Where Does Your Fat Go When You Lose It?

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Are you at Be Strong for weight loss?

When we want to lose weight, we get on the scales weekly (or maybe more frequently) to measure our progress. Our aim being to see the numbers going down on the screen of the scales.

But what is it that we are really trying to lose?

The scales only tell us how much our overall mass has changed. And, this change in the number on the scales could reflect many things: a change in the amount of water in our cells, a change in the amount of food and liquid in our tummies and digestive system, a change in the level of glycogen stored in our muscles, a change in our muscle mass or even bone density (although this would probably only be a very small change). All of these things affect our overall mass.

But what most of us are really wanting to see when we are ‘losing weight’ is that we are losing body fat.

So what happens?

A common misconception is that fat changes to muscle. This is actually impossible, because the composition of fat and lean muscle is chemically different. To change our body composition we lose fat and build muscle in two separate metabolic processes.

Scientists from the University of New South Wales posed this same simple question to 150 health professionals: When somebody loses weight, where does the fat go? And, incredibly, of the 150 doctors, dietitians, and personal trainers they surveyed, only three out of 150 respondents (that’s 2%) answered the question correctly.

Some of the misconceived answers were:

“Fat is converted to energy”

“Fat was converted into muscle”

Or that “it leaves the body through the colon”

Around 25% simply didn’t have a clue.

But what actually happens to fat in our bodies as we lose it is a series of complex metabolic processes?

What’s the answer?

First we must understand how and why we store fat in our bodies. When we consume food, any type of food, whether it is carbohydrate, fat, protein or fibre it enters our body and is broken down into its different molecules by the chemicals in our stomachs, intestine and colon.

The different molecules from within the food are used for various things – cell and organ regeneration, cell and organ function, nerve stimulation and signals, energy release from cells, the list goes on. The molecules that aren’t used, depending on what they are, can be released as waste in the urine, or stored for future use in places like the liver and muscles, and the molecules required for energy are stored under the skin as adipose tissue, within fat cells. These fat cells are what we see as our lumps and bumps around our bottoms, thighs, tummies and breasts.

When the body goes into calorie deficit, it needs to break the fat cells down to release energy for our body to function and move. But the whole fat cell isn’t converted into energy, it is broken back down into its individual molecules and then the energy is released back into the bloodstream and onto the muscles and organs that require it, and the rest has to go somewhere else.

So where does it all go?

The scientists at the University of New South Wales went on to do some very complex calculations but ultimately found that when we lose weight, or fat, to be more precise, our cells use the released energy, but then there is a lot of waste molecules, which need to leave the body.

They leave the body through two main ways. The first and largest percentage (84%) our lungs, excreted as Carbon Dioxide and the rest (16%) is excreted as water through urine (mainly), sweat, breath, tears and other bodily fluids. The scientists wrote in their article “If you lose 10kg of fat, precisely 8.4kg comes out through your lungs and the remaining 1.6kg turns into water. In other words, nearly all the weight we lose is exhaled.”

If you are a science lover you can read their full report in the British Medical Journal.

The article went on to say how using physical activity as a weight loss strategy alone, can easily be foiled by the food we put into our bodies, so it is important to embrace, the ‘eat less, move more’ strategy, that Be Strong promotes.

What about the Whoosh?

So you may have read or heard about the Whoosh Effect when it comes to weight loss, to explain those weeks where the scales just don’t budge despite our best efforts in the previous seven days.

The whoosh effect is described on social media and on many weight loss blogs as the way your fat cells behave when you are emptying them of fat.

It is said that your fat cells expel all the triglycerides (fatty acids) from the cell into the blood stream and onto the parts of the body where it is needed for energy. The cell then absorbs water in it’s place until the cell is completely devoid of triglycerides, at which point the cell breaks down, leaves the body, and you get the result on the scales. Sounds good doesn’t it?! And when I heard it, I thought it sounded plausible too!

However, I have researched and researched this, and I can find no clear scientific evidence that this does actually occur, moreover your body never actually gets rid of its fat cells, they remain, in case they are needed in the future to store fat.

But that’s not to say that you can’t use this theory if it helps you get over the fact that just sometimes the scales don’t say what you expect. Speaking from years of experience of weighing people I can definitely vouch for their being a phenomenon that you might describe as the ‘whoosh effect’, where people don’t lose anything for 3 or 4 weeks, then all of sudden lose 4,5,6 pounds in one week, thankfully just before they lose the will to live and give up. So if this is you, and the scales aren’t quite moving as you expect, have faith and trust in the process, and know that weight loss will occur in time.

This week!

Fat loss is a complex metabolic process, and there is probably a lot that we still don’t know about it. But have faith in the science that a calorie deficit will bring about the fat loss. And every time you get out of breath, get a sweat on, or you go for a wee,  that is the excess fat that you are trying to get rid of,  leaving your body.  So stick at it, stay positive and keep moving!

2 replies on “Where Does Your Fat Go When You Lose It?”

I definitely follow a pattern of weight loss where every so often I see a spike followed by a big drop – as long as overall I’m still moving in a downward trend towards my target, however slowly that might be, I can cope with that

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