Where Do You Lose Weight First?

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Vanessa Gibbs

Published 04/07/2024

Face, stomach, hips, legs. No, it’s not a new dance routine. Instead, it’s what might be going through your mind when trying to lose weight. 

If you’re on a weight loss journey, you might have a lot of questions. And if you’re just starting, one of your questions might be: Where do women lose weight first? Unfortunately, there’s no solid answer to that. 

Women tend to lose weight in their legs first, while men lose weight in their trunks first. But many factors impact where you lose weight — the short answer is that it looks different for everyone. 

Below, we dive into the science to answer the burning question: Where is the first place you lose weight?

Weight loss can feel a little mysterious, in part because there aren’t specific areas where you’ll lose weight first. It’ll be different for everyone, and there’s no way of knowing what may happen for you. 

A few factors affect where you’ll lose weight, including your sex, age, genetics, body mass index and diet.

Here’s what we mean.

Sex 

Men and women may notice weight loss in different places. 

A 2013 study looked at how weight loss affected 43 men and 45 women with excess weight or obesity. Participants followed an energy-deficit eating plan for 12 weeks, which means they ate in a calorie deficit, or fewer calories than their bodies needed.

All participants lost body weight, fat mass and lean body mass, like muscle mass. But men lost more fat and lean body mass in their trunks — AKA the torso — and women lost more of both in their legs. 

Another study, this time from 2017, had similar findings. 

It looked at how a 22-week weight loss program affected 96 women and 84 men with excess weight and obesity. 

At the end of the experiment, men lost more weight from their trunks compared to women and they also lost more weight overall. Maybe not exactly what you want to hear, but that doesn’t mean all weight loss hope is lost.

Age 

Body composition changes as we age. As we get older, we tend to gain weight around the midsection and lose bone mass. 

Research shows that older women have 300 percent more visceral fat than young women, but they only have 20 percent more upper body fat and 45 percent more leg fat.  

Visceral fat is the fat that builds up around your organs. It sits deep within the abdomen and comes with a higher risk of health issues. Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is found just under the skin. 

These changes in fat distribution and abdominal fat may affect where you lose fat from first. 

Many older folks may notice weight loss in their arms and legs versus in their stomachs. 

Genetics 

That’s right, the genes you inherited from Mom and Dad could play a part in your waistline. 

Research shows that the location of fat storage is partly based on genetics — and this link may be stronger for women than for men. 

Yet more research shows that your gene variations could affect how much weight you lose over time. 

So, genetics could also play a role in where you lose weight first. If you want an idea of what to expect, consider where your mom loses weight first. 

Body Mass Index 

Your body mass index (BMI) may also affect where you notice weight loss first. 

In the 2017 study we mentioned above, participants with obesity lost more weight in their arms and legs compared to those with excess weight over the 22-week experiment.  

Diet

Finally, what you eat could make a difference in which part of your body loses weight first. 

In the 2013 study we mentioned above, participants ate either a normal amount of protein or a high amount of protein as part of their energy deficit eating plan.

When biological sex wasn’t taken into account, the normal-protein group lost more lean body mass in their trunk and legs than the high-protein group. 

So, when you’re on a weight loss journey, eating a lot of protein could help you lose fat and hold on to muscle, especially in your trunk and legs. You may even be able to build muscle. 

Check out our guide to how much protein to eat for weight loss to learn more.  

More research shows that your food choices could also affect whether you lose visceral or subcutaneous fat. 

A 2017 study on 183 people with excess weight or obesity found that eating portion-controlled pre-packaged meals for 12 weeks led to a more significant reduction in visceral fat than following a reduced-energy eating plan with self-selected meals.

Prescribed online

Weight loss treatment that puts you first

Exercise can help you lose weight overall, but strength training in a specific area of the body probably won’t make a difference to where you lose weight. 

This approach is known as spot reduction and according to research, it’s not effective.  

A 2013 study of 11 people looked at how leg resistance training exercises affected the location of weight loss. Participants did leg press exercises three days a week for 12 weeks on one leg

At the end of the experiment, overall body fat mass decreased by about five percent. However, there were no significant changes in fat mass between the leg that had been exercised and the control leg.

In fact, participants lost more fat mass in their upper extremities and trunk than in their legs! Yeah, we’re not sure why either, but the fact remains that you can’t exercise one part of your body just to lose weight there.

While physical activity may not help you target your weight loss efforts, it can help you lose weight in general, whether you do high-intensity cardio or add a walk to your routine. 

A 2015 study on 243 postmenopausal women looked at whether a calorie-restricted eating plan or an exercise program combined with a small calorie-restricted eating plan would be more effective for weight loss.

After 16 weeks, the results found that:

  • Both the women on the eating plan only and the women doing the exercise program and eating plan lost weight.

  • The exercise-plus-eating-plan group lost more body fat and maintained lean mass. 

  • The exercise-plus-eating-plan group had a greater decrease in waist and hip circumferences, but this wasn’t enough to be statistically significant. 

What Is Safe Weight Loss? 

You can’t control where you lose weight first — or where you lose weight at any time — but you can control how much you lose. 

Safe weight loss is generally considered one to two pounds per week. Losing weight gradually can also help you keep the weight off. 

You can speak to your healthcare provider to find a safe amount of weight loss for you. 

Safe weight loss also means going about it in the right way. 

That includes: 

  • Eating healthy, nutritious foods

  • Incorporating more movement into your day — even walking can help

  • Getting enough sleep 

  • Drinking more water 

  • Getting guidance from your healthcare provider or a dietitian 

  • Considering weight loss medications if appropriate for you

FYI: Weight loss injections and oral medications aren’t usually covered by insurance, but they can be effective for some people to kick-start a weight loss journey. However, just like with drug-free weight loss, there’s no way to tell where you’ll lose weight from first when you take these medications.  

Where Does Fat Go?

When you burn fat, fat cells are broken down into carbon dioxide and water. You breathe out the carbon dioxide when you exhale and excrete the water in bodily fluids like sweat and urine.

There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to where you’ll lose weight first. This changes from person to person and there’s no real way of knowing what to expect. 

Here’s what we know about what parts of the body lose fat first:

  • Many factors impact where you lose weight. Your sex, age, genetics, BMI and diet can all affect where you’ll first notice weight loss. 

  • Women tend to lose weight in their legs before men. Women may carry more weight around their middle as they age, which may also affect where they lose weight. And if you’re wondering, “Where do men lose weight first,” it’s the torso for many men.

  • You can’t target or “spot reduce” weight loss. No matter what your personal trainer tells you, doing crunches won’t lead to more belly fat loss and doing squats won’t target fat loss in your legs. Your best bet? Do more movement that you enjoy for overall weight loss. 

The most important thing to know about weight loss is that if it’s something you’re looking into, it is achievable. 

A healthy diet, plenty of sleep and more steps and movement can help you achieve your weight loss goals. And for some, weight loss drugs — often diabetes medications — can help along the way.

You can explore weight loss options here.

11 Sources

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  2. Benito, P. J., Cupeiro, R., Peinado, A. B., Rojo, M. A., Maffulli, N., & PRONAF Study Group (2017). Influence of previous body mass index and sex on regional fat changes in a weight loss intervention. The Physician and sportsmedicine, 45(4), 450–457. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28914104/
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  7. Liu, F. X., Flatt, S. W., Nichols, J. F., Pakiz, B., Barkai, H. S., Wing, D. R., Heath, D. D., & Rock, C. L. (2017). Factors Associated with Visceral Fat Loss in Response to a Multifaceted Weight Loss Intervention. Journal of obesity & weight loss therapy, 7(4), 346. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5889055/
  8. 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://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2013/08000/regional_fat_changes_induced_by_localized_muscle.23.aspx
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