Ever wonder where your body fat goes when you lose weight?
The most common answers I hear are sweat, urine, and 💩.
Sweat might be the closest answer to having some validity, as one of the byproducts of burning body fat is water, however it’s a small amount.
Actually when you burn body fat most of what is left behind is carbon dioxide.
Where does that carbon dioxide go?
We breathe it out.
Yup we are essentially breathing out our body fat! Crazy I know!
If you want to learn the science behind how this happens in only 5 minutes check out Dr. Andy Galpin’s video on the physiology of fat loss.
So if the result of losing fat is carbon dioxide and we breathe that out, is there something we can do to enhance our breathing to upregulate the amount of fat we burn and lose more body fat?
Maybe. (I know that is disappointing.)
Perhaps the biggest effect on both fat gain and the way we breathe is stress. Our breathing rate often correlates with the amount of stress we are under. The more stress we are under the faster our breathing rate, the calmer we are the slower our breathing rate.
When we take short shallow breaths through our mouth, either because we have developed poor breathing patterns or because we just finished a set of sprints, we are under an increased amount of stress. The difference is that sprints last for a very short period of time and once that is over we relax, calm down, and our breath returns to normal. Poor breathing patterns on the other hand are a constant everyday signal to our body that we are under stress. Chronic stress is not good.
What is one way people deal with stress? They seek comfort in food, and that usually is not vegetables, fruit, and protein, its cakes, cookies, chips, donuts, and alcohol. In other words processed foods, and we know that consuming processed foods are much more likely to lead to weight gain.
The solution to make sure your breathing is not adding unneeded stress to your life is to breathe through your nose and make sure you are taking full deep breaths, for most of your day and night (including while you are sleeping).
The first step to nasal breathing most of your day is to be aware of how you are currently breathing. Much of the way we breathe is unconscious, we don’t consciously take a breath, so we often don’t pay attention to it. It is interesting to note how you are breathing throughout your 24 hours.
How do you breathe when you are working at your computer?
Email apnea, meaning you stop breathing as you work, is a real thing.
How do you breathe when you walk?
You should be able to breathe through your nose while you walk!
How do you breathe when you exercise?
Outside of intense exercise, you should be able to breathe nasally.
How do you breathe when you sleep?
Hard to tell I know, but you can look for clues. Do you snore? Do you wake up with a dry mouth? Do you urinate frequently at night?
Like any change, don’t expect to make the switch from constant mouth breathing to nasal breathing overnight. Add some awareness to your breathing and start making small changes. For example, first tackle your breathing habits while you walk. Set the intention that when you walk you will only breathe through your nose. Once you get that down, tackle another part of your life.
Better is better, don’t strive for perfection.
Stress aside, what else could our breathing impact when it comes to weight gain?
Mouth breathing not only sends a signal of stress to our body but it also has the side effect of altering the acidity of our body. When we breathe through our mouths, we tend to have a much more frequent breathing rate resulting in exhaling more carbon dioxide (remember that is the byproduct of fat loss) than we would if we breathed through our nose.
Carbon dioxide is acidic, remove too much of it and our body seeks ways to rebalance the acidity of our body. One way to do that is to eat acidic foods. What foods are acidic? Processed foods! Here we are again, back to processed foods.
The reason for mouth breathing could also be caused by our diet. Too many processed foods will raise the body’s acidity levels causing us to breathe through our mouths in order to lower the acidity back to a normal by removing carbon dioxide from the body.
As you can see there is a vicious negative feedback loop at play here where mouth breathing lowers acidity too much causing us to eat processed foods and which in turn raises the acidity to a level where we need to breathe through our mouths to lower the acidity back down again.
The way to break the cycle is to:
- Eat whole natural foods
- Breath nasally and deeply nearly all the time
The final way our breathing can impact our fat is via sleep. I mentioned this above in passing when talking about being aware about how you are breathing, but it’s important enough to state explicitly again. If you are breathing through your mouth while sleeping or if you stop breathing all together while you are sleeping (sleep apnea) then you are sending stress signals to your body causing you to get subpar sleep. When sleep is compromised we are much more likely to consume highly processed food to help sustain the energy we need throughout the day.
Would I say that by changing your breathing alone that you are going to reach your goal weight?
No, not at all.
As we can see, the way we breathe has an impact on other lifestyle factors that then can impact our desire to consume or not consume foods that may cause us to over consume calories and gain weight. Breathing impacts our stress, our body’s acidity levels, and our sleep. When any of these are affected in a negative way the chances of consuming highly processed calorically dense foods goes up causing us to over consume calories and gain body fat.
On the other hand, proper breathing mechanics and deep nasal breathing, can cause us to feel less stressed, balance the body’s acidity, and get a better night’s sleep, leading to better food choices and an optimal body composition. You could also make an argument that when we are less stressed and have a better nights sleep it improves your workouts and provides you with energy to be active throughout your day, again helping you reach your optimal body composition.
Poor breathing mechanics is just another ancestral mismatch that we have developed through modern influences on our lives. As we see time and time again correcting the ancestral mismatch may take more effort in today’s world but when we address it, we see positive impacts on our health. To learn more about how to correct ancestral mismatches and overcome your greatest obstacles sign up for my weekly newsletter below. Each week you will get a few emails with actionable information you can put to use right away to make progress towards your health, wellness, and performance goals.