Can you reduce your belly, thighs or bum through diet?

Spring is here, and have you noticed the rash of magazine articles? ‘Get a beach-ready body!’ ‘Ten days to a flat belly!’ ‘The banish cellulite cleanse.’

The most extreme diet I’ve read recently suggests fasting (ie. eating nothing) two days a week. But others focus on specific body parts, especially perennial problem areas: hips, thighs and belly.

It’s natural to want to trim down and tone up at the end of winter, which, let’s face it, is a time when many of us hibernate and tend to eat for comfort and warmth. And who doesn’t love the idea of a diet that ‘targets’ your belly fat first?

But I have a problem with the suggestion that you can eat to reduce a specific area of the body. This is a myth which persists, despite being impossible, and despite the evidence of our own bodies, as you’ll know if you’ve ever tried a ‘flat belly’ or ‘hip and thigh’ diet.

Where we carry our excess fat is mostly determined by genetics and gender. Women tend to gain body fat on our buttocks, thighs, breasts and stomach. That’s why we are shaped like pears or hourglasses. Men tend to be apple-shaped and carry fat around the middle. When we gain weight, it’s these areas which are the first to hold excess fat. They’re also the first areas to reduce when we lose weight. We just can’t choose how this happens. What’s more, we tend to stay shaped the way we are, even as we lose. So if you’re pear-shaped, it’s likely you will stay a pear, you’ll just be smaller.

There is no magic food that will accelerate the weight-loss process, or shift fat from one specific area. On that note, there’s no one food you can eliminate that will do that, either, despite what the anti-sugar diets say.

With sensible weight-loss and exercise you can change your total body fat and your muscle mass. But you can’t change much about how your fat distributes itself. (It’s another misconception that fat ‘turns into’ muscle. You can work muscles and build them up, and you can reduce fat by eating less. One can’t turn into the other.)

And when it comes to cellulite, I get really cranky at all the advice I read. The fact is, no amount of detoxing, or any other kind of diet, is proven to work. Cellulite really isn’t even a disorder! It’s just what happens to women’s thighs – a gradual degeneration of the connective tissue supporting fat cells. Even thin people can have cellulite, which as a ‘problem’ is largely a creation of the cosmetics industry. (Don’t get me started on the anti-cellulite lotions and potions.)

So while I’m a firm believer in the power of eating well to make us feel great and look good, there are limits. Nothing you eat will make your cellulite disappear, or make your thighs shrink, at least not any faster than they will if you start eating less and moving more and losing weight gradually and sustainably.

What do you think? Ever tried to spot-reduce? Are you tempted to try any of the diets doing the rounds? We’d love to know your thoughts – share them below.

First published: Nov 2012

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