Love Handles: What Causes Them and How to Get Rid of Them

A lot of us have to live with “love handles,” or what Ashley Graham humorously calls “side butts.” For those hearing the term for the first time, love handles are the annoying flab of skin extending outward beyond the natural contour of the hips. These are bulges on either side, pronounced by tight clothing, caused by an accumulation of fat around the abdominal area.

Sometimes, even thin-looking people have these side bulges. Love handles can be quite challenging to get rid of, even with regular abdominal exercises. The problem with love handles is that the fat deposits that cause it are on the sides of the abdomen, just on top of the specific group of ab muscles known as the obliques. To get rid of these fat deposits, they will need to be targeted with precision.

Causes of Love Handles

The real culprit behind love handles is fat retention. Basically, when we take in calories in high amounts but do not burn them proportionately, we allow fat cells to accumulate. This extra fat deposit is more noticeable in specific areas, such as around the hips and the waist.

Fat deposits can mount up in any part of the body. But several factors may cause the increased accumulation in the abdominal, hip, and lower back areas.

  • The stress hormone cortisol
  • Aging
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High-sugar, high-fat, and high-calorie diet
  • Lack of sleep
  • Medical conditions that affect metabolic rate such as hypothyroidism

Are Love Handles a Health Risk?

Love handles, per se, are not a health risk, though they could be indicative of underlying risk factors for various chronic diseases:

  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Sleep apnea
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Breast or colon cancer
  • Liver disease

And so, while love handles are not a health risk in themselves, preventing their formation may actually improve your general health.

How to Get Rid of Love Handles


Several workouts target specific body areas, particularly the abdominal, hip, and lower back areas:

  • Side planks
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Mountain climbers
  • Bridges

While these exercises will help significantly with flexibility and muscle tone, this will not reduce fat deposits which are the actual cause of love handles. It will be best to combine cardiovascular exercises with weights and targeted movements for optimal results. Five hours of moderate-impact exercises each week may help with body fat reduction and weight loss.

Healthy Diet

Staying active with regular aerobic exercises like swimming, walking, and biking can help with the gradual elimination of fat and maintaining weight. But workouts alone will not work completely if we don’t watch what we eat. What’s important is we observe a healthy diet while avoiding high-calorie intake that we will not burn.

We can supplement regular exercise with regulating food intake and healthier food choices:

  • Plant-based food, such as whole grains, leafy vegetables, and berries, are good sources of vital nutrients without unwanted fat and calories.
  • Lean protein food like fish, white meat, poultry, and eggs will provide the energy we need.
  • Legumes and beans can be satisfying, minus the extra calories.
  • Control daily sodium intake to below 2,300 mg. Doing so will not only reduce fluid retention, but this can diminish the risk for hypertension.


Suitable clothing can help camouflage those stubborn love handles.

  • Avoid wearing tight-waisted pants or skirts that will constrict the stomach and accentuate the love handles. Jeans or pants that are snug on the hips are fine, as long as they are not tight around the waist.
  • Avoid overly-snug bras and underpants.
  • Baby doll or tent tops are great for concealing love handles.

Medical Treatment

There are cosmetic procedures that are designed to reduce fat in particular areas of the body. Liposuction is a procedure that surgically suctions fat. There are also non-surgical treatments like cryolipolysis or fat freezing, where cold temperatures reduce fat deposits.

Final Thoughts

Love handles form because of fat deposits in the abdominal and hip areas. Though love handles are not a health risk in itself, they may be indicative of underlying risk factors for other chronic diseases. While regular exercise may help in fat loss, love handles are a little more challenging to get rid of because they are situated between specific muscle groups and need targeted exercise. Healthier food choices low in calories, fat, and sodium will aid in fat loss. If, in spite of exercise and an improved diet, you are still saddled with excess fat, it might be time to consult with your doctor and for the proper diagnosis of possible underlying medical conditions and appropriate treatment recommendations.

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