Five readers wrote asking advice about how to slim down their "big" legs. All of them expressed their frustration at achieving this goal. Seventeen year old J.T. wrote that her legs bring embarrassment to her and cause her to lose her self-confidence. A reader who signed her letter "an overweight fourteen year old" called herself a "fat girl loser" who has legs like an upside down "ice cream cone" (she even drew a picture). M.T. wrote that her problems with her legs were stressing her out. Aside from their desperation, the readers were also confused about why their legs had gotten bigger. J.T.'s friends told her that walking long distances made her legs fat. A. B. blamed her ballet classes. M.T. thought that maybe step aerobics classes were the culprit.
Fat distribution patterns.
Everyone has a different fat distribution pattern. Some people put on fat in their upper bodies - arms, upper back and chest. For others, the abdomen accumulates excess fat. Still others have the pear-shaped syndrome - fat is stored in the thighs and hips. All these patterns are dependent on heredity and gender.
Men usually store fat in their upper bodies while women normally put on fat in their lower bodies. If you take a close look at your ancestry, your parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, you will notice that you have similar fat distribution patterns with some of your relatives.
First on, last off.
It has been observed that the area where you put store fat first is also the area where you lose fat last. Hip and thigh fat may be the hardest and most stubborn kind of fat to lose because scientists think it may be related to a woman's reproductive hormones. This is not to say that an individual will never be successful in losing fat in the legs. Only that it takes time, patience and consistency.
Differentiate between muscle and fat.
There is a difference between legs that have big muscles and legs that have a lot of fat. How to tell? Straighten your leg, tighten your thigh muscles, and then pinch the top layer of fat and skin. If you have a lot to pinch, then fat is making your leg big. If you have very little to pinch, it's mostly muscle that is making up the bulk of your thighs.
There isn't much that can be done about stocky muscles. If this is your problem, realize that it isn't a problem. It's just the way you are built. People come in different sizes and shapes. If it is fat that is making your legs big, then there are several things that you can do but you have to realize that the changes you are looking for will not come overnight.
Walking long distances will not cause fat to accumulate in the legs. J.T. noticed that her legs got bigger when she gained weight. This was the real reason why her legs got bigger, not the ten minutes that she used to take to walk to school.
Ballet can make the leg muscles bigger because the legs have to get stronger to carry the entire body through jumps and leaps and yet, not all ballerinas have large thigh and calf muscles.
Heredity plays a part here too. Besides, even if you have the type of muscles that get big quickly from any type of resistance exercise like doing squats with heavy weights, your muscles will eventually revert to their original size after you stop doing the exercises. This is known in exercise science as the "reversibility principle".
Aerobic type activity important factor in calorie burning.
To burn off the fat in the legs, you need to include aerobic type activity in your exercise program. Aerobic exercise means any exercise that uses the large muscles of the body (arms and legs) in a rhythmic, continuous manner for at least twenty minutes. If you can build up stamina to do aerobics for one hour, so much the better to burn even more calories. Walking is probably the most practical type of aerobics you can do. Other types of aerobic activity would be running, jogging, swimming, biking, aerobic classes, using a stepper, etc.
Lifting light weights helps shape and firm the legs.
A program of squats, lunges, and other leg exercises will help shape and firm the legs. For so long as the weight being lifted is kept light, the muscles will become harder and more defined, but not larger.
How do you know if the weight you are lifting is light or heavy? If you can easily lift the weight fifteen to twenty times, it is light. If you can only lift it six to eight times, it is heavy for you. In other words, more repetitions, less resistance. Lifting weights also helps in the weight loss process by increasing lean body mass, which, in turn, helps you burn more calories throughout the day.
Weight lifting can also help someone like the reader who called her legs an upside down ice cream cone. Her calves are unproportionally small compared to her thighs. Lifting heavy weights for the calf and shins will build up her lower leg to give the entire leg a more balanced look.
Build up the upper body for more symmetrical proportions.
Remember that "first on, last off" observation? Many pear shaped people notice that as they lose weight, their lower body still looks big because the upper body has gotten smaller first. The solution here is to build mass in the upper body by lifting heavy weights for the shoulders, chest, and back while lifting light weights for the legs. This is called "body sculpting" -- building up the smaller areas of the body while trimming down the larger areas.
What you eat is very important.
Diet and exercise are like "Siamese twins" when it comes to weight loss. The most successful weight loss happens when you combine both. When I use the word diet, I don't mean going on a fad or crash diet where you starve yourself. I mean watching the fat content of the food you eat and learning to eat smaller portions.
The overweight fourteen-year-old expressed a desire to see a nutritionist but her mother said "it was a waste of money". In my opinion, it is never a waste of money to learn the proper way to eat from a nutritionist. I notice that many people have wrong ideas about the kind of food that they should eat. A nutritionist can correct many of these misconceptions. In addition, they have all these interesting nutritional tools like fake food to visually teach you the right proportions.
What doesn't work?
Cellulite creams only work at firming up the skin (temporarily at that). A good massage can be very relaxing but it does not "break up" the fat no matter how hard the masseuse pounds your legs. Wrapping the thighs in neoprene or plastic may produce "instant inch loss" but it will be water loss, not fat.
Do not fall for "leg slimming" ads that use "before and after" pictures of two different people. The "before" picture is usually that of an overweight individual while the "after" picture belongs to a long legged model type person. Every individual needs to be realistic about the shape of their body and work within their genetic potential. Not everyone has long legs like a model. Shorter people usually have stockier legs. The trick is to be the best that we can be and be happy with that.
A person's self-worth is not dependent on their looks.
My heart broke reading the letter from the fourteen-year-old. I want to tell you, dear reader, whoever you are, that you are not a "loser". You may be overweight, but that is only your body. The real you is inside. No one can make you feel like a loser unless you let them. You have the power within you to be a "winner" no matter what size you are!
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