Slimming: Where does the fat go when you lose weight?

Obesity and overweight are one of the main public health problems in the world. Many people are looking to lose weight. Yet, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the fat loss process. Here’s how and what happens to fat when you lose weight.

How Fat Loss Works

Excess energy consumed, usually calories from fat or carbohydrates, is stored in fat cells as triglycerides. This is how your body conserves energy for future needs. Over time, this excess energy translates into excess fat, which can affect your body shape and health.

To promote weight loss, you must consume fewer calories than you burn. This is called a calorie deficit. Although it varies from person to person, a daily deficit of 500 calories is a good starting point for seeing noticeable fat loss.

By maintaining a constant calorie deficit, fat is released from fat cells and transported to your body’s cell energy-producing machinery called the mitochondria. Here fat is broken down through a series of processes to produce energy. If the calorie deficit continues, your body’s fat stores will continue to be used for energy, resulting in a reduction in body fat.

Diet and exercise are key

The two main factors promoting fat loss are diet and exercise. A sufficient caloric deficit leads to the release of fat from fat cells and its use as energy. Physical exercise amplifies this process. It increases blood flow to muscles and fat cells. It releases fat faster for use as energy in muscle cells and increases energy expenditure.

To promote weight loss, a minimum of 150-250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is recommended, or about 30-50 minutes of exercise 5 days per week. For maximum benefit, your exercises should be a combination of resistance training to maintain or increase muscle mass and aerobic exercise to increase calorie expenditure. The most common resistance exercises include weight lifting, bodyweight exercises, while examples of aerobic exercises are running or cycling.

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When caloric restriction and a nutrient-dense diet are combined with an appropriate exercise regimen, fat loss is more likely to occur, as opposed to using diet or exercise alone.

Where does the fat go?

As the fat loss process progresses, fat cells drastically decrease in size, leading to visible changes in body composition.

When body fat is converted into energy through complex processes within cells, two major by-products are released: carbon dioxide and water. Carbon dioxide is exhaled during respiration, and water is eliminated through urine, sweat or exhaled air. The elimination of these by-products is very high during physical exercise due to increased breathing and sweating.

Where do you lose fat first?

In general, people want to lose weight in the stomach, hips, thighs and buttocks.

Although spot reduction, or losing weight in a particular area, has not been shown to be effective, some people tend to lose weight in these areas faster than others. That said, genetics and lifestyle factors play an important role in body fat distribution.

Why is it so difficult to lose weight?

When you eat more than your body can burn, fat cells increase in both size and number. When you lose fat, those same cells can shrink, although their numbers stay about the same. So the main reason for changes in body shape is a reduction in the size – not the number – of fat cells.

It also means that when you lose weight, the fat cells remain present, and if efforts are not made to maintain the weight loss, they can easily re-bulk. Some studies suggest this could be one reason why it’s so difficult for many people to maintain weight loss.

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How quickly can you start losing weight?

Depending on how much weight you want to lose, the duration of your weight loss treatment can vary considerably. Rapid weight loss has been associated with several negative side effects, such as micronutrient deficiency, headaches, fatigue, muscle loss, and menstrual irregularities.
This is why many advocate slow and gradual weight loss, because then it is more sustainable and can prevent weight regain.
That said, if you have a significant amount of fat to lose, a faster approach may be warranted, while a gradual approach may be more appropriate for those with less fat to lose.

The expected rate of weight loss varies depending on the aggressiveness of the weight loss program.

For people who are overweight or obese, weight loss of 5-10% of their starting weight in the first six months may be possible with a comprehensive lifestyle intervention, including diet, physical activity and behavioral techniques.

Other factors influence weight loss, such as gender, age, extent of caloric deficit and quality of sleep.
Once you have reached your desired weight, your calorie intake can be adjusted to maintain your weight. Remember the importance of continuing to exercise regularly and eating a balanced, nutritious diet to prevent weight gain and promote overall health.


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