Breathing faster to lose (more) weight?

Breathing faster to lose (more) weight?

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I understand that when the human body loses weight, the vast majority of that weight is lost as $CO_2$ (and a small bit is lost as water). I expect the predominant way $CO_2$ exits the body is through exhaling.

So, let's take a human with no influx of carbon (they are not eating); I expect such a person is slowly losing weight, a near infinitesimal amount with each breath (correct me if I'm wrong).

If the person breathes faster (more breaths per minute), that causes an increase in the rate at which $CO_2$ is expelled, correct (more mass per minute)? Is this rate expected to decrease, i.e., as one breathes faster, less $CO_2$ is contained in each subsequent breath? Or, does perhaps the body mobilize and oxidize carbon fuels (carbohydrates first and eventually lipids) to generate $CO_2$ in an attempt to restore homeostatic equilibrium?

Could breathing quickly and heavily possibly cause an increase in the $CO_2$ content of exhaled breaths? That is, would voluntary hyperventilation cause an increase in heart rate (and thus increase in carbon catabolism)? How much $CO_2$ is in a typical exhalation during exercise?

I realize that without exercise, the amount of $CO_2$ being lost during normal breathing is nearly negligible. But perhaps laying down and breathing quickly could cause a measurable increase in the net rate at which mass leaves the body. What do you think?

Thank you for your time.

The rate of CO2 production is normally set by the rate of metabolism and breathing rate is determined by the level of CO2 in the blood. What you are suggesting is known as hyperventilation. Because blood CO2 plays an important role in maintaining the pH of the blood, hyperventilation can lead to a dangerous increase in blood pH, referred to as respiratory alkalosis.

Apparently one response to respiratory alkalosis is an increase in metabolic rate as the body tries to compensate for the increased rate of loss of CO2. However, respiratory alkalosis is dangerous so I don't think hyperventilation is a viable strategy for losing weight.

There are two organs which govern pH: the lung and the kidney. If one is having some problem the other steps in to correct it. The body does not like pH to drift far from 7.4.

CO2 gas is blown off or retained by the lungs. More CO2 = more acidic. CO2 is in equilibrium with bicarbonate HCO3-. The kidney handles that. More HCO3- = more alkalinity.

Chronic respiratory acidosis is pretty common - people have bad lungs and they cannot get rid of CO2. If you have acute respiratory acidosis (like a heroin overdose, and you are not breathing enough) it is hard for the kidney to move quick enough to help. But for the chronic form you see the kidney holding on to a lot of HCO3- and not letting it go in the urine, to keep the pH up.

Chronic respiratory alkalosis is unusual but the kidney would do the same thing in reverse: dump bicarbonate to let the pH come down.

So in the short term you can screw up your pH and get rid of a trivial amount of calories but in the long term net CO2 loss will be the same.

A better way to exhale calories as CO2 is to produce more CO2. Your respiratory rate will automatically increase to get rid of it and keep pH normal. A good way to produce more CO2 is to oxidize fat and glucose molecules to produce ATP for your muscles.

Disclaimer: Not a doctor, a biologist, or a scientist.

This TEDx talk by Ruben Meerman explains the process of the mass loss via CO2 via exhaling.

The mathematics of weight loss | Ruben Meerman | TEDxQUT (edited version)

His explanation to increasing CO2 by-product of oxidizing fat was to increase O2 intake by raising your heart rate. This raises your respiration rate.

So increasing your O2 intake is one way. What about increasing your body's oxygen level as measured by an oximeter? And during exercise, does the oxygen level go down? How about during sleep? Would using an oxygen mask during exercise, or during sleep, increase your oxygen levels?

Yes, you lose weight just by breathing

The headline seems too good to be true, but it’s scientific fact, as laid out in the British Medical Journal.

Ruben Meerman and Andrew Brown at the University of New South Wales in Australia calculated just how much. The good news is that each breath carries not just water weight, but actual matter, in the form of carbon atoms, taken right out of your fat cells.

The bad news is, it’s not very much.

Meerman and Brown ran the calculations and found that when 10 kg —22 pounds — of fat are fully broken down in a process called oxidation, 18.5 pounds of it leaves the body as exhaled carbon dioxide and the rest is breathed out as water vapor.

“Our calculations show that the lungs are the primary excretory organ for fat,” they wrote in their report, published in the notoriously lighthearted Christmas issue of the BMJ.

Most people just don’t understand this, they said.

“We encountered widespread misconceptions about how humans lose weight among general practitioners, dietitians, and personal trainers,” they wrote. “Most people believed that fat is converted to energy or heat, which violates the law of conservation of mass.”

In fact, fat breaks down into the elements of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen is the lightest, and combines with oxygen to make water. The three elements make up the basic building blocks of living matter, including carbohydrates and fat.

This actually explains why exercise helps people lose weight. It speeds up breathing. The more breaths you take, the more carbon you lose. And you also lose a little weight just sitting on the couch watching TV, or even while you're asleep.

Unfortunately, general living easily compensates for this loss. And it doesn't alter the depressing fact that one pound of body weight equals 3,200 calories.

“For comparison, a single 100 gram muffin represents about 20 percent of an average person’s total daily energy requirement,” Meerman and Brown wrote.

“Physical activity as a weight loss strategy is, therefore, easily foiled by relatively small quantities of excess food.”

So the advice remains the same, whether you understand the scientific principles or not. “Losing weight requires unlocking the carbon stored in fat cells, thus reinforcing that often heard refrain of ‘eat less, move more’,” they concluded.

Overweight In Your Upper Body Too?

If you’re carrying a lot of excess weight on your chest as well – breathing is very hard work, because in addition to your diaphragm working against your belly, your chest muscles are working to lift the fat on your chest so you can take air in.

This makes breathing, which normal requires hardly any effort, quite difficult.

A whole day of working muscles hard just to breath causes fatigue, as well as belly fat breathing problems.

Majority of weight loss occurs 'via breathing'

Although it is often pushed to the side during the festive rush, during the post-Christmas fallout, weight loss will once more be at the top of many of our agendas. But where does excess weight go when we lose it? The answer provided by a new paper may be a surprise.

Share on Pinterest The lungs are the primary excretory organ in weight loss, according to the researchers.

According to researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia, when weight is lost, the majority of it is breathed out as carbon dioxide. Their paper is published in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

Prof. Andrew Brown and Ruben Meerman reported widespread misconception regarding how weight is lost, finding physicians, dietitians and personal trainers all equally guilty of not knowing. Most believed that fat is converted to energy or heat, “which violates the law of conservation of mass,” they write.

Others believed that fat could be excreted within feces or converted to muscle. These responses may well have provoked gasps from Brown and Meerman, who have now formulated a calculation to illustrate how we actually “lose weight.”

Excess dietary carbohydrates and protein are converted to a type of fat called triglyceride. When people attempt to lose weight, they are attempting to metabolize these triglycerides while keeping their fat-free mass intact, explain the authors.

Triglycerides are comprised of three types of atom: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Triglyceride molecules can be broken down only by unlocking these atoms, through a process known as oxidation.

The researchers chose to follow the path of these atoms when leaving the body. They found that when 10 kg of fat were oxidized, 8.4 kg were converted and excreted as carbon dioxide (CO2) via the lungs, and 1.6 kg became water (H20).

In order for 10 kg of human fat to be oxidized, the researchers calculated that 29 kg of oxygen must be inhaled. Oxidation then produces a total of 28 kg of CO2 and 11 kg of H20.

“None of this biochemistry is new,” say the authors, “but for unknown reasons it seems nobody has thought of performing these calculations before. The quantities make perfect sense but we were surprised by the numbers that popped out.”

The results suggest that the lungs are the main excretory organ for weight loss, with the H20 produced by oxidation departing the body in urine, feces, breath and other bodily fluids.

On average, a person weighing 70 kg will exhale around 200 ml of CO2 in 12 breaths each minute. The authors calculate that each breath contains 33 mg of CO2, with 8.9 mg comprised of carbon. A total of 17,280 breaths during the day will get rid of at least 200 g of carbon, with roughly a third of this weight loss occurring during 8 hours of sleep.

The carbon that is lost through exhalation is only replaced through the consumption of food and beverages such as fruit juice, milk and soft drinks. “Keeping the weight off simply requires that you put less back in by eating than you’ve exhaled by breathing,” state the authors.

The amount of carbon that is lost can be increased with exercise. By substituting 1 hour of rest for 1 hour of moderate exercise such as jogging, the metabolic rate is increased sevenfold, removing an additional 40 g of carbon from the body, increasing the daily total by around 20% to 240 g.

However, this can easily be offset with unhealthy eating. A single 100 g muffin, for example, provides around 20% of an average person’s total daily energy requirement. “Physical activity as a weight loss strategy is, therefore, easily foiled by relatively small quantities of excess food,” write the authors. The solution is a traditional one – “eat less, move more.”

“We recommend these concepts be included in secondary school science curriculums and university biochemistry courses to correct widespread misconceptions about weight loss,” they conclude.

Although the findings of the paper may alter how weight loss is understood, strategies for losing weight should remain unchanged. Eating less and moving more is a surefire way to combat the overindulgences of the festive season.

Earlier this month, a new study in The Journal of Pediatrics reported that two sleep disorders – chronic lack of sleep and sleep-related breathing problems – double the risk of childhood obesity.

Intermittent fasting: Surprising update

There&rsquos a ton of incredibly promising intermittent fasting (IF) research done on fat rats. They lose weight, their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars improve&hellip but they&rsquore rats. Studies in humans, almost across the board, have shown that IF is safe and incredibly effective, but really no more effective than any other diet. In addition, many people find it difficult to fast.

But a growing body of research suggests that the timing of the fast is key, and can make IF a more realistic, sustainable, and effective approach for weight loss, as well as for diabetes prevention.

The backstory on intermittent fasting

IF as a weight loss approach has been around in various forms for ages, but was highly popularized in 2012 by BBC broadcast journalist Dr. Michael Mosley&rsquos TV documentary Eat Fast, Live Longer and book The Fast Diet, followed by journalist Kate Harrison&rsquos book The 5:2 Diet based on her own experience, and subsequently by Dr. Jason Fung&rsquos 2016 bestseller The Obesity Code. IF generated a steady positive buzz as anecdotes of its effectiveness proliferated.

As a lifestyle-leaning research doctor, I needed to understand the science. The Obesity Code seemed the most evidence-based summary resource, and I loved it. Fung successfully combines plenty of research, his clinical experience, and sensible nutrition advice, and also addresses the socioeconomic forces conspiring to make us fat. He is very clear that we should eat more fruits and veggies, fiber, healthy protein, and fats, and avoid sugar, refined grains, processed foods, and for God&rsquos sake, stop snacking. Check, check, check, I agree. The only part that was still questionable in my mind was the intermittent fasting part.

Intermittent fasting can help weight loss

IF makes intuitive sense. The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don&rsquot use it all, we store it in our fat cells as, well, fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there.

Between meals, as long as we don&rsquot snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.

Intermittent fasting can be hard&hellip but maybe it doesn&rsquot have to be

Initial human studies that compared fasting every other day to eating less every day showed that both worked about equally for weight loss, though people struggled with the fasting days. So, I had written off IF as no better or worse than simply eating less, only far more uncomfortable. My advice was to just stick with the sensible, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet.

New research is suggesting that not all IF approaches are the same, and some are actually very reasonable, effective, and sustainable, especially when combined with a nutritious plant-based diet. So I&rsquom prepared to take my lumps on this one (and even revise my prior post).

We have evolved to be in sync with the day/night cycle, i.e., a circadian rhythm. Our metabolism has adapted to daytime food, nighttime sleep. Nighttime eating is well associated with a higher risk of obesity, as well as diabetes.

Based on this, researchers from the University of Alabama conducted a study with a small group of obese men with prediabetes. They compared a form of intermittent fasting called "early time-restricted feeding," where all meals were fit into an early eight-hour period of the day (7 am to 3 pm),or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 am and 7 pm). Both groups maintained their weight (did not gain or lose) but after five weeks, the eight-hours group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. The best part? The eight-hours group also had significantly decreased appetite. They weren&rsquot starving.

Just changing the timing of meals, by eating earlier in the day and extending the overnight fast, significantly benefited metabolism even in people who didn&rsquot lose a single pound.

Why might changing timing help?

But why does simply changing the timing of our meals to allow for fasting make a difference in our body? An in-depth review of the science of IF recently published in New England Journal of Medicine sheds some light. Fasting is evolutionarily embedded within our physiology, triggering several essential cellular functions. Flipping the switch from a fed to fasting state does more than help us burn calories and lose weight. The researchers combed through dozens of animal and human studies to explain how simple fasting improves metabolism, lowering blood sugar lessens inflammation, which improves a range of health issues from arthritic pain to asthma and even helps clear out toxins and damaged cells, which lowers risk for cancer and enhances brain function. The article is deep, but worth a read!

So, is intermittent fasting as good as it sounds?

I was very curious about this, so I asked the opinion of metabolic expert Dr. Deborah Wexler, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Here is what she told me. "There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective," she confirmed, though generally she recommends that people "use an eating approach that works for them and is sustainable to them."

So, here&rsquos the deal. There is some good scientific evidence suggesting that circadian rhythm fasting, when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, can be a particularly effective approach to weight loss, especially for people at risk for diabetes. (However, people with advanced diabetes or who are on medications for diabetes, people with a history of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not attempt intermittent fasting unless under the close supervision of a physician who can monitor them.)

4 ways to use this information for better health

  1. Avoid sugars and refined grains. Instead, eat fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats (a sensible, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet).
  2. Let your body burn fat between meals. Don&rsquot snack. Be active throughout your day. Build muscle tone.
  3. Consider a simple form of intermittent fasting. Limit the hours of the day when you eat, and for best effect, make it earlier in the day (between 7 am to 3 pm, or even 10 am to 6 pm, but definitely not in the evening before bed).
  4. Avoid snacking or eating at nighttime, all the time.


Effects of intermittent fasting on health, aging, and disease. de Cabo R, Mattonson MP. New England Journal of Medicine, December 2019.

Obstructive sleep apnea can cause you to stop breathing for at least 10 seconds at a time, dozens or even hundreds of times per night. The breathing difficulties you experience during sleep may make you very tired during the day, but you may not wake up fully during the night to notice that you are not breathing properly. One risk factor for sleep apnea is being overweight, especially if you tend to carry your extra weight in your abdomen.

In some cases, shortness of breath can be caused by cardiovascular diseases. If you do not have enough oxygen in your blood due to heart disease, you may feel as though you are not getting enough air and may gasp for breath or feel as though you have to take many deep breaths to compensate. Obesity places you at risk for heart disease, hypertension and high cholesterol, all of which take a toll on the heart and can lead to breathing difficulties.

Can exercise cause any problems with the lungs?

People who follow high-intensity training regimes, or who regularly train in certain environments, may be at risk of developing exercise-induced asthma, or a condition known as bronchial hyperresponsiveness in which the airways become blocked after exercise. If take bronchodilators, you should normally take these 10 minutes before you exercise to prevent exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Your doctor can give you advice on this.

Scientists believe this is caused by harmful substances in the environment in which they are training, such as chlorine in a swimming pool, or cold dry air on a ski slope. Endurance athletes have the potential to inhale more harmful substances into their lungs, as they are exposed to these conditions for longer periods of time. Our factsheet, 𠆊sthma in elite athletes’, provides more information on this.

Boost Fat Metabolism with this Breathing Technique

Most people think we lose weight by converting body fat into energy, creating heat, and by sweating off the pounds during vigorous workouts, but the way the body actually rids itself of fat may surprise you.

In a study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers investigated where the fat goes when one loses weight and, as it turns out, we don’t burn it off—we breathe it out!

The study found that fats are broken down into CO2 (carbon dioxide), and we literally breathe it out.

For example, 22 pounds of broken-down fat converts into 18.5 pounds of carbon dioxide and 3.5 pounds of water. We remove this water through sweat, tears, or urine and, quite naturally, breathe off the CO2.

So, it’s actually accurate to say that the fat you burned and weight you lost actually vanished into thin air!

How it Works

When we gain weight, the extra calories we ingest from overeating are converted into triglyceride fats and stored in fatty lipid droplets within your fat cells. Triglycerides are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. In order to lose the weight and burn the fat, we need the energy to break the triglycerides down to release the carbon. The result of this breakdown is carbon dioxide—which we breathe out—and water.

For example, to break down 22 pounds of fat, we need to inhale 64 pounds of oxygen and burn some 94,000 calories. This reaction produces 62 pounds of CO2 body mass that are breathed away and 24 pounds of water.

On average, we breathe 12 times a minute when we are at rest. We breathe around 17,000 breaths per day, during which we breathe off about 10 milligrams of fat with each breath. That is not a lot, but it does add up.

For example, a standard herbal capsule contains roughly 500 milligrams of an herb, so for you to burn the weight of one herbal capsule, you need to breathe 50 times or for about 3 minutes. (1)

Exercise Helps

During exercise, the efficiency of breathing off the fat increases metabolic activity seven-fold—which increases the CO2 breathed away as fat by 20%.

If you engage in 1 hour of exercise, you will breathe away 240 grams of fat (carbon) compared to 203 grams if you were to remain sedentary. (1)

Eating a muffin, however, can add about 100 grams of carbon-based body mass, which makes up about 20% of the normal caloric intake. Adding a 1-hour workout to your day would not burn off the potential fat stored from the muffin, making exercise an inefficient means of burning fat.

The conclusion of this study suggests that weight loss is based on two factors: eating less and moving the body more. (1)

But wait… What if we breathed more efficiently and used all five lobes of our lungs, instead of just the upper two?!

Proper Breathing During Exercise Pays Off

The average amount of air that is inspired or expired during in one breath is about 500 milliliters of air. This is called tidal volume. The inspiratory reserve volume, which is the extra amount of air that could be inhaled if the breathing was maximal, is about 3000 milliliters. Adding this to the tidal volume (500 milliliters) equals an inspiratory capacity of 3500 milliliters, which is at least six times the amount most people inhale. (2) Breathing to one’s full respiratory capacity (3500 milliliters) could potentially support the exhalation of CO2 or fat-burning six-fold.

Theoretically, this could boost the amount of fat loss from the weight of one herbal capsule to six in just 3 minutes—that is more than the weight of five bottles of herbal capsules in a day.

If you exercise and eat right, it really does start to add up!

To access full respiratory capacity (all five lobes of the lungs), breathing must be maximally efficient, and this can only happen when we use the body’s primary breathing apparatus—the nose.

We Recommend

As infants, humans are considered obligate nose breathers and, thus, are obligated to breathe through the nose rather than the mouth. (4) Nose breathing drives air through the turbinates in the nose, which act like small turbines to drive a smaller stream of air into the lower lobes of the lungs. The lower lobes of the lungs are where the predominant amount of blood rich alveoli reside for oxygen and CO2 exchange. (2,4,5)

Learning how to exercise while breathing through the nose takes about three weeks of nose breathing training. Once you establish respiratory efficiency through nose breathing, the benefits are truly striking.

Many years ago, for my first book, Body, Mind, and Sport, we conducted a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience on nose breathing versus mouth breathing. These were the benefits we found: (4,5)

Weight Loss Science

When we think about losing weight, the assumption is we’ll be losing fat, but weight loss is more complicated than that, because not all weight loss is necessarily fat loss. When we reduce calories, our bodies don’t exclusively turn to burning excess fat for fuel. So at iDiet, we prefer to focus on the question “how much fat can I lose?” rather than the question “how much weight can I lose?”. We optimize for fat loss.

In an ideal world, the body would only burn fat, we’d lose belly fat first, and it would be easy to look like a fitness model. But that’s unfortunately not the case. Let’s look at weight loss from a scientific perspective to better understand how to be successful.

When you begin a diet and reduce your calories, the body can burn fat, but it can also burn lean muscle tissue if you get too hungry. This is a cruel trick of nature, and one of the reasons that crash dieters tend to regain their weight. As we saw earlier, if you crash-diet away your lean muscle mass, your metabolic rate will slow. The iDiet is careful to avoid this problem, but you should be suspicious of any fad diet that promises extreme weight loss or near-overnight results — it’s likely stealing from your future for the illusion of results in the present. Since one reason for losing weight is to improve your future health, we should go about weight loss in the healthiest and most sustainable ways we can.

So back to the original question of fat loss. Let’s take a look at all the reasons the scale might show a lower value when you begin a diet. We’ll discuss each one in turn, as well as how to optimize the process.

Higher Basal Metabolism

Your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the number of calories you burn maintaining the operations of your body over the course of the day while at rest. Even when you are inactive, your body burns calories running your brain, lungs, heart, kidneys and other organs, and it also uses energy repairing and replacing cells and tissues. Bigger bodies have higher maintenance costs. The more you weigh the more calories you burn, even when you are inactive. A 5-foot, 8-inch tall, 40-year-old female who weighs 150 pounds has a BMR of 1,433 calories, estimates the calorie calculator on MyPlate. Her 250-pound counterpart has a BMR of 1,863 calories, a 430-calorie difference. If they were both placed on the same calorie-restricted diet, the heavier woman would have a greater calorie deficit between what she ate and what she needed to maintain her weight. The heavier woman could lose as much as 1 pound more every eight days because of her greater metabolism.