What Is the Main Cause of Love Handles?

Reviewed on 6/15/2022
Woman pinching her love handle on the right side
The main cause of love handles is fat retention in the mid-section of the body. Other factors include eating more calories than are burned during activity, lack of access to healthy food at grocery stores or to parks or gyms, genetics, medical conditions, some medications, stress, and poor sleep.

Love handles are a term to describe excess fat on the sides of the waist. This fat often hangs over the sides of pants and due to its appearance is also called a “muffin top” or “spare tire.” This area is a common concern for people who want to slim down. 

The main cause of love handles is fat retention in the mid-section of the body. Factors that play a role in gaining and retaining weight include: 

  • Eating more calories than are burned during activity
  • Environment
    • Lack of parks or affordable gyms nearby can make it difficult for people to be active
    • Lack of access to supermarkets that sell affordable healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables
    • Oversized portions at restaurants
    • Food advertising that encourages purchase and consumption of unhealthy foods, such as high-fat snacks and sugary drinks 
  • Genetics
  • Health conditions 
  • Some medications
  • Stress and other emotional factors
    • Some people eat more when stressed, bored, angry, upset, or depressed
  • Poor sleep
    • Less sleep can correlate with an increased likelihood of being overweight or obese

What Is the Best Way to Get Rid of Love Handles?

Diet plus exercise works best to reduce love handles. It is possible to tighten the core muscles in the lower abdomen, and when combined with diet, the mid-section can appear more toned. 

To get rid of love handles, fat loss needs to occur all over the body. The best exercise regimen for fat loss includes both aerobic and strength exercises (resistance training).

  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE), is a type of cardiovascular exercise that alternates between short bouts of high-intensity and low-intensity exercise.
  • HIIT usually rotates between slow to moderate-intensity and high-intensity movements.
  • The Obesity Reviews Journal reviewed 13 different studies on overweight adults and found HIIT reduced weight and waist circumference.

Exercises that can help tone and tighten the mid-section include: 

  • Abdominal scissors 
    • Lay on your back with hands at your sides or under your glutes for back support
    • Extend legs straight, then cross the legs over each other, alternating the leg that crosses on top; or alternate legs going straight up and down
    • Don’t let the legs drop to the floor 
    • Make sure your core is engaged and your lower back is pressed onto the floor
  • Plank
    • Lay down on your belly and prop yourself forearms and toes, head facing the floor
    • Engage the abdominal muscles and keep the body in a straight line
    • Hold the position for a few seconds and return to the floor
  • Mountain climbers
    • Start in a plank position 
    • Bring the right knee up and across the body, past the stomach to the left elbow, keeping the back and arms straight and core engaged
    • Return to a plank position and repeat on the other side
  • Side plank
    • Lie down on the right side and prop the body up using the right elbow and hand, with the left foot stacked on top of the right foot
    • Raise your hips and buttocks towards the ceiling 
    • Hold position for a few seconds and return to the floor
    • Repeat the on the other side
  • Russian twists
    • Begin in a seated position with knees bent, feet hip-width apart
    • Lean the upper body backwards to a 45-degree angle, keeping the back straight
    • Engage the core and twist the upper body to the left and place hands on the floor, then twist to the right and place the hands on the floor
  • Woodchoppers
    • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and raise both arms above the head on the left-hand side
    • Bring hands down toward the floor on the right-hand side of the body as you perform a squat while twisting the mid-section and hips
    • Perform several times and repeat on the other side

Consult a doctor or physical therapist before starting any new exercise program. Always follow proper form for all exercises, and stop if something hurts.

What Diets Work to Get Rid of Love Handles?

There is no single diet that will reduce love handles. Fad diets may help shed pounds quickly and maybe even inches off the waistline, but most of that will likely be water weight and it will be temporary. Getting rid of love handles comes down to old fashioned diet and exercise, which are key factors in determining the amount of fat in our bodies. 

Diet tips to help get rid of love handles include: 

  • Reducing sugar intake
    • The body needs very little sugar and excess is stored as fat
    • Cut down on sugars in empty carbohydrates
    • Cut down or eliminate alcohol 
  • Consuming a plant-based diet
    • Beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas (called pulses) are high in fiber and plant protein and help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce overall body fat
    • People who consume whole grains lose more body fat than those who eat processed grains
  • Intermittent fasting
    • Based on the concept that humans were designed to eat for short periods of time followed by hours (and sometimes days) of fasting
    • Intermittent fasting has been shown to help reduce body fat
    • There are no food or caloric restrictions, but restrictions on WHEN to eat
    • Popular methods include 16/8 (8 hours of eating followed by 16 hours of fasting), the “Eat-Stop-Eat” method (two 24-hour fasts per week on non-consecutive days); and the 5/2 method (only 500 calories for 2 non-consecutive days, and 5 days of normal eating per week)
Reviewed on 6/15/2022
Image Source: iStock Images