Question: Hello Dr. Jen, I have a two-part question. The first is I’m wondering what I can do to get a thigh gap. Also, is it true that it’s impossible for some people to ever have a thigh gap?
Answer: I am glad you asked this question because having a thigh gap is all the rage these days, so it is a topic that I’ve researched for that very reason.
As a doctor, some people might expect me to tell you that having a thigh gap is an unhealthy, unrealistic goal, and that you should focus on being healthy and not looking a particular way. Yet some women do want to look a particular way whether it be muscular, toned, slim, or more voluptuous. All of these looks can be achieved in a healthy manner.
However, medically speaking, getting a thigh gap look is a perfectly suitable and achievable goal, because it really comes down to getting yourself to a healthy weight. Doing so means you will lose weight from your inner thighs as well as the rest of your body.
With that said, you may be at a healthy weight and not have a thigh gap that is as noticeable as someone who is less muscular, has a wider bone structure, or who is slightly taller. If this is the case, there is no need to pressure yourself to try harder to lose more weight.
Yet it is still possible to slim your thighs down to a point where you get the sexy, eye-catching look you want, no matter what your body type is, and you don’t need to go to extremes to do it.
Getting the thigh gap look really comes down to two things:
- Body fat
- Muscle mass
Achieving a thigh gap look can be a confusing undertaking, so most people tend to either focus their exercise routines on just building muscle mass, or just burning fat by exhausting themselves with cardio.
But really the trick is to perfectly balance the two.
If you focus too much on building muscle, then your legs are going to be in shape, which is great, but they aren’t going to look as slim … especially if you still have a layer of fat over the muscle.
Conversely, if you overwork your leg muscles doing an excessive amount of cardio, such as working out on the StairMaster for an hour, you are also going to increase the size of your leg muscles, making them appear larger than you’d like.
But muscle burns fat … right? Yes, muscle does burn fat; however, again it comes down to balancing the two.
The key is to do exercises that stimulate the muscle groups in your legs but don’t break down the muscle fibers so much that they continuously grow larger each time.
That means you shouldn’t perform squats using an extreme amount of weight, or do hour-long cardio sessions on a StairMaster.
If you do, you will notice that your legs are too thick to fit into your favorite skinny jeans. You’ll still be healthy, but you won’t have the slim look you’re after.
Instead, you want to do squats without weights or with light weights up to only 8lbs. Only do a maximum of 5 sets of 50 per day, and a minimum of 3 sets of 50 per day if you are just starting out.
This is enough to achieve a perfect balance of muscle stimulation and cardiovascular fat burning.2
You can take a 1- or 2-minute break between sets, but do the actual set continuously so you’re getting your cardio at the same time.
You may also choose to skip one or two days of leg work per week so your muscles can recuperate. When you do this, you will notice that your legs appear to shrink overnight. This is because your muscles are using your fat stores to rebuild themselves, even with a minimal amount of exercise.
But don’t skip three or four days per week or lose momentum, because then you won’t see results.
In addition to doing squats, you will need to improve your diet.
I can see why achieving a thigh gap look through dieting could also be confusing.
Many fitness websites that focus on building muscle will tell you to increase your protein intake. While that is good advice for someone who wants to have noticeably bigger muscles, it’s not as important for achieving a thigh gap.
Instead, you want to take in a medium amount of protein. Not too little and not too much. You want just enough to maintain your lean muscle.
So what does that translate to?
Well, you want to make sure that you get at least one or even two servings of protein per day. The serving could be from lean meat, nuts, eggs, beans or a protein shake.
For women, 46 grams of protein per day is the Recommended Dietary Allowance. 1
There is no need to only eat protein throughout the day. Some trainers will suggest this, but I suggest having fruit and vegetables as well. This will ensure you get the essential vitamins and minerals you need.
Another persistent diet debate is whether to eat carbohydrates or not.
Carbohydrates like bread and cereal are certainly a quick source of fuel. They can provide an initial boost of energy … which is great if you plan on using that energy right away. However, when you eat carbohydrates throughout the day when you aren’t expending energy, they are broken down into sugar and stored as fat. They also spike your insulin, make you hungry an hour later, and zap your energy.3
So overall, carbohydrates should be reserved for times when you will actually be using the quick fuel they provide. That means to get the thigh gap look you will want to cut back on breads, cereals, and pasta. This is especially true for eating carbohydrates right before bed.
The next rule to follow for achieving the thigh gap look should come as no surprise to you … and that’s cutting way down on your sugar intake.
Sugar is basically fat waiting to happen. I know we all love it and it’s in pretty much every packaged food you can imagine. Even smoothies and flavored water drinks that seem healthy are packed with more sugar than you should have for at least three days!
Then you also have your coffee drinks … which are by far the most popular culprit. Starting your day off with 40 grams of liquid sugar is definitely going to ruin your chances of getting a thigh gap.
It’s hard at first to cut out sugar, because sugar is addictive. It’s more addictive than cocaine. It actually stimulates dopamine, a chemical in our brains, in the same way cocaine does.
This is why we crave it so much and why we feel agitated and groggy without it. This is also why we feel happy and satisfied when we eat it.
So what steps can you take to cut back on sugar, and how much can you eat?
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of sugar per day for women. If you’ve never paid attention to this recommendation, it might shock you to know that many women have 25 grams of sugar before they even make it to lunch, and by the end of the day can rack up a whopping 90 grams or more! 4
And for most women, the first place the fat from all that sugar goes is straight to the thighs! Love handles too…
Our bodies are built for reproduction. Evolution has seen to it that we ladies carry enough stored fat in crucial reproductive areas to sustain a potential pregnancy. However, there is a limit to the amount of fat that is considered safe. A total body fat percentage of 18%, for instance, is ideal and can be achieved without sacrificing your health. 5
Conversely, a total body fat percentage of greater than 31% is considered obese, and can lead to health problems.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ace), the minimum essential body fat percentage is 10-13% and is higher for athletes (14-20%), but I don’t recommend that you force yourself to reach this minimum. 6
The thigh gap look can be achieved at approximately 18% to 21% body fat. Some women will notice it even sooner.
Sugar directly impacts your body fat percentage and is probably the very reason you might not have the look you want now.
There are 4 calories for every 1 gram of sugar, so if you have 40 grams of sugar, which is super easy to do, you have racked up 160 calories. To give you an idea, one bottle of coke contains 44 grams of sugar. You would have to walk 40 minutes to burn off that one bottle of coke.
Not to mention that sugar isn’t a great source of fuel because it lacks vitamins and minerals. It also spikes your insulin levels and causes you to crash later in the day. Having your insulin spiked too many times can lead to diabetes.
So to get the thigh gap look, I recommend limiting your sugar intake to a maximum of 16-18 grams of sugar a day.
If you think about it, one bowl of cereal is usually 9 grams of sugar per ¾ cup. If you have 2 cups you are already at a little over 18 grams. So you can see how easy it is to go overboard with sugar.
Here are some steps you can take to lower your sugar intake:
- Drink coffee without sugar
- Drink tea without sugar
- Have a breakfast with plain oatmeal or eggs
- Avoid soft drinks containing sugar
- Read all food labels to check sugar content
- Cut back on carbohydrates, because they increase sugar cravings
- Keep sugary foods out of the kitchen
- Avoid cereal
- Avoid prepackaged snack foods
- Eat a piece of fruit in place of candy
- Avoid sugar substitutes, because they stimulate sugar cravings and may trigger insulin spikes
Now that you have a handle on your sugar intake, you just have a few more hoops to jump through to get your thigh gap look.
The next step is to make sure you create a daily caloric deficit until you reach your goal. How do you do this?
This can be tricky, so I’m glad you asked.
Let me start by saying that losing more than 2 pounds per week is not something I recommend. And I don’t recommend going days or even a day without food to create a caloric deficit.
All you need to do is find out how much energy your body uses per day to maintain itself … it’s called resting metabolic rate (RMR) or basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the number of calories your body needs to function without any sort of activity. Then you need to eat fewer than this number of calories to create a caloric deficit.
The more weight you lose, the lower your RMR will be. So make sure you check it every week.
It’s also recommended that you don’t go below 1200 calories a day. 7
When you start doing that, your metabolism will shut down because it needs more fuel. Plus it’s unhealthy, and you probably won’t be getting the nutrients you need.
Here’s an example to make things clear:
If you are currently eating 1600 calories a day, and your RMR is 1500 calories, then you can slowly work your way down to 1200 calories a day, giving you a 300-calorie deficit.
I say slowly work your way down because you want to be realistic and also have a plan that’s sustainable.
Keep this up, and you’ll have sexy slim legs in no time!!
Lastly, in addition to exercise and diet I recommend stretching, because that helps to create nice elongated lean muscle. I also recommend rubbing the legs down with lotion to increase circulation and smooth out cellulite.
In conclusion, I am thrilled that you asked this question. I understand that plenty of women agree that having slim thighs is an attractive feature.
Remember that getting the thigh gap look is about having a balance between low body fat percentage and minimal muscle mass. Both need to be achieved in a healthy manner.
Also, diet is important. You need to eat enough good food like protein, fruits, and vegetables to maintain your muscle and fuel your metabolism. At the same, you want to limit sugar and carbohydrates.
As a final note, always drink plenty of water to aid in weight loss, keep yourself hydrated, and cut down water retention and eliminate toxins.
Put it all together and like magic … your slim thighs will appear!
Thank you for asking such an important and enlightening question.
1.. Source for Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) reference and RDAs: Institute of Medicine (IOM) Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. This report may be accessed via: www.nap.edu
2. American Council on Exercise: American Council on Exercise (ACE) Certified Professionals Say Do More Squats, Lunges
3. Chandler et al. Return of hunger following a relatively high carbohydrate breakfast is associated with earlier recorded glucose peak and nadir. Appetite. 2014 Sep 80:236-41
5. Paula Sammarone Turocy EdD, ATC,(Chair) et al. National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Safe Weight Loss and Maintenance Practices in Sport and Exercise. Journal of Athletic Training. 2011 May-Jun; 46(3): 322-336
7. US Department of Health and Human Services: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Very Low Calorie Diets NIH Publication No 03-3894 August 2008 Updated December 2012.