The Whoosh Effect: Deceptive Standstill When Losing Weight?
The whoosh effect explains why weight loss often doesn’t show up on the scales until (much) later. Are you on a diet, exercising, and nothing is happening on the scales? Maybe you need a whoosh.
If you look up at the sky on a clear night, and it’s pitch black, you’ll see our Milky Way twinkle: a sea of countless stars, farther away than we can imagine.
The fascinating thing is that the picture of the starry sky you see now is millions or even billions of years old because the light reaches our planet with a delay.
The situation is similar when losing weight because that too is often concealed by (supposed) standing still on the scales.
The whoosh effect has helped many people lose weight.
Because they only focus on their weight, they think they are not moving. It’s time for a different perspective.
At this point, you are probably wondering.
What is the whoosh effect, and how does it affect fat loss?
As far as I know, American fitness author Lyle McDonald formulated the Whoosh Effect hypothesis in an article titled Of Whooshes and Squishy Fat.
Lyle McDonald is considered the “discoverer” of the Whoosh hypothesis.
In his article, he writes the following:
During my studies, one of my professors hypothesized that after fat cells shed stored triglycerides, they temporarily replenish themselves with water (glycerol binds water, which may be part of the mechanism).
Thus, there would be no immediate change in these fat cells’ size, weight, or appearance.
Then, the water would escape after some time, and the cells would shrink.
Taking this hypothesis further, one might assume that the fat loss would suddenly become “obvious.”
The fat has already been emptied and burned days or weeks ago, but until the water is drained from the cells, no change is visible outside.
In recent years, I have not only been able to observe this effect on my own body but also with our clients in coaching.
Lyle also writes that he searched for scientific studies to support the facts for a good two decades.
However, he could not find an explanation.
I like his frankness.
And I like his hypothesis because it explains what we often see in fat loss.
What if you are in a calorie deficit, exercise regularly, and still do not lose weight?
Maybe you HAVE already lost fat, but nothing is happening on the scales.
Because the body stores water instead, which is only released with a time delay.
After enough fat has been replaced with water — and the fat cell isn’t refilled with fat — it finally releases the water.
Ultimately this means:
If nothing happens when you lose weight for a few days, maybe even a week, you can continue to be patient.
You may have lost fat. But you would only measure the difference by the weight as soon as the cells release the water.
Lyle McDonald suspects that fat cells that have been emptied tend to maintain their size after the fat has been emptied initially.
Therefore, they fill up the free capacity with water.
So it would be a question of efficiency:
The fat cells could easily become “fat” again when there is an energy surplus.
The basic idea is correct: Your body primarily has your survival in mind. And that includes being able to store excess calories as easily as possible.
Your body doesn’t understand that you’re working on the “Favorite Pants” or “Sexy Bathing Suits” project.
He doesn’t understand that fat storage would torpedo your beach body plans. (So be nice to him.)
Speaking of which, how about swimwear inspired by the good old ’80s?
More style is not possible!
Back to the Whoosh Effect model: the fat cells store water until it seems likely that you will keep the lower fat percentage for a longer period.
The exciting question is, is this all true?
Does the Whoosh Effect Exist?
The whoosh effect is cited repeatedly in the fitness scene, recently also in the context of the ketogenic diet. But does it exist?
In my research, I could only find a single study from 2003 in which 27 obese men and women lost about 14.5% of their body weight in 9 weeks.
In this study, the researchers conclude that the subjects may have retained water in their fat cells at the end of this period.
They followed the men and women for another year and found no change – no “whoosh” either, which contradicts the hypothesis.
The whoosh hypothesis is probably a fallacy.
Suppose there is still no reliable evidence for the (undoubtedly fascinating) Whoosh effect.
In that case, the principle of “Ockham’s razor” usually provides the most reliable explanation: “Of several possible explanations for a phenomenon, the preferable simplest to all others.”
Nevertheless, the observed effect, the “whoosh,” is not imaginary.
The simplest (and also verifiable) explanation for sudden weight loss has to do with the fact that your scale doesn’t just measure fat:
- Fiber: If you eat a high-fiber diet and eat lots of vegetables and fruit — which is always a good idea when trying to lose weight — then it can take 1-2 days for the fiber to leave your body naturally and end up in the toilet.
Fiber also binds water. That alone can add up to 1-2 kilos on the scales.
- Water: When you eat something salty, your body retains more water.
If you eat less salt than usual, it releases the water. You can see that on the scales too.
More or less water is also stored in the course of the female menstrual cycle.
Natural fluctuations in the water balance can also feel like kilos on the scales.
- Dehydration: Alcohol dehydrates. Sweating dehydrates. Drinking too little dehydrates.
Paradoxically, the body often reacts with water retention when you don’t drink enough. So he holds on to the water when there isn’t enough.
So you should drink enough water while losing weight.
Because this reduces water retention – and with it, the weight on the scales.
On the scale, water retention can mask fat loss.
This is nothing new.
If you want to lose weight, you usually change a few things at once – change your diet, do strength and/or endurance sports.
All of this has measurable effects on the water balance in the body.
If you don’t see any weight loss progress in 7 days, keep at it.
It’s pretty possible that fat loss is being masked by water, fiber, and/or hormonal factors.
If you want to lose weight, weighing every day can make sense.
You should give the natural fluctuations on the scales the correct meaning – a few kilos more or less from one day to the next.
It is NEVER body fat if you gain (or lose) a pound overnight.
How do you trigger the “whoosh effect” (or separate yourself from water retention)?
Even if the “whoosh effect” is more of a myth, the question is justified: Can you do something about water retention – and if so, what?
In most cases, I recommend my clients to let the body do its work and practice patience.
The weight fluctuates from day to day. That is normal.
Drain for competition or photo shoot?
If you already have a low body fat percentage, you can gain additional definition through targeted dehydration – for example, in preparation for a competition or a photo shoot.
However, such targeted competition drainage is no easy feat because you provoke a lack of water.
It requires planning, takes about five days, and the result lasts 1-2 days.
Read more: Drain body in 5 days to the best form.
You probably don’t want to create a lack of water, but rather ask yourself how you can persuade your body to let go of excess water.
“Just” get rid of excess water retention?
If you don’t drink enough water, your body stores it. This can easily be reversed:
To empty your water stores, you need to drink enough water.
In most cases, “enough” means 2-3 liters of water a day if you sweat a lot more.
Of course, there are other causes of water retention.
Chronic stress or the female cycle, for example. In the former case, stress reduction exercises help.
In the latter, a few days of patience are the best advice.
Suppose you start training again after a long break or generally start training.
In that case, you can expect water retention for a while, which will make itself felt on the scales and regulate itself automatically over time.
You could also use natural dehydrating agents like asparagus, nettle, and dandelion extract.
But perhaps the best recommendation is at this point:
It’s not a good idea to ONLY track weight.
If you want to lose weight and not drive yourself crazy, you should rather track your physique.
How to measure weight loss progress without driving yourself crazy
As we have already established, the scale only gives you half the truth.
In addition to your weight, you should calculate your body fat percentage.
We recommend most of our clients measure the skin folds using calipers.
Even if your body is supposed to store water, you only measure the changes in the subcutaneous fatty tissue.
If you want, you can also measure your body circumference, but this is optional when losing weight in most cases.
In a nutshell, that means:
- Measure weight. Weighing every day is a good idea, but you shouldn’t give too much importance to the daily measurements: only the lowest value of each week counts.
- Measure body fat percentage. Once a week. Not with the scale, but with the caliper, as described here.
- Measure waist circumference (optional). Once a week. If you don’t get along with the calipers, you can track the waist circumference with a simple tailor’s tape measure. (See also measuring body circumference tutorial).
The following applies: If you measure correctly, follow the recommendations in the linked articles and compare the measured values once a week with those of the previous week.
You will get a very accurate picture of your progress.
If nothing happens for two weeks, you can change something.
Otherwise, you stay relaxed.
The Whoosh Effect – Conclusion
The whoosh effect is fascinating — and in practice, it helps explain why the body doesn’t work like a machine when it comes to losing weight.
Sometimes nothing happens on the scales for a few days before “Whoosh!” continues.
The water-storing fat cell model is unproven and wrong. But the effect we often see when losing weight is real.
Because water retention often hides the actual fat loss if you only look at the weight.
The most crucial point that you can take with you to lose weight is:
Maybe you just haven’t realized that you are indeed losing fat.
If nutrition is on track when you exercise, then what you’re doing may be working.
Without measuring the body fat percentage (keyword “caliper”) over 1-2 weeks, you will not be able to make a clear statement.
You have to be patient in many cases until the results are visible.
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