Now that the holidays are finito, we’re determined to rid ourselves of the pesky five pounds we picked up from overindulging. (I still argue that the chocolate made me do it, but whatev.) And while we’re all pumped to burn fat and get back to our regularly scheduled programming, do we really know what happens to it once we lose it?
If your answer’s a big eff no, don’t feel bad: Even most health professionals don’t know what happens after we burn fat, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal. The most common misconception is that the missing weight has been “burned” into energy or heat – but this is not the case at all.
Research conducted by a team at UNSW Science in Sydney, Australia, calculated exactly what happens to fat when we shed the extra poundage. They discovered that the pounds we shed aren’t converted or “burned” –but rather, we breathe them out. “Most of the mass is breathed out as carbon dioxide,” lead author and physicist Ruben Meerman said in a statement. “It goes into thin air.”
Thin air, HA. (I know, I know: I’m lame.)
Meerman first became interested in the biochemistry of weight loss when he personally lost weight and was surprised by the fact that not one doctor could tell him where this weight went. He then surveyed 150 doctors, dieticians and personal trainers, only to discover that over half thought fat was converted into heat or energy. As a physicist, Meerman knew this couldn’t be true, so he partnered with Andrew Brown, head of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences to solve the puzzle.
To create a play-by-play of how fat leaves the body, they traced every atom’s pathway out of the body, then created a formula that revealed 80 percent of fat leaves the body through the lungs – the fat is released through the carbon dioxide in your breath – and the other 20 percent is released through water in the form of sweat, urine, tears and other bodily fluids.
Unfortunately (for me, anyway), this doesn’t mean the simple act of breathing will help us lose weight – we still need to do the whole exercise thing to burn fat. We put on weight when excess carbs and protein are converted into triglycerides (which are compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) and stored in lipid droplets inside fat cells. In order to burn fat, you have to essentially unlock the triglycerides to access the carbon, and exercise is your key.
Regardless of this snazzy new knowledge though, burning calories sounds way more badass than breathing them, amiright? As far as I’m concerned, whatever gets you through that yoga session in one piece.
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Image: Joel Nilsson Nelson