How to lose stubborn thigh and bum fat

Do your weight loss attempts leave you slim on top, but still decidedly chunky from the waist down? You are not alone. Stubborn weight on the buttocks, hips and thigh areas is a common female complaint. So, why do women struggle so much to turn their pear-shaped bodies into the coveted hour-glass? It has a lot to do with hormones, the foods we choose to eat, as well as the type of exercise we do. While it is practically impossible to spot reduce specific areas of the body, there is still much one can do to maximise fat burning in general, while doing the right type of exercise to develop muscle and change body shape.

What causes stubborn fat?

Fat tissue has two different receptors, alpha and beta. Beta receptors help speed up fat loss, while alpha receptors slow fat loss down. What makes stubborn areas of fat more stubborn? It has more alpha receptors than beta receptors. In men these areas are the lower abs and love handles; in women they are the hips, thighs and bum. Oestrogen is the hormone that increases the number of alpha receptors that slow down fat loss.  When a woman is hormonally balanced, she has curves in all the right places. However, too much oestrogen or too much oestrogen relative to progesterone (oestrogen dominance), can result in a dumpy pear-shaped figure. This is partly due to oestrogen increasing the number of alpha receptors in the bum, hips and thighs. The stubborn fat in these areas will therefore always be burned more slowly and will be the last to go. The key is not to give up before that happens.

What does it actually mean to “burn” fat?

Fat burning consists of a three stage process: (1) mobilisation of fat out of the fat cell, (2) circulation of the mobilised fatty acids around the body, and (3) the oxidation stage, where the fatty acids get transported into the mitochondria of the cell to be burned as fuel. In order to lose body fat, the fatty acids must be burned. Completion of the third stage is critical. If the fatty acids are not burned for energy, they will be re-stored in the fat cell. Fortunately, there are specific ways to ensure each of these three stages are completed.

When one first embarks on a weight loss programme, the first type of fat to go is the visceral fat around the abdominal organs. This happens fairly quickly and the result is a slimmer waist. Why does this fat get burned first? Visceral fat is easily mobilised due to a higher ratio of beta receptors, there is good blood flow facilitating circulation of the fatty acids and energy storage in these fat cells is less efficient.

After the visceral fat is gone, the body will begin to burn the subcutaneous fat next, which is the fat underneath the skin. This phase of weight loss is more challenging and can take much longer. Subcutaneous fat is not particularly responsive to mobilisation, blood flow is only moderate and the tissue is more efficient at fat storage. Many dieters become discouraged at this point and give up. For those that keep going, their efforts will eventually pay off.

Congratulations, you have now lost quite a bit of weight and your body is visibly slimmer. But, your saddle bags are still a prominent feature and your thighs haven’t stopped their persistent chafing when you walk. How do you get rid of those last few kilos of truly stubborn fat sticking to your lower half like limpets?

Strategies to lose the stubborn fat


  • Eat sufficient protein. Lysine, abundant in animal proteins, converts in our bodies to L-carnitine.  L-carnitine is an amino acid essential for the fat-burning process, and it appears only in animal foods, especially red meat.  Without enough L-carnitine, the ability to burn fat is severely compromised.
  • Reduce carbohydrate intake. A low carb diet inhibits the alpha receptors (the ones that slow down fat loss), reduces insulin and therefore improves fatty acid mobilisation and circulation – stages 1 and 2 of the fat burning process.
  • Mix your low carb diet up a little. Experiment with a carb ‘refeed’ day once a week to replenish glycogen stores and restore leptin levels. Leptin drops when one restricts calories. With lower leptin comes poor energy, increased hunger, cravings and diet adherence can start to wane.
  • Take a ‘diet break’ lasting 7-14 days. For example, cycling 2 weeks of lower calorie eating with another 1 to 2 weeks of eating calories at maintenance level can prevent the adaption and metabolic slowdown that happens with long-term calorie restriction.
  • Eat more fibrous, cruciferous veggies (especially if you suspect that oestrogen dominance is an issue for you). Fibre binds with used oestrogen and helps it to be excreted from the body.
  • Keep your food and home ‘clean’. This means free from chemicals, hormones, pesticides and antibiotics to reduce the external sources of oestrogen that your body has to deal with.
  • Minimize alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol compromises your liver’s ability to break down and detoxify oestrogens.  When not broken down and detoxified, these estrogenic toxins can cause stubborn-fat gain.


  • Exercise regularly to increase blood flow throughout the body. Good blood flow is important for transporting the fatty acids to the muscle tissue where they can be burned.
  • Incorporate interval training workouts with your cardio sessions once or twice a week. This combination targets all 3 stages of the fat-burning process. Doing the intervals helps to mobilise and circulate the fatty acids and the cardio facilitates fat burning.
  • Attempt doing 45 minutes to 1 hour of cardio exercise on low carb days. It is crucial to eat low carb for at least 4 days in a row for this process to be optimised, so don’t refeed with carbs too often.
  • Exercise in a fasted state in the morning, or at least 3 hours after a meal to maximise fat burning. If exercising fasted doesn’t work for you, don’t do it.
  • Lift heavy weights to increase muscle mass and re-shape your body. This is important to keep a high functioning metabolism and for a toned physique. It is almost impossible to reshape your body with cardio alone. For this reason, heavy weight training that gets all the muscles involved should be part of your routine. Schedule your weight lifting days for after a carb refeed to enhance strength and muscle development.

And lastly, stay away from crash diets or diets that cause you to lose fat and gain it back again.  The more your weight fluctuates, the more stubborn fat you may gain. Losing weight second, third or fourth time around is always more difficult. Even though diet is the main driver of fat loss, exercise will get you to your goal that much faster.


Reference sources for article:

Article written by Nicky Perks for Lose It magazine (Volume 21)

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About Nicky Perks

Passionately sharing information about the paleo/primal, high fat/low carb lifestyle that will rock your world! I am on my own journey to good health and a slim body. My goal? To enjoy the ride as life on this beautiful planet is just too short to do it any other way.

Posted on December 5, 2017, in Primal 101 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Some good thoughts, but in conjunction with doing all these things an adequate amount of sleep is also necessary for your muscles to recover appropriately.

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