The whoosh effect is a term used by some people who adopt a ketogenic diet to describe the weight loss that seems to occur suddenly. This article explores what the “whoosh effect” is, what science suggests it is, and is this effect real and how to make it happen.
What Is the Whoosh Effect?
The exact origins of the whoosh effect are unclear, but in a 2009 blog post, author Lyle McDonald shared an excerpt from his book The Stubborn Fat Solution in which he explained the concept of the whoosh effect: ” You would be dieting, dieting, doing everything right, but nothing was showing. Then, boom, almost overnight, you’re down 4 pounds and look thinner.”
The excerpt goes on to explain that during McDonald’s college days, a professor “came up with the idea” that when the triglycerides in fat cells are emptied, they are temporarily filled with water.
When this happens, your body becomes ” squishy” and you go through a weight loss plateau.
Eventually, the cells release water and “whoosh” it out, making it seem like you’ve lost a few pounds in a single trip to the bathroom.
The fat whoosh idea caught the attention of the Reddit keto board around 2014.
Then pseudo-health bloggers (and others hoping to get clicks and views) jumped on the bandwagon, claiming that “fat whoosh” is a legitimate, science-based weight loss phenomenon.
That may sound plausible – especially if you’ve struggled with a weight loss plateau – but it doesn’t make much sense.
“There’s a lot of quackery out there about weight loss, and the whoosh effect definitely falls into that category,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD.
What the Science Says
When the body burns fat, fat cells are not filled with water. Fat cells, or adipose tissue, store excess energy. When the body burns more calories than it takes in, the body expels the excess fat and the fat cells shrink.
In fact, when a person loses weight, the body converts most of the fat into carbon dioxide, which the person expels when he or she exhales.
While the body does convert a small percentage to water, there is no evidence that the cells begin to “fill with water” and suddenly disappear when they no longer contain any fat.
The whoosh effect that people claim to experience may actually be due to the loss of “water weight”.
If the body becomes dehydrated, it begins to store water. This can make people feel more bloated or heavier than usual.
Once a person has drunk enough water, they lose excess water weight, which can manifest itself as significant weight loss.
Is the Whoosh Effect Real?
Yes and no.
Whoosh, or sudden weight loss while dieting, is normal and well-documented.
Fat cells filled with water and released? Probably not.
But fortunately, we don’t have to rely on anecdotes alone to know that the whoosh effect – the uneven pattern of weight loss – is real.
In 1944 and 1945, researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted what came to be known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.
In this study, they put volunteers through a near-starvation diet and hard labor to study the effects of being a prisoner of war.
For about six months, the men were fed about 1,500 calories of food each day. This was coupled with daily strenuous exercise.
At first, most of the men continued to lose 2 pounds a week, almost like clockwork.
But as the experiment progressed, the researchers found that the weight loss was no longer predictable. These people maintained the same weight for weeks, then suddenly and inexplicably lost a few pounds.
That is how the whoosh effect works.
How to Make the Whoosh Happen
So, should we go on a 6-month semi-starvation diet? Fortunately, no.
Fat whoosh is most commonly associated with the ketogenic diet. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a diet plan that severely limits how many carbohydrates you consume. This puts your body into “ketosis,” where it begins to rely on fat rather than carbohydrates for energy.
While this is a common association, the fat whoosh can happen in any diet. As long as you’re restricting calories, but obviously, there are some diets that are better than others. For example, you can experience fat whoosh from one meal a day (OMAD), intermittent fasting, and other low-carb diets.
Low-carb diets and keto diets are in a unique position because they tend to keep your body more hydrated, at least at the beginning of the diet. But when it comes down to it, any caloric restriction and subsequent plateau can put you on the whoosh track.
That last bit is the key – the plateau. More specifically, the plateau that occurs while you’re doing something else. If you have a good routine and clock schedule, then this may not be a problem. But for the rest of us, the first thing is to make sure we are actually eating what we think we’re eating and burning what we think we’re burning.
The swishing effect is a term that refers to the significant weight loss that some people report when following a low-carbohydrate diet such as a keto diet.
Some believe that the whoosh effect occurs when fat cells lose fat and fill with water. However, researchers have not scientifically proven the “whoosh effect”. But some low-carb dieters do experience this effect.