Fitness Weight Loss

Love handles – 19 ways to nuke them forever!

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: November 10, 2017
love handles

Why do we GET love handles?

Unhealthy diet:

The most common cause of love handles is an unhealthy, inflammatory diet. No mater how great your metabolism is – if you eat inflammatory foods, you are just “asking for it”-if not right now,certainly when you have hormonal fluctuations which I’ll discuss in a bit.

Consuming too much sugar in the form of sugar, starchy carbs and processed foods may cause love handles. In order to lose bodyfat and gain lean body mass your insulin levels should be kept low and your blood sugar should be a fasting value of a maximum of 85 mg/dL.

In addition, if you keep your sugar consumption to a minimum this will help prevent overeating and cravings for unhealthy foods. Carrying weight around your belly (aka “love handles”) is unhealthier than fat around your hips or thighs. It’s due, in part to insulin resistance.


Lack of Exercise:

Lack of exercise is another quite common cause of love handles. Someone who does regular weight training and cardio exercise  has a much lower chance of having love handles.

Why do you think you don’t see love handles in bodybuilders?

It’s because they eat a disciplined anti-inflammatory diet AND they weight train to make metabolically active muscle. Of course there’s more but that’s sure a great start, right?


Improper sleep:

Studies show that love handles are also caused by lack of sleep.

Sleep deprived individuals are also more prone to metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Sleep deprivation leads to elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels and conversely, elevated cortisols lead to disrupted sleep. More on cortisol to come.

Too Much Stress:

Excessive stress may cause love handles.

Stress elevates levels of cortisol which increases breakdown of muscles and increases belly fat and love handles.

A sustained high cortisol levels wrecks more than your appearance.

It suppresses your immune system, making you more apt to get colds and long term- to cancer. You age faster, have decreased overall brain health, sleep poorly, and more.


Other Hormonal imbalances:

As men age, testosterone levels wane which tends to cause more belly fat due to an overall decrease in muscle mass and therefore metabolism. It’s NOT due to beer!

Men also can have high estrogen levels (E2=estradiol) which adds to the love handles possibilities. Women start losing progesterone as early as their 20’s.

This is the first of the two anti-cortisol-belly-fat and love handles hormones we women lose. We lose testosterone which doesn’t help the cause but when we are peri-menopausal and menopausal we lose estrogens which are super anti-cortisol, so that’s a big culprit in stressed peri-menopausal women.

To make matter worse for women in particular, this hormone soup wreaks havoc on leptin and ghrelin so unchecked we feel more hungry, have more cravings, and so on.


Some people are simply more genetically predisposed to accumulate fat around the middle because of their body types. Therefore, no matter what you do, it will be hard to totally get rid of them without some of the surgical (invasive or non-invasive) tricks I have for you at the end.

Muffin tops in Women – What Causes Love Handles in Women?

When it comes to women, we’re predisposed to store fats in the arms, buttocks, breasts and thighs. However, sometimes the storage occurs in the midsection for all the reasons mentioned above. I’m just covering this again so women will realize that love handles and muffin tops “come from he same place” with the pregnancy exception.

So for the muffin toppers:

Your issues are stress, menopause,and genetics just as the love handle challenged women and men.

The only other thing you might have going against you is previous pregnancies which cause the belly to sag due to muscle tears during pregnancy.

Behavioral fixes for love handles:


The first thing you need to do is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. This is a diet filled with whole, unprocessed foods. Sugar is held to a minimum as are processed foods. You cannot lose weight or get rid of love handles eating fast foods. Another thing we’ve discovered lately is that people who eat more protein sources with bcaa  foods and supplements are just plain leaner than those who don’t. More about those foods when I talk about protein below.

If you’ve been cutting down on fat and eating high carbs, stop-you’re behind the times! If you eat the right kind of fat which is healthy and this includes saturated fats from plant sources (think avocados) you will lose all kinds of weight much more readily then if you are eating an insulin boosting high carb diet.

Fat also reduces hunger pangs much better than either proteins or carbohydrates. Fats also boost the absorption of antioxidants, which improves weight control as well.

Monounsaturated fats like those found in almonds, omega-3 fatty acids (wild caught sockeye salmon is a great source) and medium chain triglycerides (found in coconut oil) help fight inflammation-known to hinder weight loss efforts. In fact many people who just “can’t lose weight” have “hidden inflammation” as a cause of their unexplained weight gain issues.

Put protein on your plate

Add protein to every meal to help preserve precious muscle and encourage fat to be used as energy.

Unless you’re a bodybuilder, you’ll need  one gram of protein per pound of your body weight.

Bodybuilders typically eat 1.5 grams per pound- an amount that will not cause kidney damage if there are no pre-existing kidney issues but an amount that is still debated as being more than is needed.

High bcaa foods which are great for bodybuilding AND for weight loss include eggs (boiled is best), chicken, turkey and wild caught sockeye salmon.


Drink a 16-ounce glass of water up to 20 minutes before meals to eat less.

Studies show that this simple step could help you lose 44 percent more weight in just 12 weeks.

You will be signaling to your satiety center which responds (partially) to gastric stretch receptors that you are more satiated.

Start hot:

If you start breakfast,lunch and dinner with either hot tea or clear soup ,you will activate stomach contractions and satiety sooner.

Use beans to beat bellyfat:

Unless you have “leaky gut” or an auto-immune disorder (and need to avoid lectins altogether) or you are a bodybuilder who is not on protective GI glutamine bodybuilding supplements beans are a great choice to whittle that waist.

Beans are also full of healthy soluble fiber, which promotes a healthy GI tract microbiome which speeds metabolism and lowers inflammation.

Regular bean eaters have been shown to have smaller waistlines and a 22 percent lower risk of obesity.

Eat slow carbs:

Swap out those nasty, excess weight producing  processed and refined carbohydrates for ‘slow carbs’ , meaning carbs that take longer for your body to digest and also carbs that don’t shoot your blood sugar and insulin levels up. This includes most vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and dairy products.

Up your calcium intake:

According to a University of Tennessee study, dieters who increased their daily calcium intake by eating 6 ounces of yogurt lost 81 percent more belly fat than those that did not.

Increasing calcium reduces the amount of fat-storing calcitriol in your body.

Since dietary sources of calcium are about considerably more beneficial than supplements for body fat reduction, eat as many naturally calcium-rich foods as you can, such as turnip greens, spinach or kale.

Burn more fat with vitamin C:

Vitamin C is a great “assist” for fat burning. Getting enough C helps the body use fat as a fuel source, during both  exercise and at rest.

According to a 2015 study, people with low levels of vitamin C burn 25 percent less fat during a treadmill stress test.

Vitamin C is found in yummy fruits like oranges, grapefruits and strawberries.

And of course supplements are abundant. As a fun aside, Vitamin C orally and topically is part of our skincare program here at AWS.

 Sleep and love handles:

Sleep may be as important to weight loss as diet and exercise. Lack of sleep can lead to increased snacking, for one thing. It can increase those toxic cortisol levels, for another. And without enough sleep, the body doesn’t respond as well to insulin-and this can promote fat storage.


Burn more calories with total body workouts

First of all, you know that It’s a total myth that you can spot reduce fat loss anywhere, right? Training the muscle underneath the love handles fat does not burn the fat away. What you need to do is strength train. If this is new to you, you are more likely to stick to your routine with a one set per body part routine, 3x per week. There are many ways you can accomplish this and they are all covered in my ways to weight train article.

Concentrate on cardio in intervals

exercise increases blood flow to skin and is absolute skin magic Cardiovascular exercise is needed, obviously.

The very best, most effective and time efficient cardio is doing “interval training.” HIIT is the way to go.

And during your down time you can do movements to work your obliques which will certainly “help the cause.”


The term love handles is funny isn’t it-when you think about it, they should be called HATE handles! Everyone hates these things. Since it’s one of the hardest spots on the body to lose weight I’m taking pity on those of you battling this particular bulge and now I’ll give you invasive and non-invasive surgical options. Just get to or near your ideal weight first.

Minimally-Invasive Treatment for Muffin Tops and Love handles:

Lipodissolve: uses an injectable solution to “break down fat cells.”  While it’s primarily used (and does not work) for cellulite treatment, Lipodissolve can be somewhat effective for some fat loss around the stomach, hips, and lower back. I’m only mentioning this because it’s out there-but honestly it just doesn’t work unless you only have a teensy little bit of fat and even then I’ve seen cases where it makes the fat WORSE. I would not recommend this.

Surgical Procedures to Treat Love Handles and Muffin Tops:

Surgical procedures offer a way to physically remove fat from the body. While liposuction remains the tried-and-true way to remove flanks, liposuction variants can provide even more targeted control of fat removal.

Liposuction: uses a cannula to suck excess fat from the body.

Fat removal is targeted and depending on the surgeons’s skill you’ll get a smooth or not-so-smooth result.

And you’ll need to wear a compression bandage for quite some time post-op, depending on how much fat was removed.

VASER LipoSelection: This is a variation on traditional liposuction and generally costs a little more. Ultrasound energy helps to dissolve fat cells while leaving surrounding nerves and blood vessels intact. Then small cannulas are inserted to “suck away” the fat. This is something more often used for super-sculpting: removing fat between abdominal muscle groups-not so much for love handles. I have seen this done for bodybuilders who want super ripped abs-in the right hands,  results seem to be very good.

 SmartLipo: is like traditional liposuction, except that the cannula used has a laser fiber attached to further destroy fat. It makes draining excess fat away even easier. Recovery tends to be quicker.

How To Get Rid of Love Handles: Non-Surgically

Non-surgical treatments are at their most advanced, utilizing a number of techniques including lasers, heat, and electric currents in order to reduce fat.

Arasys: uses electric currents to cause abdominal muscle contractions. Arasys encourages the body to create the same type of muscle contractions that occur during physical exertion. It is used around the love handle area, and claims to both help cut 2-6 inches and is the only one claiming the machines knows how to tighten skin as well. (IDK about  this one, folks).

VelaShape: uses suction rollers for inch loss, skin tightening, and questionable but perhaps does cellulite removal. It is marketed for love handles too.

Zeltiq CoolSculpting: was formulated for use along the waistline and lower body, making it a pretty decent choice for love handles and muffin tops.

Zeltiq actually freezes the excess fat, allowing fat to naturally dissipate from the body.

Some people report that Zeltiq results in a 20% fat layer decrease. I have not personally seen results but have found decent online reviews.

SculpSure : is a non-invasive laser treatment to reduce fat in all abdominal areas and “flanks.”  Claims are that it will “melt 25% of your fat in 25 minutes without anesthesia, needles, surgery, or downtime.”  A new-to-the marketplace, light-based device is used to heat the unwanted fat cells, while cooling the skin layer. Once the fat cells are destroyed, the body gradually eliminates them over time, reducing the amount of fat in the treated area.

Average Price: $1,825. I have a patient who is a famous plastic surgeon and see him and some of his patients.

I have seen a total of 6 B/A and on all 6-this one seems to work like magic and is the least hassle and no “down time.”

HOWEVER I have not researched any of these procedures up and down the internet looking for studies and reviews.

Therefore I cannot tell you what I would recommend for you in particular. Obviously if you see a Plastic Surgeon who specializes in X he/she will recommend X, right?

So do your homework-be a good consumer. If you get the wrong procedure in the wrong hands (always insist on B/A pics) you will (at best) waste money or (at worst) have lumpy results.


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