Scientists have discovered that we lose fat cells in every breath that we take. Therefore, more heavy breathing means more fat loss. At least, that is the conclusion the Express and other tabloids have come to. What is actually going on and does it make any difference to the way we lose weight?
The Express led its story with the line: “Gym loathers can now let out a huge sigh of relief, because scientists have discovered you can shed the pounds by simply BREATHING.”
Well, this is obviously a piece of classic tabloid sensationalism, surely? Fat people tend to breathe as much, and sometimes more, than thinner people; the more overweight you are the more likely you will get out of breath.
Being fit, as in cardiovascular fitness, means that your heart beats slower because you take in more oxygen in each breath and this is pumped around the body more efficiently. So the idea of breathing to lose weight sounds pretty daft. But, there must be something in it, surely?
Oxidation and the breakdown of fat
The researchers claim that 80% of body fat leaves the body through breath, making the lung the primary organ for fat removal. Their theory is based on the fact that stored body fat, which is made of triglyceride molecules, consists of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. These atoms are expelled in our breath.
So, the more we breathe, the more we burn fat?
But you have to burn it first!
When we exercise we breathe harder, so you might think that the process is as simple as that. But the reason why we breathe harder is because the body needs more oxygen to convert stored energy into usable energy.
Exercising leads to elevated heart rate because the body uses blood to transport oxygen to muscle cells. Our lungs and heart work in unison to achieve this and the when stored energy (fat) is broken down to be used as energy, the by-products are breathed out.
When you look at it this way, it is pretty obvious really. It is a well-known and accepted fact that a combination of controlled diet and exercise results a reduction of fat – all of that fat has to go somewhere.
Because the fat is broken down into carbon dioxide and water it comes out in breath, urine, sweat and feces. In the past it was assumed that much of the fat was lost in urine and feces (some low-carb dieters wee on ketone testing strips to see how much fat are losing)
Of course, this certainly does not mean that breathing more will result in any significant weight loss if you are not actively working your body harder and depriving if of the calories it needs from food. That being said, deliberate, heavy breathing will burn more calories than normal because of the increased effort of expanding the rib cage, but this is only ever going to be a relatively negligible increase in calorie expenditure and it would make more sense to do some more effective exercise instead that will make you a stronger and fitter person.
Exercise is needed
Where this does get interesting is when we do the math. To oxidise (breakdown) 22 pounds of fat we need to inhale 64 pounds of oxygen. This means that the lungs are the primary excretory organ for weight loss.
Of course, the lungs will not need to inhale such an excessive amount of oxygen if you are not exercising your body. And as we know from years of empirical evidence, cardiovascular exercise is best for weight loss, at least, when you do a sufficient amount.
All this carbon has to be replaced in food and drinks, otherwise the fat loss will be permanent … which leads to one of the most important considerations:
Fat loss happens all the time
We often think of body fat as being a static substance that never reduces. However, our bodies are constantly burning energy for activity and then replacing that energy later when we eat as fat. This cycle keeps us alive when their is no food in the system, which is the case for much of the day.
The problem that most people have is that too much food is consumed to allow any weight loss to take place over a 24 hour period.
The Express said that if a “person breathes out 17,280 times a day they will lose at least 200g of carbon, with around a third of that weight loss achieved during eight hours of sleep alone.”
This is really basic biology. When we say a sedentary person needs 1800 Calories a day, this is to replace the energy burned off during normal body function, what is more commonly referred to as metabolism. Metabolism is simply the process of fuelling the cells of the body
We burn energy every day. What is tricky is maintaining a low body weight when there is so much delicious food all over the place tempting us to eat it.
Professor Brown and Mr Meerman summed up the research as such: “Physical activity as a weight loss strategy is, therefore, easily foiled by relatively small quantities of excess food.
“Our calculations show that the lungs are the primary excretory organ for fat. Losing weight requires unlocking the carbon stored in fat cells, thus reinforcing that often heard refrain of ‘eat less, move more’.”
It really does come down to the basic old rule of eating less and moving more. Don’t let anybody fool you into thinking otherwise. This research adds a little to our understanding of how the body works but it does not help us to actually lose weight in a more effective manner. We are actually already pretty good at that, when we follow the rules.
“Fat ‘breathed out’ of body via lungs, say scientists” by Michelle Roberts, BBC News online
“Forget the post-Christmas weight battle, you can shed pounds by BREATHING, says scientists” by Levi Winchester, The Express, December 16, 2014.
“When somebody loses weight, where does the fat go?” by Ruben Meerman and Andrew J Brown.