When you take steps to change your physique, particularly when that change is losing body fat, people tend to take notice. Beyond congratulating them on the change, have you ever wondered where the body fat has gone?

The surprising answer (for those outside of the health care industry) is we breathe it out. That’s why increasing your heart rate, thereby increasing your respiratory rate, is so effective at burning body fat, in particular burning visceral and subcutaneous fat. These types of fat are stored energy — energy you’ve ingested but not used.

The most simple way to understand the concept is calories in, calories out. Calories in refers to the number of calories — a measurement of energy — you get from the food you eat, while calories out is the number of calories you burn. If your caloric intake is greater than your total daily energy needs, your body will store the excess energy as body fat to use when it needs it.

We tend to think of macronutrients in our diet — fat, protein and carbohydrates — as fuel for our bodies, and that’s true but it’s an oversimplification. No matter what we eat, our food is just unrefined fuel. Think of it like crude oil. If you put crude oil into your car’s gas tank, you’re not going to go far. Lucky for us, our digestive system is not like a car’s gas tank. It’s more like an oil refinery, taking the unrefined energy we’ve eaten, breaking it down, cleaning it up and sending it to our cells for use.

Our cells use a particular kind of fuel called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is to our cells what gasoline is to a car engine. It is our refined fuel. The combustion of the gasoline, ignited by the spark plug after compression by the piston, generates the energy needed for the engine to have power. In our bodies, however, energy is released when chemical processes cause ATP to lose its third phosphate, turning ATP into adenosine diphosphate, or ADP. ADP can be “recharged” with a third phosphate to become ATP again.

Our bodies use a process called cellular respiration to produce ATP from the glucose in our diet or from our stored energy reserves and the oxygen we breathe. That process also produces carbon dioxide and water. Our bodies use the water until it’s lost as either urine or sweat. The carbon dioxide is transferred to our blood, which brings more oxygen for our cells, and our blood then brings the carbon dioxide to our lungs to be exhaled.

That whole process is why aerobic exercise is so good at helping us to burn body fat. When we get our muscles moving, they need more ATP. Our heart and respiration rates increase to provide the ingredients needed to combine with the glucose from our diets or from our body’s stored energy reserves to create ATP and to remove the resulting carbon dioxide.

That cycle is also why it’s possible to lose body fat through dietary lifestyle change. Right now, your body is burning calories because you are alive. Your cells are using energy, just not as fast as they would be if you were mid-exercise. But if exercise isn’t for you, you can still lose body fat by creating a calorie deficit. You do that by eating less calories than your body needs to burn, and that’s best accomplished with nutrient rich, less calorically dense foods. A deficit of 500 calories a day will generally result in the loss of one pound of body fat per week.

It’s important to make sure you’re not starving yourself because your body will actually create and hold onto energy if it thinks it’s starving. That’s why nutrient rich foods are key to dietary weight loss. And so is a conversation with your doctor.

Ultimately, food is fuel. You’ll either use or store its energy. When the energy is used, you’ll breathe a good part of it out. The human body is a truly remarkable machine.

Klark Byrd is the managing editor of The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6960 or klark.byrd@theparisnews.com.

Managing Editor

Klark Byrd is the managing editor of The Paris News and the editor of Paris Life Magazine. He resides in Paris with his wife, Krystle, and their three children, Charlie, Annalise and Willow.

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