A question I get asked frequently, usually in an exasperated tone, is “What are saddlebags and how do I get rid of them?!” Aren’t saddlebags for horses? Well, yes, technically they are, but at some point someone (probably a man) thought it was a cute way to refer to fat deposits on the hips that are the bane of many a woman’s existence.
I’m guessing if you’re reading this article that you are concerned with your saddlebags fat and are interested in finding out what exactly it is, why you have it, and how you can—for real—get rid of it. Well, get comfortable. By the end of this article you will have all the info you need to kick those saddlebags to the curb and pull out your skinny jeans.
What Causes Saddlebags Fat?
Saddlebags fat is like any fat anywhere on your body. There isn’t anything particularly special about it, besides its placement. So if you understand the concept of weight (or fat) gain, then you can easily understand saddlebags. The main cause of saddlebags is excess body fat. So what causes excess body fat and saddlebags fat specifically?
Calorie imbalance: The most common reason for fat gain is simply eating more calories than you burn. You need calories for energy, but when you eat too many the body can’t use the extra so it stores them as fat just in case it needs them at a later time. But when that time never comes, and when you continue to eat more calories than you need, the fat builds up. Sedentary lifestyle and diet are the two main causes of calorie imbalance and weight gain.
Genetics: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), any discussion of the causes of overweight and obesity has to include genetics. Genes, passed down from generation to generation, may play a part in a tendency to overeat, a tendency toward a sedentary lifestyle, how the body uses fat for fuel, and how the body stores fat.
This can influence where your body stores fat, too. If you’ve ever heard bodies called apple or pear-shaped, this is what it’s referring to. People with an apple-shaped body tend to store fat around the midsection, while people with a pear-shaped body tend to store excess fat around the hips and thighs, aka, saddlebags.
You can often see this genetic trait by looking at your mom, sister, or aunt. Do they also have saddlebags fat? Bingo.
Hormones: Your levels of certain hormones can play a similar role as genetics in how you store fat and where you store it. Women store more fat in general than men (yay!), especially after menopause. They also tend to store it around their hips, thighs, and buttocks (pear-shaped) while men tend to store it in their midsection (apple-shaped).
Though its effects are not completely understood, estrogen plays a role in both the accumulation of excess fat and the location in which that excess fat is stored. Although this is typically normal, hormonal imbalances can play a role in an inability to lose weight, and therefore, stubborn saddlebags fat.
Your Plan to Get Rid of Saddlebags Fat
Before we get into the details of the best diet and exercise routine to whittle away those saddlebags, there are a few things you should know:
You can’t spot reduce: No matter how much wishing, praying, and hip abduction exercises you do, you cannot target your hips, specifically, for fat loss. In order to lose that saddlebags fat, you have to lose total body fat. Eventually, your body will begin to use the saddlebags thigh fat it has stored for fuel.
However, you may notice weight loss in other areas of your body first, such as your face and arms. It’s a sad fact that the places it’s easiest to gain fat are the places it’s hardest to lose it.
You have to be patient: Saddlebags fat can be stubborn. You cannot lose it overnight or even over a few weeks. Run away from any article on the internet that promises that you can lose saddlebags fat in two weeks. Ya can’t.
Just like any other fat on your body it takes commitment to improving your diet, regulating your calorie balance, and exercising regularly to begin to lose saddlebags fat. If you have struggled with your weight for a long time and find it difficult to lose weight no matter what changes you make to your diet and lifestyle, you should check in with your doctor to make sure everything’s A-OK with your hormones.
You have to be realistic: If you stay consistent and committed, you can make significant changes in your weight and body shape; however, remember that you still have bones, and those cannot be changed with diet and exercise.
The truth is that people can be skinny with saddlebags, in which case it’s genetics and there’s not a huge amount to do about it. To a certain extent you have to start your journey with self-love and celebrate improvement without expecting perfection.
Diet to Lose Saddlebag Fat
There’s no special diet specifically for saddlebag fat. In most cases I recommend the same diet to everyone who wants to lose body fat, although I might tweak the macros a little on a case-by-case basis. Obviously, I can’t provide individual diet plans for everyone in this article, but if you follow my recommendations below you will be good to go!
Step 1. Guesstimate Your Calorie Needs
A lot goes into determining a person’s daily calorie needs, and it’s best done by working with a nutritionist or nutrition and weight loss coach. The best that an individual can do is observe and then make an educated guess.
I HATE calorie-tracking and I would never ask a client to track calories as part of a long-term plan; however, I will suggest that you track your calories for seven days. A lot of people don’t know how many calories they eat. When I ask them to guess and then they track them for a week, they are usually off by a huge number.
You really can’t get your calorie balance right for fat loss unless you know where you’re starting from. So use an app (there are a ton of them and not one I suggest over another) to track everything you eat for one week. It’s annoying, I know, but no pain, no gain. And it’s only a week.
Once you know your number, you can consult the handy chart I’ve included here which estimates your actual calorie needs based on your current level of activity. Chances are, this is going to be less—potentially significantly less—than what you were eating before. So you want to aim to reduce your calorie intake to around this number.
You don’t need to continue counting calories, but typically a short-term exercise helps people be more mindful of how much they’re eating and how much they underestimated how much they were eating.
Step 2: Clean Out Your Kitchen
If you want to reduce your calorie intake to lose saddlebags fat, you have to eat clean. If you keep junk and processed foods in the house it’s going to be very difficult to do that. So go through your fridge, cupboards, and cabinets and get rid of all the junk. Anything sugary, fried, refined grains, highly processed frozen foods, etc.
I understand that you may live with someone who is not on board with this step, but it’s super important. So please have a conversation with them about supporting you in your desire to lose weight. If you must, compromise and allow that person a spot in a high cabinet to keep their junk food.
3. Go Grocery Shopping
Stick to the outside aisles of the supermarket where the fresh food is. Fill your cart with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. Fruit can be high in sugar, so I suggest low-sugar, high-fiber fruits like raspberries and blueberries.
If you eat animal products, get some low-fat dairy, lean meat, chicken, or fish. If you’re vegetarian, choose tofu, seitan or beans. Pick up some whole grains; my favorites are farro and black rice. You can also have some nuts and seeds in moderation (very high in fat and calories), and healthy oils such as olive oil.
But what about cheese? And bread and pasta? And sweets? I never say that you can’t have these at all. But these are foods that are very easy to overeat and can cause you to take in way more calories than you should. If you must have cheese, keep in mind one serving is 1 ounce. If you must have bread, choose whole grain bread and be mindful that a serving is actually one slice, not two. Choose whole-grain pasta and stick to 2 ounces of dried pasta, or approximately one cup of cooked pasta.
If you must have sugar, I always recommend a totally natural, calorie-free sweetener called erythritol. I use it every day in my coffee, to make ice cream and desserts. Yes, brownies! It tastes just like sugar and is much better than stevia. Here’s my fave brand on Amazon: Anthony’s Organic Erythritol Granules, 2.5 lb, Non GMO, Natural Sweetener, Keto & Paleo Friendly, Granulated, Zero Calorie, Zero Net Carb.
As for indulgences, I never say never. I just say, occasionally. Try to find healthier substitutes when you can. If you have a lot of cravings for unhealthy foods, that is something that takes work but can be helped with the proper coping mechanisms. You might want to check out this post I wrote on emotional eating which outlines some steps you can take to curb hunger.
The Best Exercises for Saddlebags
So, we talked about how you can’t spot reduce fat, or target one area for fat loss. That means that exercises like side leg lifts aren’t going to do a thing for saddlebags unless you lose the fat. So don’t expect me to even talk about targeted saddlebags thighs exercises in this article.
To lose fat from anywhere on your body you have to do a combination of cardio exercise and total-body strength training. Let’s start with the cardio:
Whatever you are currently doing as cardio, chances are you need to take it up a notch. Walking is great, and if that’s all you’re able to do because of physical limitations, keep doing it; but if you are otherwise able-bodied, you need to increase the intensity of your cardio workouts to see real results. My two favorites are HIIT and circuit training.
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. This involves alternating periods of increased effort with periods of reduced effort. We call them work and rest periods. During the work period, you are trying to work as hard as you can. During the rest periods, you are allowing your body to recover before your next work session.
I like HIIT for a few reasons:
- Research has shown it to be just as effective or more effective than steady-state cardio for fat loss.
- It takes less time. A typical HIIT workout is 20 minutes. You’ll burn equal to or more in those 20 minutes than you would walking for an hour.
- It’s more fun. I find steady-state cardio to be intensely boring. HIIT workouts tend to fly by because I’m always switching up my pace and anticipating the next tempo change.
You can do HIIT on any piece of cardio equipment at the gym. I choose the treadmill, but you could do the elliptical, stationary bike, or stair climber. Just alternate 30- 60-second periods of high-intensity with equal amounts of recovery at a slower pace.
Circuit training is a mixture of HIIT and weightlifting. It’s also super efficient and you get a lot more done in less time than you would in a typical weightlifting workout. You also can knock out your cardio at the same time.
To do it, you set up a number of “stations” where you will do different exercises. For example, at the first station you do jumping jacks to warm up, at the next station you do pushups, next station rows, next station jump rope, next station walking lunges, etc. You stay at each station for 30 seconds to one minute and then you move to the next station.
By organizing your workout this way, you keep your heart rate up the entire time, so you’re burning A LOT of calories. Circuit training is also one of the best home workouts because you don’t need much equipment. You could do a circuit workout with no equipment at all!
Here’s a bodyweight circuit for you to get started with. You’ll need something called a tabata timer app, and you’ll set it for 45-second work periods and 10-second rest periods. Do as many reps of each exercise as you can in 45 seconds, then move to the next exercise.
- Jumping jacks
- Reverse lunges
- Push ups (regular or modified)
- Squat jumps
- Plank jacks (or plank holds)
- Glute bridges
Repeat this circuit three or four times and you’re done!
I think that pretty much covers how to lose saddlebags fat. Just remember, as with any fat it takes hard work, commitment, consistency, and patience. And also remember, that you are not your saddlebags. With or without them, you are beautiful. I urge you not to focus on one “problem area” but to see the bigger picture. It’s about health and feeling good, not about how skinny your thighs are.
Do you do battle with your saddlebags? What have you tried that has or hasn’t worked to get rid of them? Let me know in the comments below!
Like this article? Share it on social and help your friends and family live a healthier lifestyle. Also, I send out good stuff just like this in my monthly newsletter, so drop your email in the box at the bottom of the page!
I think you’ll also like: