Where do you lose weight first?

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD, Ro, 

Written by Amelia Willson 

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD, Ro, 

Written by Amelia Willson 

last updated: Jul 24, 2023

6 min read

If you’re trying to lose weight, you may have a few ideas of where you want to shed the pounds first. Here’s the thing: weight loss doesn’t work that way. 

While there are some commonalities in where people lose weight first, the truth is that everybody is different and where you lose weight first can depend on various factors, from your diet to your genes, and hormones. 

With those caveats out of the way, let’s look at what the science says about where we typically lose weight, and when.

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Where do you lose weight first?

It depends. How quickly we lose weight, and where, is as unique as the person's weight loss journey. There’s no way to predict precisely where you will lose weight first. But, there may be a few clues, starting with your sex. Male and female bodies are more prone to hold on to fat in different areas.

Where do women lose weight first?

Women tend to lose weight in their legs first, from both muscle and fat loss. Women have more body fat than men in general, especially in the hips and thighs.

This can change during menopause, when women tend to experience fat gain, particularly in the central parts of their body. Both the aging process and menopause influence where women gain and lose weight when they’re older.

In addition to weight gain, women experience a two- to fourfold increase in their visceral fat percentage, while losing lean muscle mass. This increase in belly fat happens even if women don’t experience an increase in their weight or waist circumference, according to one small study of 23 women. 

Where do men lose weight first?

Men tend to lose weight and fat in their torso first, then the legs and arms. While your diet and exercise routine may influence this to some extent, multiple studies have found that men still tend to lose weight in the torso first. 

For example, in one study of men and women with obesity, participants followed a combined aerobic and resistance training routine that targeted both the upper and lower parts of the body. Again, men lost fat in their torso while women lost fat in their legs.

Another study examined how differing amounts of protein (high vs. normal) in a low-calorie diet impacted weight loss. By the end of 12 weeks, all participants had lost weight, but men still lost more weight in their torso and less in their legs than women — regardless of their protein intake. Those who ate more protein, however, experienced less muscle mass loss than those who followed the normal protein diet.

Does exercise make a difference in where you lose weight?

Your exercise routine can make differences in body composition and where you lose weight first. But, it’s not always predictable. Studies have found that performing abdominal exercises for weeks can improve muscle endurance, but not necessarily changes in body weight or composition. 

One study found that adding strength training to an aerobic exercise routine led to more fat loss in men’s torsos and women’s legs than aerobic exercise alone. These sex-based differences in weight loss still persisted, despite the program’s use of weight exercises targeting both the body's upper and lower parts. 

Similarly, in a study of young female military recruits, participants followed a 12-week training program. Overall, they lost fat and built muscle. But, they specifically lost fat in their arms and torso — but not their legs, despite following a full body workout.

Walking can be a surprisingly effective form of exercise, especially for those who want to lose weight around their waistlines. A 12-week walking program (3 days per week for around an hour per day) significantly reduced abdominal subcutaneous and visceral fat in a study of women with obesity. Aerobic exercise can also be effective for visceral fat loss, especially when the workout is moderate to high intensity. In addition to overall fat loss, it can lead to significant reductions in abdominal and mid-thigh fat, according to a study of women with obesity.

Regardless, exercise is good for you. It helps you build muscle, burn fat, and offers benefits such as:

Factors that affect where you lose weight

Several factors affect where you lose weight, including your genes, sex, age, hormones, and diet. Your current body composition can also affect weight loss. For instance, people with obesity tend to lose weight in their arms and legs first.

Your genes

Genetics play a role in both obesity and body fat distribution. Genome-wide association studies have found that genetics influence your:

In other words, if your parents tend to put on fat in specific areas, you may be more prone to gain weight in those areas of the body, too. This is especially true if you’re female, as studies suggest that the heritability of body fat distribution is stronger in women than in men.

Just as genes influence where we gain weight, they can also influence where we lose it. Studies have found that the effectiveness of certain diets may depend on your genes, to some extent. So if a high-protein diet works well for your family, it may help you, too!

Your sex

Men are more likely to lose weight in their upper body first, while women lose it in their legs. Women have more body fat than men in general, especially in the hips and thighs, and will hold onto it in these areas longer.

Men may also lose more weight faster than women, which may be due to having larger bodies along with higher muscle-to-fat mass ratios. During weight loss, men typically lose more fat than women. 

Your sex can also lead to other health-related outcomes from weight loss, according to a study of more than 2,200 overweight men and women with prediabetes. Not only did the men lose more weight, but they also experienced larger reductions in their metabolic risk and heart rate. Women, on the other hand, experienced larger reductions in cholesterol, hip circumference, and pulse pressure.

Similar to genes, your sex can also influence the effectiveness of a particular diet. Some research suggests that men tend to lose more weight on a low-carb diet, while women may lose more weight on a Mediterranean diet.

It is important to note that the sex-based differences are small enough that researchers don't recommend that men and women follow different weight loss strategies. The best approach for both is still to eat fewer calories and exercise.

Your age

Our bodies tend to hold onto fat more as we age, especially in the midsection. At the same time, we lose muscle and bone mass. In advanced old age, weight loss typically happens in the legs and arms first

Visceral fat increases for both sexes in old age, but older women are more likely to gain more leg fat. And, in a reversal of what happens in younger age, older men tend to lose more weight from muscle than fat. 

Engaging in regular physical activity can help stave off some of the muscle loss that naturally occurs with old age. Studies of adults in their 60s and older who stay active tend to have less fat and more muscle, and remain stronger.

Your diet

Different diets may influence where you lose weight first. For example, increased protein intake (from both animal and plant sources) is associated with a lower waist circumference, BMI, body weight, and abdominal fat. Eating more protein can also help ensure you lose more weight from fat vs. muscle. 

Following a low-glycemic diet (i.e. eating foods that keep blood sugar steady) can boost fat loss during a diet. And eating portion-controlled meals and vegetable-rich diets can lead to a significant reduction in visceral fat around the belly.

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Can you target weight loss?

Probably not. Exercise can help with weight and fat loss (as well as muscle gain), but you can't control which parts of your body lose weight first.

Where you lose weight may even surprise you. In one study, men and women did around 1,000 reps of leg press exercises, three times per week, exclusively on their non-dominant leg. At the end of 12 weeks, they had lost 5% of their overall body fat mass. However, the two legs had no differences in muscle mass, fat mass, or fat percentage. They actually lost more fat in their arms and torso! 

In another small study, one group did ab exercises five days a week while the control group did nothing. Six weeks later, the two groups had no difference in body weight, body fat percentage, abdominal circumference, or abdominal subcutaneous fat. But the exercise group still came out on top regarding muscle endurance.

And, as we discussed earlier, some studies suggest that even when you target all parts of the body, sex-specific differences in weight loss still persist. In one study, men lost more fat in their torso while women lost more fat in their legs despite following the same routine of weight resistance exercises that targeted the whole body.

If your goal is to lose belly fat, moderate to high-intensity aerobic exercise has shown to be effective. High-intensity cardio (e.g. running or walking) can reduce total body weight overall, especially fat in the mid-thigh and abdominal areas. A 12-week walking program (50-70 minutes per day for 3 days per week) led to a significant reduction in abdominal fat among women with obesity. 

Exercise and a healthy diet are foundational first steps to healthy weight loss. For help finding a routine that works for you, talk to a dietitian or personal trainer, or sign up for a comprehensive weight loss program like the Ro Body Program.


If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

July 24, 2023

Written by

Amelia Willson

Fact checked by

Felix Gussone, MD

About the medical reviewer

Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.

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