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Where Does Fat Actually Go When You Lose Weight?

Knowing where fat goes when you lose weight can help you understand how your body burns fat.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Losing weight is often a complex and challenging journey, but have you ever wondered where fat goes when you lose weight? Despite common misconceptions, fat doesn't simply vanish into thin air. In fact, the process of weight loss involves a fascinating series of biochemical reactions within the body. Knowing where fat goes when you lose weight can help you understand how your body burns fat and why some ways of losing weight work better than others.

How the fat-loss process actually works:

woman holding belly fat

When you eat fewer calories than you burn, your body taps into its fat stores for energy. This triggers a process called lipolysis, where fat cells release their contents into the bloodstream to be used as fuel. These fatty acids travel to tissues like muscles, where they're burned for energy.

But here's the kicker: Fat doesn't magically vanish. Instead, it's converted into water and carbon dioxide, which you breathe out or excrete through sweat and urine. So, when you're shedding those extra pounds, you're actually exhaling a lot of it out!

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When you diet and exercise, where does the fat go?

woman doing treadmill walk

When you diet, your body digs into its fat stash for energy. It breaks down fat into fatty acids and glycerol, which are like little energy packets your body uses to power itself up. These packets get sent into your bloodstream and are gobbled up by cells to keep you moving.

When you exercise, your body kicks fat-burning into high gear, especially when your muscles are craving more energy. Your muscles grab fatty acids and glucose to fuel your workout, making the fat breakdown process faster and more intense than just dieting alone.

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Where do you usually lose fat first?

woman looking in mirror

The pattern of fat loss varies from person to person and is influenced by factors such as genetics, hormone levels, and overall lifestyle. However, a common trend is that fat tends to be lost from areas where it's most readily available, which often means the extremities and face. So, areas like the face, arms, and legs might show initial fat loss before the midsection or other areas where fat tends to be more stubborn. However, there's no fixed rule, and individual experiences can differ.

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Tips to lose body fat:

tools to measure body fat

Losing body fat involves a combination of dietary changes, increased physical activity, and lifestyle adjustments. Here are some tips to help you lose body fat:

1. Create a calorie deficit.

To lose body fat, you need to consume fewer calories than your body burns. This can be achieved by reducing your calorie intake or increasing your physical activity, or both.

2. Watch your portion sizes.

Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overeating. Using smaller plates, measuring portions, and paying attention to hunger cues can help.

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3. Stay hydrated.

Drink plenty of water throughout the day, as thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger.

4. Increase physical activity.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, along with muscle-strengthening exercises on two or more days a week.

5. Include strength training.

Building muscle can help increase your metabolism and improve your body composition. Include exercises that target major muscle groups.

6. Get enough sleep.

Lack of sleep can disrupt hormones that regulate hunger and satiety, leading to increased cravings and overeating. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night.

7. Manage stress.

Chronic stress can lead to overeating or poor food choices. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, or talking to a counselor.

Kristen Carli, MS, RD
Kristen Carli is the owner of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness. Read more about Kristen
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