What This Breathing Expert Wants You To Know About Breathwork & Weight Loss
The benefits of breathwork truly abound: The practice is associated with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reduced blood pressure, enhanced focus, and it has even been shown to help ease chronic pain—and that's only a few highlights on its impressive resume. Plus, it's free, easy to learn, and accessible (we all inhale/exhale, after all).
We can gush about breathwork all day long, but here's something you may not know about the simple practice: Your breathing may actually affect your weight loss. As Tanya G.K. Bentley, Ph.D., breathing expert and co-founder and CEO of the Health and Human Performance Foundation, mentions on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, the connection between breath and weight loss is very much real—so can we add it to the growing list of breathwork benefits?
Below, Bentley breaks down what you need to know.
How you really "lose weight."
Think about it for a moment: With respect to the law of conservation of mass (read: Mass is neither created nor destroyed), how does one really "lose" weight? Well, says Bentley, you may breathe it out: She cites a study conducted by Ruben Meerman, Ph.D., in Australia, who claims the way we think about weight loss is all wrong—fat is not converted into energy or muscle, nor is it excreted in the feces. Rather, "the lungs are the primary excretory organ for fat," the report reads. (Meerman also has a TED Talk on the topic, in case you're curious.)
According to Meerman's calculations, fat actually becomes excreted as carbon dioxide when you breathe out. When you lose weight, you're "unlocking these trapped carbon cells that are in the fat," says Bentley. "And when that gets released, that is how the weight loss actually happens... It's released by breathing it out."
For example, in the study, Meerman and his team found that when somebody loses 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of fat, it goes through this oxidation process—and in the end, 8.4 kilograms (18.5 pounds) of it is exhaled as carbon dioxide, the remaining 1.6 kilograms breathed out as water vapor.
Where breathwork comes into play.
We should note that this oxidation process happens only when you're losing the actual weight—you can't expect to level up your breathing and instantly drop pounds. Movement and diet are still important for weight loss; that weight lost is just released through your breath, which is pretty fascinating.
As Bentley explains, "Movement, exercise, and diet, they help release the carbon dioxide from those fat cells, which helps change the whole structure of those cells and helps with weight loss," says Bentley.
But if you do eventually breathe out the fat once it's transformed into carbon dioxide, a proper breathwork practice doesn't hurt. We still don't know if breathwork itself helps speed the process along (there's no data yet to support this claim), but we do know that slow, deep breathing can engage the diaphragm and help the body take in more oxygen. If that uptick in oxygen, coupled with traditional weight loss methods—like movement and diet—contributes to the oxidation process in the fat cells, well, it's too early to say for sure.
So if you are trying to shed stubborn weight, perhaps add in some box or belly breathing to your exercise regimen: Breathwork has tons of other benefits for well-being, anyway, and who knows—you might support your fat cells' oxidation process, too.
The science behind weight loss is worth looking into: As Bentley shares, losing weight actually unlocks trapped carbon cells in the fat, which ultimately gets released as you breathe out. Of course, Meerman's report is only one study, and much more research is necessary, but it does make you think about what really happens to "lost" weight and whether intentional breathing practices can help speed the process along.
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