TCC The Science of Fat Loss Series Part 9 – Can You Spot Reduce Fat?

Is Spot Reduction Real??


People who do 1000 crunches a day in the quest for a glimpse of a line on the stomach may tell you otherwise, but most should know by now that spot reduction of body fat is one of the great urban myths of our time.

Or is it?

1000’s of fitness girls doing leg kick backs on the stepping machine can’t be wrong surely!?!

It also doesn’t stop some “internet gurus” from espousing absolute crap online either (Click on it later, if you feel the need to lose 5 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back. Well, 10, if you include reading this article)

With so many people acknowledging that spot reduction doesn’t work – and yet so many people doing everything like it actually exists – the real question then becomes

Is there any science to back it up?

Is spot reduction actually possible?

Well. I’m here to tell you spot reduction is real!! Just not in the way you think.

Doing endless crunches is definitely not going to strip fat off your stomach. But there are other ways you can influence this.

In covering this, I’ll probably answer another even bigger question for some of you who have had some success in getting reasonably lean,

How do you get rid of that last little bit of stubborn body fat?

Do you just “cut more calories bro” or is there something more to it than that?

So, how is spot reduction actually possible? Because your body “spot stores” fat. If it stores fat in a regional bias, theoretically, you can spot reduce.

Remember how enzyme activation sparks the fat loss or fat storing process? And hormones in turn control the enzymes. And also remember, it’s not just a question of how much hormone is present in your blood. It’s also a question of how receptive you are to it.

I’ve already talked a little about this in the context of insulin sensitivity. Making your body more receptive to a hormone can change the effect of it at a low concentration. If you’re more receptive to insulin, you need less of it to get the desired effect. In the role of fat loss, this is a good thing.

Your sensitivity to the other hormones besides insulin can also influence how fat gets stored and lost. And it turns out, there are regions of the body that are more receptive to certain hormones than others.

Your thighs and butt, for example, have a higher affinity for the hormone estrogen. Your triceps and chest as well. This is one of the main reasons why females tend to carry more body fat around these areas, as they generally have a higher level of estrogen than males.

This is what scientists call the “topographical distribution of body fat”. And if your body stores fat in a topographical region influenced way. It makes sense if you influence these hormones, you can also affect the loss of fat in that region.

In each of these sections, I will present some of the science, then I’ll summarise what it means in plain English.


If you can recall, Insulin has more than one little hidden easter egg in it’s fat storage arsenal, it:

1) Stimulates glucose transport and fatty acid synthesis

2) Promotes fat storage through stimulation of LPL

3) Inhibits fat breakdown in mature fat cells

The unfortunate thing is, it takes a larger concentration of insulin to promote glucose uptake in to the fat cell. Whereas, the inhibition of fat breakdown happens at a lower concentration.

If you are insulin resistant, it will take a greater amount of insulin to stimulate glucose uptake, BUT the inhibition of fat loss is NOT affected. This makes it harder to lose fat when you are insulin resistant.

Insulin also acts directly on the fat cell and has a favouring role on cortisol induced LPL activity.

What’s this got to do with region specific fat burning? Abdominal fat shows a higher glucocorticoid receptor density (more cortisol receptors).

What all that means in English:

•Insulin only needs to be present in small amounts to have a large effect on stopping fat burning, especially if you are insulin resistant.

•If you are insulin resistant, it is harder for you to lose fat. Chin up if you are on the plump side with some insulin resistance. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. You just have to spend some extra time reversing the metabolic processes.

•”Wonder twin powers activate!” If you got that reference, you and I are way too old. It basically means Insulin and Cortisol are bad on their own, but when they team up…whoooo. Therefore, increased insulin and cortisol results in a greater amount of increased body fat around the stomach. In Aussie English: Too much stress and crap make your guts fat.

•Insulin is the main regulator of your fat cells ANYWHERE in the body. So this is always the main focus point on influencing fat cell levels. Whether you cut calories, blah, blah, or whatever, this is the physiological process you are influencing and should always be the MAIN focus.

Catecholamines (Adrenalin and Nor Adrenalin):

As for some of the other hormones, your fat cells have different receptors for these. And these receptors are in different concentrations in different areas of the body.

The catecholamines – Adrenalin and Nor Adrenalin – may specifically activate four of these receptors called B1, B2, B3 and A2. You don’t have to remember any of these, just get the gist of what’s going down.

A2 is an inhibitory receptor and may regulate fat loss during the resting phase. B receptors regulate fat loss during exercise. B1 is sensitive at low concentrations and more acute effects. B3 needs higher levels.

Females have more A2 receptors from gluteal fat cells (butt and thighs) than males.

Males have a higher visceral fat cell volume, which seems to be associated with a decrease in A2 receptors and an increase in B3 receptor function.

There is a different regional sensitivity to both Adrenalin and Insulin action.

In both males and females, subcutaneous abdominal fat cells have a higher B1 and B2 density and sensitivity and a reduced A2 receptor affinity and number than the femoral and gluteal fat cells. Therefore, femoral and gluteal depots show a lower fat burning response to adrenalin than subcutaneous fat cells.

Fat around your organs is equally sensitive to adrenalin and nor adrenalin induced fat loss and inhibition of fat loss. But they don’t get affected as much by the inhibition of fat loss effect of insulin when compared to subcutaneous abdominal or femoral fat cells.

What all that means in English:

•Females have more fat around the butt and thighs

•Males have larger visceral fat cell volume (fat around the internal organs) aka beer gut.

•Adrenalin and Nor Adrenalin affect more abdominal subcutaneous fat cells (the fat just under your skin). This means you will lose more fat off your stomach than off your butt when it comes to doing high intensity exercise and controlling insulin.

•High insulin levels stops fat loss on the abs and thighs more than they stop fat loss around your internal organs.

Glucocorticoids (Cortisol):

I’ve written a fair bit about cortisol, but a couple of other interesting points.

Cortisol stimulates fat loss in peripheral tissues and also protein breakdown.

It actually helps to protect glycogen stores and delays glycogen depletion.

Resistance training (especially the eccentric part of the lift i.e. lowering the weight in a bench press) for repeated bouts decreases tissue breakdown via a modification of cortisol receptor content. In English, lifting weights helps to protect your muscles from breakdown.

The cortisol effect on LPL in human fat cells is dependent on insulin. Abdominal adipose tissue shows a higher expression of cortisol induced LPL. Increased insulin and cortisol increase fat deposition, with more congregating around the abs.

What all that means in English:

•Again, higher insulin and stress makes you fatter on your stomach. This fat is also highly correlated with about a million lifestyle diseases. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, etc.

•If you have high insulin and high cortisol it will negate any fat burning effects of adrenalin and nor adrenalin. It will make exercise less effective. Yes, once you are obese and insulin resistant, you are really pushing sh#t up hill for a while. Again, stick with it, you CAN change your metabolism.


Androgens (in this case let’s talk mainly Growth Hormone and Testosterone) not only stimulate breakdown of fat tissue but also stop the uptake of Free Fatty Acids.

They mainly stop the FFA uptake in abdominal but not subcutaneous fat. i.e. inner fat around your organs, not the ones just underneath the skin. This is because the receptors are more abundant in preadipocytes from abdominal rather than subcutaneous fat deposits.

Testosterone and Growth Hormone decrease LPL activity. (they stop fat from being stored)

Growth Hormone presence largely contributes to developing the full androgen reduction in food intake and normalisation of obesity syndrome.

Dietary amount and composition of macronutrients influence resting concentrations of Testosterone, but not cortisol. A low calorie / low fat diet may exacerbate the down regulation in resting Testosterone concentrations.

What it means in English:

– Growth Hormone (get enough sleep, don’t over do carbs, high intensity exercise) helps to stop you getting fat around your stomach organs. You NEED this if you are already fat. You need this if you aren’t fat and want to get leaner, stay lean…you just need this.

– Testosterone and Growth Hormone not only stimulate fat burning but also decrease fat being stored.

– Don’t go low calorie / low fat. If you are on a lower calorie diet, make sure you get enough essential fats and overall fat content, otherwise Testosterone production will be depressed.

There are certain disease states that highlight some of these hormonal effects. Cushings disease, for example, is a problem with your adrenal glands where there is too much cortisol production. This is highlighted by an increase in abdominal body fat and a decrease in fat on your limbs.

The bottom line, if you want a leaner stomach:

– Decrease Cortisol

– Decrease Insulin

– Increase Adrenalin

– Increase Testosterone

– Increase Growth Hormone


This one is a bit of a special one. Obesity can also be considered a condition of increased estrogen production, since estrogen production rate significantly correlates with body weight and the amount of fat in the body.

Remember how your fat cells aren’t just stored energy? But also behave as an endocrine organ?

Your fat cells are responsible for some of the aromatase activity in your body that converts androgens in to oestrogen’s. As you get fatter, your body converts more testosterone in to estrogen. Ever wonder how guys get boobs as they get fatter?

The fatter you get, the more estrogen your body produces. So, you get fatter. And the fatter you get, the more estrogen you produce, so you get fatter…

If you want fat off your butt and thighs:

– Increase GH

– Decrease Estrogen

– Decrease overall Insulin response

And guys, if you want to get rid of those man boobs:

– Decrease Estrogen

– Increase Testosterone

Can supplements help?

Are there any other natural remedies that can assist in affecting these hormones? Based on the billion dollar industry that is the supplement industry, the answer is “of course!”

Truth is, jury is still out on a lot of them. There are some that have been kind of proven to show some improvement. Tribulus and ZMA have shown in some studies to boosts testosterone levels. There has been some hype over DIM and Resveratrol over their anti estrogen effects. The Growth Hormone stack of arginine, ornithine, lysine and methionine showed some promise, but unfortunately not when taken orally (only intravenously).

Unfortunately, there’s nothing that’s going to make all the difference for you in the way you are probably thinking.


It is possible to spot reduce?

In a word YES.

Just not in the sense we originally thought. How much of an effect can you do naturally?? The reality is, not that much. Unless you want to take the other non legal “supplemented” rout. Which for various reasons, I obviously don’t recommend.

When it’s all said and done, what does it comes down to again?

Eat right. Lift weights. Sleep well. Learn to de stress.

Besides that, just thank your mum and dad.

As I’ve hinted at repeatedly. It is as complex as all of that, and as simple as all that.

Out of all the complex interactions and metabolic processes I have covered throughout this whole series, these 4 things are the ONLY things that keep cropping up that you have control over.

And, as you know. You should only ever worry about the things you have control over.

And maybe, just maybe, I might be completely wrong about those yoga moves stripping belly fat after all. Isn’t yoga supposed to “de stress” you? Maybe this mad genius is on to something. Maybe he knew all along it was about cortisol management. Maybe he is the one who has been right all along!

Or maybe he’s just full of sh!t…

Calories Don't CountBen Minos has Bachelor degrees in both Physiotherapy and Exercise Science (Human Movements). He has worked as a Personal Trainer for 20 years and a Physiotherapist for close to 15. Ben has authored a book on nutrition titled Calories Don’t Count, available through iBooksAmazon and most online retailers. He has also authored many articles for Ironman Bodybuilding Magazine and also co authored Australia’s first Kettlebell instructor certification course. He has competed in Natural Bodybuilding over a number of years, as well as prepared numerous clients for the stage.