What About Those “Love Handles”?

What About Those “Love Handles”?

Maybe you have some “Love Handles” and just can’t get rid of them. They are so annoying. You diet from time to time, and you seem to lose fat elsewhere but not there. You do sit-ups, hoping for some reduction and firming. You even ramp up your workouts at the gym but nothing happens.

Meanwhile you keep reading that belly fat is the WORST kind. It is very unhealthy. It will lead to early death, among other unfortunate outcomes.

Perhaps you are tempted to just give up and enjoy the life you have left.

But wait! Is there a reason for the roll? How come it is so hard to get rid of? Especially as we, um, you know, get older.

As usual, there is a bunch of different research on this, often conflicting or clear as mud.

There are three things that pop out as reasons for the roll. Here they are:


The idea is that stress causes our bodies to put out the stress hormone cortisol, among other things. Cortisol signals our bodies to lay down fat around our middles. A cruel development for sure. Some studies have even shown that if we exercise too vigorously we can stress ourselves out and add to the belly fat instead of burning it off.

HOWEVER…some say that the cortisol connection to overdoing exercise is overstated. Most of us do not get into that category with our workouts. Besides, have you ever seen a professional marathon runner sporting a bunch of belly fat?

BUT…fair enough. Probably following the American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines for exercise that will result in HEALTH BENEFITS will do the trick. That would be 5 days a week of MODERATE to vigorous cardio exercise for 20-60 minutes (depending on how vigorous it is), two sessions of strength training, and one session dedicated to core and flexibility.


To get this out of the way, genetics is what is in our genes. How you are programmed. Epigenetics is what happens when certain genes get switched on. In other words, just because you have a certain gene for love handles doesn’t mean it will necessarily get switched on or off. (Other things like whether you will have blue or brown eyes are a given…those genes will be expressed no matter what.)

HOWEVER…if you have a strong genetic tendency to deposit fat around your middle (leading to the dreaded “apple shape”), that is probably going to happen. You may notice that others have a strong tendency to deposit fat around their hips and thighs (the “pear shape” that is supposed to be healthier). AND when it comes to losing weight, research has shown that often the first to go is belly fat.

BUT…in the work I have done with tons of people, the complaint is always the same. “How can I get rid of this fat around my midsection?” “Why is it that when I diet, that seems to be the LAST thing that comes off?” Here’s the thing. If you have ever been on a diet, you may have noticed that your body is the one who decides where it feels like losing fat. Frustrating, but true. No amount of sit-ups can assure that your handles will go away. This is genetics and epigenetics at work.


Often you hear that women on the other side of menopause have a tendency to gain weight. That’s because they don’t have as much estrogen any more, and their metabolism slows down. Somehow this scenario ends up with more unwanted fat around the middle.

HOWEVER…as we get older, a lot of things start to fade, including hormones that help us sleep, repair our bodies at night and during the day, and even our ability to absorb certain nutrients. This, by the way, includes men. Women do not have a corner on the market when it comes to gaining weight as the years go by. Or when it comes to developing some love handles.

BUT…I would venture to say that getting older makes it harder to maintain weight in general. Metabolism does slow down. If we don’t go out of our way to strength train, we lose muscle mass. We are not as energetic. Because of that, many of us tend to eat more, perhaps thinking it will give us more energy. Or, instead of exercising, we really feel more like going out with friends for a meal that someone else has prepared.


(a.k.a., where am I going with this?) When it comes to handles around our middles…

  1. There are a number of potential culprits stacking up against us. Because of that, we can adjust our expectations.
  2. Having said that, it is still worth doing what we can to keep them under control. For one thing it is healthier for us. Actually, that is the main thing.
  3. What to do? Don’t go crazy with this, but get out there and exercise more. Do things that get your heart rate up for 20 – 60 minutes 5 days a week as explained above, and throw in some real strength training to keep your muscles from getting weaker and smaller.
  4. Watch your intake! No matter what we do, as life goes along we need to adjust. We need to eat less. That’s just the way it is. So, make the best of whatever you put in our mouth. Make sure it is nutritious and is not particularly high calorie (except for a limited intake of healthy fats). We just do not burn those calories like we used to. Empty calories may taste great, but they add up and can end up right where you don’t want them…on the “love handles.”


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