Young African - American woman sitting on sit - up bench in park

Why spot reduction weight loss doesn’t work

Share this story now

By Nicole Rosales

How your body really lets go of fat

Just like many people starting their fitness journey, I thought all I needed to do to get swimsuit-ready abs was 100 crunches every night before bed and POOF! Abs so defined, Gigi Hadid would be jealous.

So when my routine didn’t produce the same look as the supermodel, I was crushed. Why am I not seeing any changes? Not even a faint line of a six-pack!

It’s because people can’t pick and choose where they want to lose fat. Sorry, but spot reduction isn’t a thing. Those fitness magazines that claim you can “Lose your belly in just two weeks!” are bogus.

But not all hope is lost! Ginnie Emmott, manager of the Folsom Fitness and Rehabilitation Center at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, breaks down the science behind fat loss and how you can achieve real change in your body.

But first, what is spot reduction?

“Spot reduction is the idea of burning off fat in specific areas without affecting the rest of your body,” Emmott says. “I can’t say, ‘Fat cells in the abdomen, work now. Fat cells in the rear, stop.’ Your body just doesn’t work that way.”

A 2007 study conducted by the University of Connecticut had a group of 104 people train their nondominant arms for 12 weeks. At the end, MRI tests showed that there was no significant change in the arm that was consistently being worked out. Instead, fat loss occurred overall.

Why spot reduction doesn’t work: The science behind fat loss

Inside your cells, there is fat that comes in the form of triglycerides. During a workout, these triglycerides break down into glycerol and free fatty cells that flow into the bloodstream and give the body energy. This process happens all over the body, not just in one area.

“As you gain fat, you are not increasing the amount of fat cells; you are actually increasing the amount of lipid within the cells,” Emmott explains. “The same goes for reducing fat. You are minimizing the size of your cells, not reducing the number of cells you have.”

Another reason you may not be able to lose fat in desired areas? Genetics.

Emmott says since women have the potential for childbearing, we tend to carry fat around our hips and thighs, while men tend to hold it in their midsection. In many cases, wherever you gain fat first is where you are going to lose fat first. Even then, it may not happen quickly.

“You don’t gain that fat you’re trying to lose in 14 days, so you’re not going to lose it in 14 days,” Emmott says.

Okay, I hear ya. So, what can I do to reach my fitness goal?

Fat loss comes down to how many calories you are burning versus how many you are consuming. You can’t work off a poor diet. And targeted exercises alone won’t give you results you’re craving.

“When you’re doing cardiovascular workouts, performing multiple-joint strength-training exercises, and watching your nutrition, fat loss will occur,” Emmott says. When you implement all three of these practices, you are setting yourself up for the most success.

Emmott offers some other key points to remember:

  • Be consistent. This applies to eating healthy meals and working out. If a 20-minute daily workout is something manageable, stick with it. The results will come.
  • Try to lower your stress levels. High cortisol can mess with your blood sugar, causing you to want to reach for sugar-packed foods. Take some time for yourself to re-collect.
  • Carve quality zzz’s. Too little sleep can impact your hormones related to hunger. Do your best to get seven to nine hours of quality rest a night.
  • Ladies, talk to your doctor about any hormonal imbalances. This is especially important as you approach menopause, when one form of estrogen called estradiol dips. This hormone regulates metabolism, so for some women, this change in hormone level can lead to weight gain.
  • Celebrate the accomplishments. Whether it’s positive changes in your physique, exercise routine, or nutrition, write down each success. Look at your starting point, and then three months later capture how far you’ve come. This can be your motivation to keep going.


As always, check with your doctor before starting a new meal plan or workout program. Your health is the best investment you can make. Treat your body with care!

About the author

Author Nicole Rosales sits outside with street in backgroundNicole Rosales joined Methodist Health System in 2018 as a public relations and marketing specialist. She is a former TV reporter, anchor, and producer who previously worked for ABC and NBC affiliate stations in Georgia and in Austin. She grew up in Dallas and graduated from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in radio, television, and film. Nicole is a self-proclaimed travel bug with a love for all things fitness (but she still has a major sweet tooth). In her free time, she is learning French and American Sign Language.