Updated: Mar 11
The average person takes about 20,000 breaths a day, but most of us are doing it all wrong. This very simple mistake could be hindering your fat loss.
In part one of my fat loss series, I discussed how hormones impact fat loss and the importance of balancing your hormones to control your weight. Today, I want to focus on another major player in fat loss: breathing.
Breath is the anchor for all systems in the body, so how well our body takes in oxygen and how often we breathe impacts our health on every level. From how well we sleep to our stress response and even our metabolism, breath is a powerful and often overlooked tool for optimizing health.
Mistaking your breath taking
In our modern world, we have a tendency to hold our breath as we power through our stress-filled lives. We often don’t take the time we need to relax, and we put ourselves on the verge of hyperventilation. When we do breathe, we breathe improperly, through our mouth, which creates a myriad of health issues. In fact, researchers at Stanford found that mouth breathing can create mental problems, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, weight retention, and suppress our immune system.
To better understand how breathing helps from a fat loss perspective, it's important to understand what exactly fat is.
What is fat?
In part one I discussed how fat is a dynamic endocrine organ from a physiological perspective in order to showcase the importance of balancing your hormones to enable fat loss.
Today, I want to focus on fat from a structural perspective.
Fat (adipose tissue) is stored in the body's fat cells (adipocytes) as compounds called triglycerides. Structurally, triglycerides are made up of a combination of three (tri) fatty acids (the building blocks of fat): carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
You likely recognize these elements and the compounds in which they form: carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).
What exactly does this mean?
Allow me to explain...
Don't wait to exhale
This surprises just about everyone, but almost everything we eat is dispersed via our lungs as CO2. Every carbohydrate we digest and nearly all fats are converted into carbon dioxide and expelled with our every exhale. The remnants that are not dispersed as CO2 are converted into water and dispersed via our sweat, tears, urine, and feces.
The vast majority of fat we lose is expelled through our breath
To put this into perspective, if you were to lose 22 pounds of fat, roughly 18 of those pounds would be expired through your lungs as carbon dioxide. The remaining 4 pounds would convert into water within your body and be eliminated as urine, feces, sweat, or tears. In other words, roughly 80% of the fat we lose is exhaled!
This goes to show the importance of breathing. Breath work and relaxation techniques have been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and are some of the most effective ways to achieve healthy fat loss. This is because proper breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system which reduces cortisol levels and puts your body in a state of rest and digest.
While shallow, upper chest mouth breathing is part of the typical stress response, with awareness, we can train ourselves to breathe properly and more frequently. Nasal breathing helps to control the nervous system and encourages the body to relax, bringing about a range of health benefits.
Here are a few ways you can train yourself to breathe properly:
Mindfulness. Be aware of how you breathe throughout your day and practice inhaling solely through your nose. If you are having trouble keeping it top of mind, you can look into mouth tape to place over your mouth at practical times throughout your day or even at night as you sleep.
Belly breathing. Schedule time outs throughout your day to practice an abdominal, or belly breathing technique. One way to do this is to inhale deeply through your nose (with your mouth closed), while simultaneously allowing your stomach to push outward. Then, gently contract your stomach muscles and purse your lips as you slowly exhale through your mouth.
Senobi. Try this popular Japanese style of deep breathing. To perform this technique, you will want to be in a standing position and slowly lean backward, stretching your arms overhead and inhaling through your nose for several seconds. As you slowly exhale, lower your arms back down to your sides.
Yoga. Yoga can be practiced on your own or with a guided instructor. Studies have shown that focusing on various physical poses, conscious breath work, and mindfulness techniques, is the most commonly used nondietary or supplement complementary and alternative therapy for weight loss.
In clinical trials, yoga improved a number of obesity-related outcomes including BMI, body weight, body fat, and waist circumference.
The bottom line to fat loss
When you are not meeting your body's vital needs, your body will alert you in various ways. But by simply paying attention to your body’s signals, balancing your hormones, getting sound rest and relaxation, and breathing deeply, you can literally breathe your fat away!
Check out more ways to relax and naturally stimulate your vagus nerve
Hamasaki, H. (2020). Effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Health: A Narrative Review. Medicines (Basel, Switzerland), 7(10), 65. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicines7100065
Ehrlich, P. (2018). Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich on the problems of the modern jaw
Sato, K., Kawamura, T., & Yamagiwa, S. (2010). The "Senobi" breathing exercise is recommended as first line treatment for obesity. Biomedical research (Tokyo, Japan), 31(4), 259–262. https://doi.org/10.2220/biomedres.31.259