(CNN) — Multiple chins, bulging tummies and flabby arms: It’s easy to see where fat accumulates on the body.
When a person starts losing weight, where does the fat go? And what parts of the body can you expect to see results?
Headlines from fitness magazines promise exercises to blast away belly fat and activities to spot-reduce flab. The scientific evidence, unfortunately, doesn’t back those sexy headlines.
Here are three things to know about weight-loss and body fat.
You can’t change your shape, just your size.
You can’t cherry-pick where you shed fat; weight loss doesn’t work like a point-and-shoot.
MRIs, CT scans and dexa scans, which use X-ray beams to measure body composition, show no evidence for spot reduction.
“Basically, when we lose weight, we lose weight all over in exactly the proportion that’s distributed throughout our body,” said Susan Fried, director of the Boston Obesity and Nutrition Research Center at the Boston University School of Medicine.
A pear-shaped woman who loses weight will remain a pear, just a daintier one, say researchers who specialize in body fat. More women tend to be pear-shaped, with fat around their hips and thighs. Men tend to be apple-shaped, because they have fat that accumulates around their waist.
“People come in with unrealistic expectations from magazines and spot-reducing,” said Gary Foster, director of Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education. “That doesn’t happen. When you start to lose fat, it’s proportionate throughout your body, whether it’s your neck, waist, ankle circumference. You’ll come out smaller but have the same body shape.”
That was the case with Maggie Sorrells, 37, who lost nearly 300 pounds through diet and exercise in less than five years.
Share your weight loss stories with iReport
Her body was pear-shaped even when she weighed about 500 pounds. She reduced her portion sizes and attended weekly faith-based weight loss meetings called Weigh Down . She noticed that her face and hips were getting smaller.
“My hips were like 73 inches,” Sorrells said. They’re now down to 39 inches.
“It’s crazy to think how much they’ve come down.”
See her iReport: Andy Maggie 550 down
She and her husband, Andy, who live in Nashville, lost more than 500 pounds combined.
Sorrells essentially retained her pear shape, although she’s 300 pounds lighter. “I’m still rounder in the bottom part of my body. I’m still pear-shaped,” she said.
For most people, the problem is their weight, not their body shape, Foster said. Whether you’re a pear or apple may be determined by genetics or hormones.
Not all body fat is created equal.
When Joe Dragon, an insurance company supervisor in Albany, New York, started losing weight from his 425-pound frame, he noticed the biggest difference in his stomach.
“I was never heavy on the bottom; it was more the gut, belly area,” the 34-year-old said. “The differences I noticed, I have a flat stomach. It used to be huge round ball.”
See his iReport: Joe from Albany