Where does fat go when you lose weight?


Where does fat go when you lose weight?

In Summary

  • The most common misconception by far, was that fat is converted to energy. The problem with this theory is that it violates the law of conservation of matter, which all chemical reactions obey.
  • Some respondents thought fat turns into muscle, which is impossible, and others assumed it escapes via the colon. Only three of our respondents gave the right answer, which means 98% of the health professionals in our survey could not explain how weight loss works.
  • The reason we gain or lose weight is much less mysterious if we keep track of all the kilograms, too, not just those enigmatic kilojoules or calories.

The most common misconception by far, was that fat is converted to energy. The problem with this theory is that it violates the law of conservation of matter, which all chemical reactions obey.

Some respondents thought fat turns into muscle, which is impossible, and others assumed it escapes via the colon. Only three of our respondents gave the right answer, which means 98% of the health professionals in our survey could not explain how weight loss works.

So if not energy, muscles or the loo, where does fat go?

The enlightening facts about fat metabolism

The correct answer is that fat is converted to carbon dioxide and water. You exhale the carbon dioxide and the water mixes into your circulation until it’s lost as urine or sweat.

If you lose 10 pounds of fat, precisely 8.4 pounds comes out through your lungs and the remaining 1.6 pounds turns into water. In other words, nearly all the weight we lose is exhaled.

This surprises just about everyone, but actually, almost everything we eat comes back out via the lungs. Every carbohydrate you digest and nearly all the fats are converted to carbon dioxide and water. The same goes for alcohol.

Protein shares the same fate, except for the small part that turns into urea and other solids, which you excrete as urine.

Kilograms in versus kilograms out

We all learn that “energy in equals energy out” in high school. But energy is a notoriously confusing concept, even among health professionals and scientists who study obesity.

The reason we gain or lose weight is much less mysterious if we keep track of all the kilograms, too, not just those enigmatic kilojoules or calories.

If you put 3.55 kg (125 ounces) of food and water into your body, plus 660 grams of oxygen (23 ounces), then 4.2 kg (148 ounces) of stuff needs to come back out, or you’ll gain weight. If you’re hoping to shed some weight, more than 4.1kg will have to go.

The 430 grams (15.2 ounces) of carbohydrates, fats, protein and alcohol most Americans eat every day will produce exactly 770 grams (27.1 ounces) of carbon dioxide plus 290 grams (10.2 ounces) of water (about one cup) and about 31 grams (1.1 ounces) of urea and other solids excreted as urine.

An average 75kg (165 pound) person’s resting metabolic rate (the rate at which the body uses energy when the person isn’t moving) produces about 590 grams (21 ounces) of carbon dioxide per day. No pill or potion you can buy will increase that figure, despite the bold claims you might have heard.

The good news is that you exhale 200 grams (7 ounces) of carbon dioxide while you’re fast asleep every night, so you’ve already breathed out a quarter of your daily target before you even step out of bed.

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