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Are love handles hips or waist?

Love handles, also known as muffin tops, are accumulations of fat around the waist and hip areas. Technically speaking, love handles are part of both the hips and waist. The location and shape of love handles can vary from person to person based on factors like genetics, diet, and lifestyle.

What are love handles?

Love handles refer to fat deposits on the sides of the torso, just above the hip bones. They are located between the hips and waist, so they span both areas. Love handles are often described as “spillover” fat that projects out slightly over the waistline of pants or skirts.

Love handles are composed primarily of subcutaneous fat. This is fat under the skin, as opposed to visceral fat which accumulates around internal organs. Subcutaneous fat acts as padding and insulation for the body. It also produces hormones that regulate various bodily processes.

Other names for love handles

Love handles go by many other names, including:

  • Muffin tops
  • Spare tires
  • Side fat
  • Flanks
  • Saddlebags

These nicknames all refer to the same fatty deposits on the obliques, the muscles that wrap around the sides of the torso.

Are love handles part of the hips or waist?

Since love handles sit between the hips and waist, they are technically part of both areas. However, whether they are more closely associated with the hips or waist depends on an individual’s body shape and fat distribution.

Love handles as part of the hips

For many people, love handles are primarily an extension of the hips:

  • They have an overall pear body shape, with wider hips and narrower waist.
  • Their fat accumulation is concentrated around the hip and thigh areas.
  • Genetics play a role in distributing fat to the hips and thighs.
  • Love handles create a smooth transition between the hips and waist.

In these individuals, love handles appear to be more part of the hip area than the waist.

Love handles as part of the waist

For others, love handles seem to be more closely linked to the waist zone:

  • They have more of an apple body shape, with wider waists and narrower hips.
  • Fat accumulates predominantly around their midsection.
  • Genetics contribute to increased abdominal fat storage.
  • Love handles protrude distinctly over the waistline.

In these cases, love handles appear to be an extension of abdominal fat into the waist area.

What causes love handles?

Love handles develop due to a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. These include:


Genetics play a major role in where fat gets deposited. Some people are predisposed to store excess fat around their hips and thighs, while others accumulate it around the abdomen and waist. Ethnic background can also influence body fat distribution patterns.


There are some gender differences when it comes to love handle tendencies. Women are more likely to gain fat in the hips and thighs, while men are more prone to abdominal fat storage.

Weight fluctuations

Weight gain and loss can contribute to love handle formation. Repeated cycles of losing and regaining weight can lead to excess fat building up along the sides of the waistline.

Muscle loss

Loss of muscle mass from aging, inactivity, or insufficient protein intake reduces metabolic rate. This makes it easier to gain and retain body fat, including in the love handle zone.


A diet high in processed carbohydrates, sugar, and unhealthy fats encourages fat growth around the midsection.


Excess cortisol released during chronic stress promotes fat accumulation in the abdominal and flank regions.

Poor posture

Weak core muscles can lead to slouching and rounded shoulders. This makes love handles more noticeable.

Are love handles unhealthy?

Moderate amounts of love handles are not necessarily unhealthy. However, excess fat buildup in this area can pose some health risks:

Potential Health Risks Explanation
Heart disease Abdominal fat is linked with higher LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and other heart disease risk factors.
Type 2 diabetes Belly fat causes insulin resistance, increasing diabetes risk.
Metabolic syndrome Central obesity is one component of metabolic syndrome, along with high blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
Cancer Excess abdominal fat correlates with higher risks of colorectal, breast, uterine, and kidney cancers.
Back pain Love handles can put strain on the back muscles and spine, leading to pain.

However, by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and eating well, the risks associated with love handles can be minimized.

How to get rid of love handles?

It takes time and consistency to get rid of love handles. But these strategies can help slim down wider hips and trim your waistline:

Follow a calorie-controlled diet

To lose fat, you need to maintain a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you burn. Aim for a modest deficit of about 500 calories per day for 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week.

Reduce refined carbs and sugar

Limit foods like bread, pasta, pastries and candy. These drive fat storage around the midsection.

Eat more protein

Protein is the most filling macronutrient. It also helps retain muscle mass during fat loss.

Engage your core

Train your transverse abdominis by drawing your belly button toward your spine. This provides midsection support.

Do cardio exercise

Aerobic activities like running, cycling and swimming burn calories to slim down love handles.

Add in strength training

Lifting weights helps strengthen and shape the abdominal muscles for a trimmer waist.

Reduce stress

Chronic stress exposure promotes fat accumulation around the middle. Try daily meditation and restorative yoga.

Get quality sleep

Poor sleep is linked to excess visceral fat. Aim for 7-9 hours per night.

Can you spot reduce love handles?

It’s not possible to spot reduce fat from any particular body region. When you lose weight, it occurs overall rather than just in one area. However, building up the underlying abdominal muscles can provide the appearance of slimmer love handles.

Why you can’t spot reduce fat

Spot reduction is ineffective for a few key reasons:

  • You cannot pick where your body mobilizes fat from.
  • Genetics determines where fat gets deposited and from where it gets removed.
  • Subcutaneous fat cells are spread uniformly across the body.
  • Targeted exercises burn calories overall rather than just locally.

Tips for slimming down love handles

While you can’t spot reduce, you can help slim your side profile with targeted strengthening exercises such as:

  • Planks – Engage transverse abdominis
  • Side planks – Tone obliques
  • Mountain climbers – Burn overall fat
  • Weighted side bends – Build obliques

Combining full-body fat loss with targeted toning gives the illusion of slimmer love handles.

Should you worry about love handles?

Having slight love handles is normal for many adults. Only if love handles become excessive should you potentially worry:

Love Handle Status Worry Level
Mild/moderate love handles Low
No metabolic problems Low
Stable weight Low
Large, expanding love handles Moderate
Metabolic red flags High
Rapid weight gain High

Discuss any substantial love handle concerns with your doctor. They can assess potential health implications.

When to see a doctor

Consult a physician or nutritionist if your love handles are:

  • Still increasing despite diet and exercise
  • Causing back, hip or knee pain
  • Associated with high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Leading to skin irritation or rashes

Medical or specialist support may be warranted in these situations.

The takeaway on love handles

Love handles are accumulations of fat around the oblique muscles of the waist and hips. Though partly genetic, diet, exercise, stress, and other factors influence love handle formation.

Carrying excess love handle fat can raise the risks for chronic diseases. But implementing healthy lifestyle strategies centered around diet and exercise can slim down love handles safely and effectively.

While you cannot spot reduce fat, full-body fat loss paired with targeted toning exercises give the illusion of a slimmer waistline profile.

Mild to moderate love handles are common. But expanding love handles accompanied by other metabolic disturbances may warrant medical evaluation.