If you’re wondering “Where do you lose weight first?” it’s probably because there’s a part of your body you want to change fast.
And if you look online for answers, you’ll usually find something to the effect of, “The best way to tone up your [problem area] is this or that exercise, supplement, superfood, and so forth.”
I hate to burst your bubble, but this is a will-o’-the-wisp.
Fat loss is a simple process (as you’ll learn in this article), but it’s not perfectly predictable.
That is, if you know how to eat and exercise properly, you will lose fat each and every day. That said, there aren’t clearly defined stages of fat loss that allow you to forecast exactly where you’ll lose fat first.
There’s also no way to influence where you lose fat from first, either.
In other words, the best way to burn belly fat isn’t doing more crunches; no amount of exercises to lose thigh fat will give you the legs you want; and no superfoods or supplements will automagically disapparate tone or tighten certain parts of your body.
Luckily, there are some general patterns to fat loss that can give you an indication of how and when you’ll lose fat, mainly depending on your body fat percentage, sex, and genetics.
And that’s what you’re going to learn in this article.
Table of Contents
Most women store very little fat in their arms and shoulders, which is why these areas are the first to get leaner when ladies lose weight. As your body fat levels drop, you’ll start to see veins in your forearms become more prominent and muscle definition in your upper arms and shoulders.
Women tend not to store much fat on their back, and especially not in their upper back.
Thus, as they get leaner, the shoulder blades and the muscles that run vertically along either side of the spine (the erector spinae) become significantly more visible. Depending on how much fat a woman needs to lose, they’ll often be able to see all edges of their shoulder blades and a clearly defined “valley” directly above the spine (especially in the lower back).
Hip and thigh fat is a source of frustration for many women.
This is because the hip and thigh region is the first place women gain fat when their weight increases, and it’s where they store a disproportionately large amount of their total body fat.
What’s more, once they get lean, most women find that a small amount of stubborn fat clings to their hips and thighs (and only disappears once they get to 20% body fat or below).
The good news is the hips and thighs are one of the first places to slim down when women start to lose weight, which is why you’ll probably find your pants start to fit better as soon as you lose a few pounds.
Like women, men tend to store very little fat in their arms or shoulders, which is why these areas become vascular and defined before any other body part as you lose weight (many men have veiny forearms even when they’re quite overweight). As you lose weight, you’ll notice your forearms, biceps, and triceps will become more defined, and you’ll begin to see more separation between your shoulders and upper arms.
Belly fat is a fickle beast.
One the one hand, it’s the first place most men accumulate fat as they gain weight and the first place they lose it when they lose weight (easy come, easy go). On the other hand, something weird happens as men get very lean.
Once most get down to about 10-to-15% body fat, belly fat becomes very, very stubborn. Suddenly, you’re measuring progress in millimeters instead of inches (more on why this is in a moment).
As you lose stomach fat, you’ll notice that your stomach looks flatter from the side, a faint outline of your abs becomes visible, and your pants will become much looser.
Unlike women, men tend not to store much fat in their legs. Thus, as your body composition changes for the better, your thighs will be one of the first areas to lean out. You’ll quickly begin to see some separation between your quadriceps muscles and notice that your thighs don’t rub against one another as much while walking.
At bottom, stubborn fat is stubborn because it’s stuck in your fat cells and doesn’t want to come out and be burned for energy.
While some fat cells disgorge their stored energy readily (a process is referred to as fat mobilization), other areas are more stingy, or “stubborn.”
To mobilize body fat, your body produces chemicals known as catecholamines.
These molecules travel through your blood and “attach” to receptors on fat cells, and then trigger the release of the fat stored within the cells to be burned for energy. You can think of catecholamines like little letters your body sends to your fat cells with instructions to dump their cargo, ASAP.
Fat cells have two types of receptors for catecholamines: alpha- and beta-receptors. You can think of alpha-receptors as bitter, cantankerous mailmen who throw your body’s “letters” in the trash, and beta-receptors as the sweet secretaries that rush your missive through to the cell.
In other words, alpha-receptors hinder the fat-mobilizing effects of catecholamines, while beta-receptors enhance them.
And herein lies the problem with stubborn fat: it’s chock-full of alpha-receptors.
Fat that disappears quickly, like the stuff covering your arms and shoulders, has more beta-receptors than alpha-receptors. And stubborn fat, like the stuff covering the butt and thighs of women and the stomach and lower back of men, has more alpha-receptors than beta-receptors.
Another problem with these stubborn fat deposits relates to blood flow.
You may have noticed that fat in areas like your butt, hips, and thighs (for women) or stomach, low-back, and butt (for men) is slightly colder to the touch than fat in other areas of your body like the arms or chest. This is simply because there’s less blood flowing through the areas.
Less blood flow = fewer catecholamines reach the stubborn fat cells = even slower fat loss.
So we have a double-whammy of fat loss hindrance here: reduced blood flow so that only a small number of catecholamines make it to your fat cells and lots of alpha-receptors that prevent those catecholamines from increasing fat mobilization.
The good news is that all fat quails in the face of a prolonged calorie deficit. As long as you eat and train correctly, stubborn fat will disappear—it’ll just take longer than fat in other areas.
Find the Best Diet for You in Just 60 Seconds
How many calories should you eat? What about "macros?" What foods should you eat? Take our 60-second quiz to get science-based answers to these questions and more.Take the Quiz
If you’re very overweight (25+% body fat in men and 30+% in women), you’re going to have a lot of body fat stored around the organs in your abdomen such as your liver and intestines, also known as visceral fat.
This is known as visceral fat, and it’s associated with an increased risk of various diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance, and dyslipidemia. While having large amounts of subcutaneous fat (the kind found underneath your skin) is also bad for your health, visceral fat is particularly problematic.
Luckily, visceral fat is also the first to go when you start to lose weight.
Beyond this, you’re likely to lose fat fastest from wherever you happen to store it most. For example, if you have a particularly large midsection, that’s probably what will shrink first.
Where you lose weight first may be influenced by whether you’re a man or a woman.
Research shows that men tend to lose fat more quickly from around their waist, whereas women typically lose fat more quickly from the hips and the top of the thighs.
What’s more, research also shows that men tend to lose fat slightly quicker than women in general. Men also tend to maintain muscle more easily than women do during calorie restriction, which is important for maintaining a healthy metabolic rate and body composition.
If you want to learn more about how your metabolism is affected by weight loss, check out this article:
Genetics play a role in how quickly you lose (or gain) weight in different parts of your body, but they’re not as important as many people think.
While some people believe all the calories they eat “go straight to their thighs” or “make a beeline for their belly,” the reality is that the only way to gain body fat in any area of your body is to eat more calories than you burn (known as eating in a calorie surplus).
This is the immutable mechanism of fat storage. It can’t be altered by taking supplements, eating superfoods, doing special exercises, or following a fancy “DNA Diet” that’s supposedly tailored to your unique genetic profile.
It doesn’t matter whether you (think you) have “good” or “bad” genetics—fat stores can’t be increased without the provision of excess energy (calories).
You can’t get fatter unless you feed your body more energy than it burns.
That said, genetics can influence the way your body stores fat and how fat looks on your body. This becomes particularly apparent when people are either very lean or very overweight.
Likewise, some people with very large amounts of body fat will have disproportionately large buttocks, thighs, or back fat, which is also partly due to genetics.
Remember, though, that the only reason this fat is there in the first place isn’t due to genetics—it’s due to a calorie surplus.
Targeted fat loss, or “spot reduction,” is the idea that you can preferentially burn fat in a certain area of your body by eating “special” foods or doing fat loss exercises that train that specific area.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work.
The reality is that no foods burn fat, and while training the muscles of a certain area of your body burns calories and can result in muscle growth, it doesn’t directly burn the fat covering them to any significant degree.
Fat loss occurs in a whole-body fashion. If you feed your body fewer calories than it requires, over time it will burn all of its stored fat for energy, with certain areas reducing faster than others.
Some Nutritionists Charge Hundreds of Dollars for This Diet "Hack" . . .
. . . and it's yours for free. Take our 60-second quiz and learn exactly how many calories you should eat, what your "macros" should be, what foods are best for you, and more.Take the Quiz
There are five steps to losing weight quickly, safely, and efficiently:
1. Maintain a moderate calorie deficit.
If you want to lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn (also known as a eating in a calorie deficit).
To lose fat lickety-split without losing muscle or wrestling with excessive hunger, lethargy, and the other hobgoblins of low-calorie dieting, I recommend that you set your calorie deficit at 20-to-25% (eat 20-to-25% fewer calories than you burn every day).
If you want to learn how many calories this is for you, check out the Legion Calorie Calculator.
2. Eat a high-protein diet.
Studies show that eating adequate protein helps you . . .
- Recover faster from your workouts.
- Gain muscle and lose fat faster.
- Retain muscle better while restricting your calories for weight loss.
- Feel more satiated by your meals (and thus be less likely to overeat).
The bottom line is high-protein dieting beats low-protein in every way, especially when you’re trying to lose weight fast.
And how much protein is “adequate” for reaping these benefits?
Around 1-to-1.2 grams per pound of body weight per day typically works best for losing weight.
3. Do lots of heavy weightlifting.
Research shows that when your goal is to hold on to (or build) as much muscle as possible while losing fat quickly, nothing beats heavy compound weightlifting. In other words, the best fat loss exercises are actually heavy, compound weightlifting exercises.
That means lifting weights in the range of 75-to-85% of your one-rep max (1RM), and doing exercises that train several major muscle groups at the same time, like the squat, deadlift, and bench and overhead press.
Read this article to find a strength training program that will work for you:
4. Do a moderate amount of cardio.
The best way to use cardio to lose weight is to do as little as needed to reach your desired rate of weight loss and stay fit, and no more.
A good place to start is to do at least two low- to moderate-intensity cardio workouts per week and trying to do lower-body cardio (cycling, running, rucking, etc.) on different days from your lower-body weightlifting workouts.
If you want to know more about how to cut weight as quickly as possible using cardio, check out this article:
5. Take supplements proven to accelerate fat loss.
Assuming you’ve already got your diet in order, here are the best supplements to speed up the stages of fat loss:
- 3 to 6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight per day. This will raise the number of calories you burn and also increases strength, muscle endurance, and anaerobic performance. If you want a clean, delicious source of caffeine that also contains five other ingredients that will boost your workout performance, try Pulse.
- 0.1 to 0.2 milligrams of yohimbine per kilogram of body weight before training. This increases fat loss when used in conjunction with fasted training, and is particularly helpful with losing“stubborn” fat. If you want a 100% natural source of yohimbine that also contains two other ingredients that will help you lose fat faster, preserve muscle, and maintain training intensity and mental sharpness, try Forge.
- One serving of Phoenix per day. Phoenix is a 100% natural fat burner that speeds up your metabolism, enhances fat burning, and reduces hunger and cravings. You can also get Phoenix with caffeine or without.
Oh, and if you’d like to learn what other supplements might be a good fit for your budget, circumstances, and goals, then take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz! In less than a minute, it’ll tell you exactly what supplements are right for you. Click here to check it out.
+ Scientific References
- Millan, M. J., Newman-Tancredi, A., Audinot, V., Cussac, D., Lejeune, F., Nicolas, J. P., Cogé, F., Galizzi, J. P., Boutin, J. A., Rivet, J. M., Dekeyne, A., & Gobert, A. (2000). Agonist and antagonist actions of yohimbine as compared to fluparoxan at α2-adrenergic receptors (AR)s, serotonin (5-HT)(1A), 5-HT(1B), 5-HT(1D) and dopamine D2 and D3 receptors. Significance for the modulation of frontocortical monoaminergic transmission and depressive states. Synapse, 35(2), 79–95. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1098-2396(200002)35:2<79::AID-SYN1>3.0.CO;2-X
- Ostojic, S. M. (2006). Yohimbine: The effects on body composition and exercise performance in soccer players. Research in Sports Medicine, 14(4), 289–299. https://doi.org/10.1080/15438620600987106
- Beck, T. W., Housh, T. J., Schmidt, R. J., Johnson, G. O., Housh, D. J., Coburn, J. W., & Malek, M. H. (2006). The acute effects of a caffeine-containing supplement on strength, muscular endurance, and anaerobic capabilities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(3), 506–510. https://doi.org/10.1519/18285.1
- Astorino, T. A., Rohmann, R. L., & Firth, K. (2008). Effect of caffeine ingestion on one-repetition maximum muscular strength. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 102(2), 127–132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-007-0557-x
- Astrup, A., Toubro, S., Cannon, S., Hein, P., Breum, L., & Madsen, J. (1990). Caffeine: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of its thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular effects in healthy volunteers. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 51(5), 759–767. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/51.5.759
- Farinatti, P. T. V., & Castinheiras Net, A. G. (2011). The effect of between-set rest intervals on the oxygen uptake during and after resistance exercise sessions performed with large-and small-muscle mass. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(11), 3181–3190. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e318212e415
- Fatouros, I. G., Chatzinikolaou, A., Tournis, S., Nikolaidis, M. G., Jamurtas, A. Z., Douroudos, I. I., Papassotiriou, I., Thomakos, P. M., Taxildaris, K., Mastorakos, G., & Mitrakou, A. (2009). Intensity of resistance exercise determines adipokine and resting energy expenditure responses in overweight elderly individuals. Diabetes Care, 32(12), 2161–2167. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc08-1994
- Halton, T. L., & Hu, F. B. (2004). The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: A critical review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(5), 373–385. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2004.10719381
- Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. A., & Fitschen, P. J. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: Nutrition and supplementation. In Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (Vol. 11, Issue 1, pp. 1–20). BioMed Central Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
- Evans, E. M., Mojtahedi, M. C., Thorpe, M. P., Valentine, R. J., Kris-Etherton, P. M., & Layman, D. K. (2012). Effects of protein intake and gender on body composition changes: A randomized clinical weight loss trial. Nutrition and Metabolism, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-9-55
- Tipton, K. D., & Ferrando, A. A. (2008). Improving muscle mass: Response of muscle metabolism to exercise, nutrition and anabolic agents. Essays in Biochemistry, 44, 85–98. https://doi.org/10.1042/BSE0440085
- Phillips, S. M., & van Loon, L. J. C. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(SUPPL. 1). https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.619204
- Ramírez-Campillo, R., Andrade, D. C., Campos-Jara, C., Henríquez-Olguín, C., Alvarez-Lepín, C., & Izquierdo, M. (2013). Regional Fat Changes Induced by Localized Muscle Endurance Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(8), 2219–2224. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827e8681
- Christensen, P., Meinert Larsen, T., Westerterp-Plantenga, M., Macdonald, I., Martinez, J. A., Handjiev, S., Poppitt, S., Hansen, S., Ritz, C., Astrup, A., Pastor-Sanz, L., Sandø-Pedersen, F., Pietiläinen, K. H., Sundvall, J., Drummen, M., Taylor, M. A., Navas-Carretero, S., Handjieva-Darlenska, T., Brodie, S., … Raben, A. (2018). Men and women respond differently to rapid weight loss: Metabolic outcomes of a multi-centre intervention study after a low-energy diet in 2500 overweight, individuals with pre-diabetes (PREVIEW). Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 20(12), 2840–2851. https://doi.org/10.1111/dom.13466
- Benito, P. J., Cupeiro, R., Peinado, A. B., Rojo, M. A., & Maffulli, N. (2017). Influence of previous body mass index and sex on regional fat changes in a weight loss intervention. Physician and Sportsmedicine, 45(4), 450–457. https://doi.org/10.1080/00913847.2017.1380500
- Bentham Science Publisher, B. S. P. (2012). Metabolic Obesity: The Paradox Between Visceral and Subcutaneous Fat. Current Diabetes Reviews, 2(4), 367–373. https://doi.org/10.2174/1573399810602040367
- Manolopoulos, K. N., Karpe, F., & Frayn, K. N. (2012). Marked resistance of femoral adipose tissue blood flow and lipolysis to adrenaline in vivo. Diabetologia, 55(11), 3029–3037. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-012-2676-0
- Strosberg, A. D. (1993). Structure, function, and regulation of adrenergic receptors. In Protein Science (Vol. 2, Issue 8, pp. 1198–1209). Protein Sci. https://doi.org/10.1002/pro.5560020802
- Lefkowitz, R. J. (1979). Direct binding studies of adrenergic receptors: Biochemical, physiologic, and clinical implications. In Annals of Internal Medicine (Vol. 91, Issue 3, pp. 450–458). Ann Intern Med. https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-91-3-450
- Karastergiou, K., Smith, S. R., Greenberg, A. S., & Fried, S. K. (2012). Sex differences in human adipose tissues – the biology of pear shape. Biology of Sex Differences, 3(1), 13. https://doi.org/10.1186/2042-6410-3-13