Of Whooshes and Squishy Fat

A few weeks back I answered a question about Not Losing Fat at a 20% Deficit, What Should I Do? and among other things, one comment I made had to do with a water retention that often occurs during fat loss which can mask fat loss and make it appear as if the diet is not working.  I also mentioned specifically that I had written (with a straight-face no less) about whooshes in The Stubborn Fat Solution, along with a related phenomenon which I call squishy fat.

In any case, to expand on that issue, I’m going to excerpt the chapter section from The Stubborn Fat Solution dealing with both phenomena.  With that introduction, I give you (again, with a straight face)…

 

Of Whooshes and Squishy Fat

Before you freak out and think you’ve entered some weird Internet forum where people talk about stalls and whooshes, please bear with me; there’s actually some physiological rationale to what I’m going to discuss.

Many people have noted that fat loss is often discontinuous, that is it often happens in stops and starts.  So you’ll be dieting and dieting and doing everything correctly with nothing to show for it.  Then, boom, almost overnight, you drop 4 pounds and look leaner.

What’s going on?  Back during my college days, one of my professors threw out the idea that after fat cells had been emptied of stored triglyceride, they would temporarily refill with water (glycerol attracts water, which might be part of the mechanism).  So there would be no immediate change in size, body weight or appearance. Then, after some time frame, the water would get dropped, the fat cells would shrink.  A weird way of looking at it might be that the fat loss suddenly becomes ‘apparent’. That is, the fat was emptied and burned off days or weeks ago but until the water is dropped, nothing appears to have happened.

For nearly 20 years I looked for research to support this, I was never sure if it was based on something from the 50’s or he just pulled it out of thin air as an explanation.  Recently, one paper did suggest that visceral fat can fill up with water after massive weight loss but that’s about it.

Somewhat circumstantially, people using Bioimpedance body fat scales (which use hydration to estimate body fat levels) have noted that body fat appears to go up right before a big drop.  This implicates water balance as the issue here.

As well, women, who have more problems with water retention, seem to have bigger issues with stalls and whooshes than men.  Further, some individuals who have done dry carb-loads (high carbohydrate refeeds without drinking a lot of water) have seen them occur; presumably the body pulls water into the muscles and out of other tissues (fat cells).  In lean individuals, appearance is often drastically improved with this approach, it doesn’t do much for those carrying a lot of fat.

I’d note that dry carb-loads suck because you’re so damn thirsty.  Interestingly, even normal refeeds often work in this regards, perhaps the hormonal effect ‘tells’ the body to chill out and release some water.  So not only do refeeds seem to improve stubborn fat mobilization the next day (as discussed above), they may help the body drop some water so that you can see what is happening.

Finally, many have reported whooshes following an evening which included alcohol. A mild diuretic, this would also tend to implicate water balance issues in the whoosh phenomenon.

I’d also note that this isn’t universal, lean dieters often see visual improvements on a day to day basis; a lot seems to depend on whether or not they tend to retain water in general.  Folks who do have problems with water retention tend to have stalls and whooshes, those who don’t show nice consistent visual changes.

On a related topic, I wanted to discuss something else that often happens when people are getting very lean and dealing with stubborn body fat: the fat gets squishy, feeling almost like there are small marbles under the skin.  Yes, very scientific, I know. That’s the best I can do.

As folks get very lean, down to the last pounds of fat, the skin and fat cells that are left will often change appearance and texture.  It will look dimply (as the fat cells which are supporting the skin shrink and the skin isn’t supported) and feel squishy to the touch. This is bad in that it looks really weird, but it’s good because it means that the fat is going away.  I have nothing truly profound to say about this topic, just realizes that it happens and usually indicates good things are happening.

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32 thoughts on “Of Whooshes and Squishy Fat

  1. Hey Lyle… Great book by the way. It’s just an idea, but maybe the wooshes and squishy fat could be a result of faulty mineral balance on the diet- ie more sodium than potassium, or not enough of either. What do you think? Perhaps adding more K could speed the exitting of intracellular fluid… Maybe you could write an article about the physiology of fluid balance for body builders and how it is affected by mineral intake, or maybe it could be the topic of another booklet.

  2. Mario,

    Certainly electrolyte intake affects all of this. For the most part, water balance is so brutally complicated that I have steadfastly tried to ignore it and hope it goes away.

    Lyle

  3. This makes sense to me. It doesn’t have to be true or scientific. God knows we see so many “scientifically proven” facts that have turned out to be nothing more than myths.
    What you are saying truly makes sense and I feel that in the long run the results will be more beneficial and longer lasting if we remain patient with our bodies.

  4. Can you explain further what these “squishy marbles” are? Maybe picture. I don’t know what to make of it

  5. @Marclee: When you pinch the fat, it doesnt feel as one continuous substance, but rather there are small ‘marbles’ or ‘balls’ that are somewhat squishy suspended under the skin. It’s pretty bizarre really

  6. I just experienced this phenomenon myself. After a 10 day plateau I lost nearly half a pound last night then woke up this morning to find another pound and a half gone OVER NIGHT! That’s 2 pounds in two days! The body is really quite the mysterious machine and is a heck of a lot more complex than much of the diet industry would like us all to believe. lol

  7. The hard balls of fat are almost like calcified fat. I have them in my chest right now — it’s bizarre.

  8. The analogy of small marbles is a good one. I experience this in the sack of fat just below the belly button. Squishy with tiny marbles. What I notice myself is that the morning after a cardio session of 40 minutes at say 140BPM, 500 ml of water consumed during the session, followed by 15 minutes in the steam room (along with a lot of water consumed 500ml at LEAST) results in the feeling of ‘tightening up’ in that region. The squishy feel dimishes (doesnt entirely go) and the skin appears and feels alot tighter. Just my thoughts and experiences, it may differ for others.

    Cheers

  9. Fascinating – I’ve noticed for years that I look leaner / trimmer the day after a night of drinking and it always bothered me.

  10. Know this is a little late, but isn’t this phenomenon known as dieter’s edema? From my understanding, this was something that was covered in the Minnesota Experiment, that Dr Key’s had trouble gauging the true loss of the people in his experiment due to edema.

  11. This my second go-around at weight loss. Small frame. 130’s in college. In my 40’s peaked over 170 …. toooo much for my size. 2 years of strict diet and exercise got down to 141. Back over 160, so reapplying myself. First time I was stuck +160 for the longest time. Read about drinking water (1/2 your weight in oz) … staying hydrated. Three weeks later had that sudden breakthrough. What I had read simply stated that when dehydrated the body will hold on to as much water as possible, Give it a constant supply of water and and it will no longer have the need to hold onto it. RIght now, am currently stuck around 155, but haven’t been drinking sufficient water. So I need to get back to that.

  12. Very interesting to read of how alcohol might make you look trimmer the next day. I once went on a three day drinking binge for a stag party and came back to work to be greeted with a load of ‘You’ve lost weight’ type comments. I was perplexed because I had consumed many, many thousands of calories through beer and alcoholic sodas etc.

  13. YES!!!! my abdomen has SQUISHY FAT – all dimply and and and SQUISHY!!! i WAS going to write in to the inner circle ( i am on the 98 day challenge, into the 12th week now) and ask if anyone else knew why. THANK YOU.

  14. I finished two cycles of RFL with a month break in between and noticed that if I maintained a reasonable and flexible diet on the break as well as afterwards I still made significant gains in that those areas discussed (squishy fat & marbles) decreased. I have been off RFL and am carb cycling as well as in the gym again after a few months off adjusting to a new, very physical job. I lost inches and noticed my marbles disappearing and squishy fat becoming flat during the break between RFL cycles; the layoff while adjusting to the new job and even more rapidly now that I am back at the gym. Be patient and listen to Lyle!

  15. Hello How do I get rid of the fat BB’s? I have dozens and dozons on my stomach and under my arms. Will they eventually go away if I continue to lose weight and gain muscle?
    Is there something I need to change with my diet? I’m not “dieting” I eat “clean” alot of fruits, veggies, nuts fish and lean meats like Chicken and Venison. I don’t consume any dairy (lactose intollerant) and I consume a few carbs like oatmeal and every now an again potatoes. I exercise cardio 4-5 a week and lift 3-4 times a week. I work abs and stretch at the end of every workout. I’m 122 lbs 5’4 1/2
    I drink a lot of water, No sodas and rarely juice, but I do drink wine and coffee.

    Has anyonme experienced the BB’s going completely away? If so how was your diet different? What do I do?

    I read in the atricle that some people have tried dry carb loads… I feel like that would add fat and weight back onto me. Has anyone tried this? How long do you have to do it? What sort of meal plan did you use.

    I know a lot of questions…! I really appreciate any advice I can get.

  16. Very interest post id like to share my personal experience even after many years the article created. last year i lost about 40 kg my body fat was 30%++ and i managed to droped to something around 13%. 2 months ago i decided to make the last step droping it to 10-11% well due to my inexperience and my personallity(i like to rush things and i go all in to everything in a chaotic way) i thought that if i combine exreme amounts of cardio + weight training+huge defict i will reach my goal in no time. so i started doing 3 full body trainings per week and runnning 5 km every day combined with hit tabata workouts . after some weeks on this program i realised that the weight wasnt dropping at all and some times it was risining! for like 2-3 kilos . after reading all lyles article i understood what i was experiencing… funny thing is that for some reason water seem to fluctating to me at my hips and face.. i was like a balloon.. one night exhausted i consumed 1 whole jar of marmelade . when i wake up i was leaner than usual then i realised something must be wrong after that i decided to up my calories from 1700( i am a male 23 yo 179cm height 80 kg ) to 3200 and stop any activity and weight droped 3-4 kilos even i was overeating. body seems more compicate than we think and after a lot of reaseach on internet about what is going on only Mr lyle had a scientific answear for me .ty very much

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘411571586 which is not a hashcash value.

  17. Very interesting ! id like to share my personal experience even after many years the article created. last year i lost about 40 kg my body fat was 30%++ and i managed to droped to something around 13%. 2 months ago i decided to make the last step droping it to 10-11% well due to my inexperience and my personallity(i like to rush things and i go all in to everything in a chaotic way) i thought that if i combine exreme amounts of cardio + weight training+huge defict i will reach my goal in no time. so i started doing 3 full body trainings per week and runnning 5 km every day combined with hit tabata workouts . after some weeks on this program i realised that the weight wasnt dropping at all and some times it was risining! for like 2-3 kilos . after reading all lyles article i understood what i was experiencing… funny thing is that for some reason water seem to fluctating to me at my hips and face.. i was like a balloon.. one night exhausted i consumed 1 whole jar of marmelade . when i wake up i was leaner than usual then i realised something must be wrong after that i decided to up my calories from 1700( i am a male 23 yo 179cm height 80 kg ) to 3200 and stop any activity and weight droped 3-4 kilos even i was overeating. body seems more compicate than we think and after a lot of reaseach on internet about what is going on only Mr lyle had a scientific answear for me .ty very much and sorry for my english ..

  18. This is in question for George on Aug 16,2014
    Are you saying that this carb load that you mentioned was as followes. Having reached a plateau for several weeks you doubled your regular calorie load and stopped walking or workout and dropped wt anyway in the following several days. Can this calorie load be repeated whenever I hit a plateau? Plateaus can be very discouraging when they last for several weeks.

  19. @George: I had the same experience as you..this is a copy/paste post I made on another site –

    Even with my suprailiac still measured at 7? Hmm, I was thinking ~13%. I appreciate the estimation though! Another thing, I can’t stress enough how weight can fluctuate and alter the look of your physique. 3 weeks I posted how my weight has been fluctuating quite a bit..and the day I posted, I weighed in at 192lbs. Well, after 2 days it came back down to 187-188lbs and was holding that range for about 2 wks or so. Then last week (June 2nd – June 8th) I took a week off from the gym (went for a trip to Arizona). During that trip I was looking leaner than ever..actually the leanest I’ve looked since April 2011..even after averaging 3600 calories that trip w/ no exercise! I arrived back to California on Sunday (June 8th) and hopped on the scale and weighed in at 181lbs!!. That day I resumed my workout/normal eating regimen, then by Wednesday (June 11th) I was back up to 189lbs ..while taking in 3200 daily calories (less than usual) since that Sunday. I’m guessing this all has to with the muscles being full again with water/glycogen and the weight-lifting/cardio being resumed. Perhaps the time off has me drop water as cardio raises cortisol levels..? I don’t know…all I know is the human body is an interesting thing lol. I guess that’s why tracking weight for fat loss/gain is largely irrelevant due to all the shifting in the scale weight..and going by mirror/looks is a better indicator perhaps? Maybe weighing yourself once every 3 wks or so is better I guess?

  20. @michaele @osmond sorry for the late reply . well after this experience i decided to go on a very slow bulk cause first of all after that big whoosh i wasnt feeling good with my look…and my lifts were suffering…another thing is that i was on a catabolic state(diet) for quite a long time so i needed a break,,, after i done with 2 kilos in 2 months i started cutting this time with a small defict.. for me i am pretty sure it has to do with the cortisol and the way it mess with water all my scale whooses(i am back to where i started the bulk but in a muh better shape and my strenght came back) happens in my rest days where i eat on maintance and trying to relax. tbh after a point of binging on 10 days off workout i am sure i putted on some fat but one other thing i notice is that the whoosh can actual keep going for some days so i might just diddnt noticed a weight gain cause of it… i guess the best way to actual progress is trust ur routines free ur mind and enjoy the progress ur body will hadle the rest

  21. @michaelena

    Honestly i dont think that dropping out exercise and overeating is a solution but taking a break programmed and eating on maintance or slighty above(if u feel like ) for 2-3 days is the way i hadlr this now. after all that crazy whooshe finished (and maybe i started thinking clear again without doing hiit x2 per day on 1200 calories as a male ) i wasnt happy at all with my skinny fat look neither with my destroyed lifts so i went on a low bulk in order to stop catabolism and regain my strenght as i did ,, after i cutted 2 kilos and now i am in a better shape at even less weight (ppl asking me how i got so big 😛 ) on this cut i just made sure to take 1-2 days to maintance by eating more or reducing activity and the weird is that always on this days the scale was moving down so y i guess it has to do with cortisol . so if u feel like stressed (and its pretty hard to actually realise it) take a break and restart the plan after

    @osmond i believe u just have to trust what are u doing ,being sure that its correct and not extreme, and dont try to add more volume to make more progress even if u do make sure u actually backing it up nutritionally and restwise

  22. TMI, but I had a the biggest whoosh today. Worked out this morning, weighed myself afterwards. Went out – had to stop and use the washroom at the local store. Peed – non-stop…..long enough that my quads started to shake (no one sits on a public toilet, lol) Got home, weighed myself and was down 2 lbs

  23. what does ‘squishy fat’ without the ‘marbles’ underneath indicate? as in just one continuous substance underneath the skin

  24. I eat only 300 or less calories a day and I am feeling weak but when I eat some salmon, vegetables and rice in small amounts I get strong again. I keep my calories low and my fat has turned watery and has marbles under the skin. It sags badly now instead of being firm. I hope it will burn off quickly. With the low calorie intake each day, one can of non fat soup and two eggs or a frozen salmon fillet, half a bag of rice and some vegetables I am managing. I have been eating like that for over two months now and the fat is coming off. I drink about eight gallons of water per day though. I suppose water retention is an issue but I need it to curb the hunger and cravings so I can keep calories low.

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