I get asked this question A LOT. It's a very common misconception. Earlier this week, I was meeting for the first time with a new client. The client, K, is a mom of two working to lose the baby weight from her most recent pregnancy which just ended in the birth of an adorable boy 5 months ago. K has a very slim build—almost wiry—and some pretty standard female pockets of fat around the bum and hips and, thanks to two pregnancies, on her tummy as well. She does not really want to change her size but she would like to tone her muscles and she asked me,
"Is there a way I can take fat off of just my butt and tummy without losing it from my face and chest?"
I am compelled to tell the truth, not just because it's my job to explain this stuff but because I just HATE the way the fitness industry lies to women (and men) about all the amazing, incredible (impossible) results they can get if they just do this one exercise, use this one protein powder or buy this one piece of equipment. So, I answered,
"I'd be lying if I told you I could do anything about your body type or shape. You are who you are. When you lose fat, you lose it from every part of your body almost equally. In the areas that you have little fat - like your shoulders or your face - you'll notice that fat loss more quickly because there is less to lose and the underlying muscle will show through more quickly. In the areas where you are genetically predisposed to store fat - like your bum and thighs - you will notice the loss more slowly because an ounce of fat lost here or there will be just a drop in the bucket. So you will have to lose a substantial amount of weight in order to really slim down your natural fat deposits." (Or more or less—I did not record our conversation and then transcribe it exactly into this blog... you get the drift.)
This is not the answer K, or any other woman who asks this type of question, likes to hear. They want to hear: "Yes, of course! Just do this exercise for 8 weeks and you'll have Victoria Beckham's thighs."
By the way, I think Victoria Beckham should just eat a freaking sandwich and stop pretending it is biologically normal to bear children in that condition.
The frustrating truth is that you are born with a shape. You might be the typical female pear—lean upper body and curvy hips and thighs. You might be a bit more square or apple-shaped with fat distributed more equally around the body and perhaps a bit of a belly. Whatever your unique shape, you must try to embrace it. You can improve upon it but never change it. You can tone the skinny areas and eat sensibly to keep your body fat in a healthy range but you cannot turn from Pink into Nicole Ritchie or from Christina Applegate into Venus Williams.
Okay, maybe you're thinking, "Really, Dara—I would take any of those four bodies. Any of those would be fine."
You also cannot turn from YOU into Pink, Nicole Ritchie, Christina Applegate or Venus Williams. You may have an inner Christina Applegate. You might be carrying too much weight and eating unhealthily. A year from now, with the help of a trainer, some new healthy eating habits and a lust for life, you might look more like Christina Applegate than you do now. But you will never look exactly like her. She has her own pockets of fat that probably drive her just as crazy. Yours are where yours are and hers are where hers are.
You can, on the other hand, train and tone muscle in just one part of the body or another. A well-designed fitness program will include all of the muscles of the body and not just the ones that you see when you look in the mirror. If, however, you are determined to have toned arms for the summer, you can spend more time on those muscles and begin to see the fruits of your labour within 6-8 weeks, usually. But you must also consider that the muscles with more fat covering them will be less obvious. If you have a significant amount of abdominal fat, no amount of crunches will give you a flat stomach. You might have a six-pack underneath that tummy. But you, like most people, will probably never see your six pack. You might just wonder why your best friend's fat is on her chest and her ass and yours is all spilling out in a muffin top over your jeans. Thank your mom and dad. You probably inherited it. So what can you do if you really, really, feel the need to change it?
When faced with this question (which is very often) I usually try to give my clients some perspective by posing the situation the following way:
You can make some changes to your body. You can exercise and eat well and allow your body to stabilize comfortably, at the weight and size it lands at when you are active and healthy. If you've been exercising and minding your diet with no changes, you can enlist a trainer and/or dietitian or nutritionist to help you figure out where you might be going wrong. Beyond that, continuing to exercise and eat well will help you accumulate more and more benefits over time—a bit more tone in your arms, a bit of a rounder, higher bum, a heart that keeps ticking like the Energizer bunny.
If you really are convinced that you must remove the last bit of fat from your butt/tummy/thighs (whatever area really troubles you) it may be possible with some extreme measures— - severely restricting your diet, giving up any extras like wine and even Sunday morning french toast, and exercising religiously—plus you will have to maintain all of these lifestyle changes permanently... for the rest of your life. Or the fat will return to those natural places. So you really are looking at a choice or enjoying life in a size 8 or hating life in a size 6.
Now it's your turn to choose: happy plus 5 pounds or angry and hungry but 5 pounds lighter?
I don't know, but it seems like an obvious choice to me...