten minutes before bed to deeply breath, a get together with friends once per week, a hot bath with soothing essential oils or a long walk. Consider self care just as important as exercise and eating well.
I love DoTerra Essential Oil’s Family Kit, which includes soothing lavender along with other oils that benefit the entire family.
10. Sleep Sufficiently
There’s no doubt about it, lack of sleep contributes to love handles and obesity. This has a lot to do with the fact that sleep loss impact cortisol and other hormones that control appetite, so you end up hungry, irritable and reaching for sugar.
Insomnia can be detrimental to health and hard to resolve, so consult a sleep expert if you’ve already tried implementing sleep hygiene practices and are still struggling. I always recommend a high quality pair of blue light blocking glasses to wear during the hours before bed, which can dramatically help with sleep.
11. Cut Back on Booze
Drinking too much alcohol can contribute to visceral fat and love handles. If you do imbibe once in awhile, stick with 1-2 glasses of red wine (which offers some antioxidant benefits), or liquors like tequila, mezcal, whisky or vodka mixed with pure lemon juice or seltzer water. More carb-heavy beer and sugary cocktails are sure to pack on the pounds and layer on the love handles.
12. Stay Hydrated
Drinking plenty of pure water is essential for overall health, and for getting rid of love handles. Adequate hydration helps you to avoid overeating, and prevents you from reaching for sugary drinks like sodas, sports drinks and fruit juices.
It’s important to be realistic about getting rid of love handles, as well. A true excess of visceral fat is harmful to health, but striving for an ultra-thin body type that isn’t natural or healthy is also quite harmful. Adopt the strategies in this article to get rid of love handles and-more importantly-be the healthiest version of yourself.