Weight loss isn't always linear.
Anyone who's ever lost weight can tell you, it doesn't come off consistently and in predictable increments, even if your diet and training are super on point.
In fact, it's pretty common to hit "weight loss plateaus," meaning you're still training and eating in a calorie deficit, but the scale won't budge.
Then comes the whoosh effect: When all that weight you should have lost suddenly disappears, as if by magic.
(If you're interested - check out the weightlifting program I used to gain strength and lose 15+ pounds of fat)
What is the Woosh Effect?
Here's a fun weight loss fact: We often refer to losing weight as "burning fat," right?
This would imply that diet and exercise help us convert our fat stores into energy we then use for activity, which is kind of true, but that doesn't mean the fat just "burns up" and disappears.
New research shows most of it actually gets converted into carbon dioxide, which we then breathe out.
But when those fat cells go away (yay!) it's actually extremely common for water to swoop in and take their place. That leads to a couple of key issues for anyone on a weight loss program:
- When water retention is high, the scale may not move, making you think progress has stalled
- Water retention makes us feel super squishy, so you may actually feel WORSE after burning a few pounds of fat
These water-filled pockets can last for days or weeks at a time. But eventually, if you stick with your diet and exercise goals, they'll suddenly release (WHOOSH), almost overnight, and you'll notice significant weight loss and physical changes to your appearance.
And that's the Whoosh Effect.
Is the Whoosh Effect real?
In a word, yes. I wouldn't be writing this article if it weren't!
But luckily we don't just have to go on anecdote to know that the Whoosh Effect is as real as can be.
In 1944 and 1945, researchers at the University of Minnesota performed what would go on to be known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.
In the study, they put volunteers through a near-starvation level diet and hard labor in order to study the effects of being a prisoner of war.
The men were fed around 1,500 calories per day, every day, for a period of about 6 months. This was coupled with rigorous exercise every day.
At first, most of the men consistently lost 2 pounds of body weight per week, almost like clockwork.
But as the experiment went along, researchers found that the weight loss was no longer predictable. That the men would maintain the same body weight for weeks and then suddenly and inexplicably lose several pounds.
This, friends, is the Whoosh Effect in action.
How to trigger a Whoosh Effect for weight loss
I've noticed something kind of funky about my own weight loss and fitness journey lately.
I try to eat in a calorie deficit, and I strength train three days per week (check out the program I'm on and my results), along with walking and light cardio, but I'm also a human being who likes fun, food, and alcohol.
So I do have the occasional slip up or cheat day.
Some nights I'll have a big meal and go to bed thinking, "Ah crap, I just undid all of my hard work this week."
Weirdly enough, sometimes I wake up the morning after a big cheat meal feeling leaner than ever.
And I'm not alone. The research suggests that one way to trigger a Whoosh Effect of weight loss is to eat a cheat meal.
The researchers behind the Minnesota Starvation Experiment noted this in their own work. About halfway through the experiment, the men were given a 2,300-or-so calorie meal as something of a "re-feed," and in many of them, this "cheat meal" triggered significant weight loss the next day.
And after a lot of peeing, no less! (That water has to come out somehow)
So... if you've been exercising and dieting but find yourself frustrated by areas of super squishy fat and a scale that won't budge, try indulging yourself in a (reasonable!) cheat meal.
You might be pleasantly surprised the next day.
Signs of a (coming) Whoosh Effect
The Whoosh Effect will happen naturally and without any effort on your part if you stick with your diet and training, though you may be able to trigger one wish a small cheat meal, as noted above.
But if you're looking for signs that you may be experiencing (or will be experiencing soon) a Whoosh, keep an eye out for:
- Despite solid diet and training, the scale hasn't moved in weeks
- Despite solid diet and training, you feel squishy and jiggly
- Despite solid diet and training, you inexplicably gain 1 or 2 pounds
- Needing to pee a lot
- More hunger cravings than usual on the same diet and exercise plan
- Areas of fat feel warmer to the touch
Again, the Whoosh may completely surprise you, or you may be able to trigger it using a reasonable cheat meal.
Just know that if you stick to the plan (calorie deficit, good nutrition, exercise) the weight WILL come off.
Just not as consistently as you might want.
If you're looking for a great workout program to strip away the fat, take this awesome quiz that will pick the perfect program for your body type and fitness goals. It works!