About 3 months ago my body was in somewhat of a state. Over the winter period I’d been eating terribly, the kind of eating that you know is bad, and then as if to punish yourself you do it more. Anyway, the net result was my body was flabby and at least 5 kgs overweight.
The strange thing was though, that in the right conditions (usually dehydrated), my physique didn’t actually look too bad. I wasn’t 100% happy with it, but at the same time it wasn’t the worst figure in the world. It felt ‘tight’, if a little flabby.
Deciding to change things, I started doing a rigorous interval training cardio program, figuring that my main goal was just to burn the excess fat I’d put on during winter. This program was essentially a combination of yoga, plyometrics and regular cardio in short bursts, and if the amount I was sweating each workout was anything to go by, it seemed to be quite effective.
And then, around three weeks into this program, a strange thing happened. I looked in the mirror, and my body was the worst I’d ever seen it. It was unbelievable, just how flabby every part of my body was.
Athletic 26 year old got a fat belly from exercising?!
My gut had drooped into a ‘pouch’, and looked like something you’d expect on a middle aged man, not a relatively fit 26 year old. My chest had also drooped to look more like breasts, and there wasn’t a ‘firm’ part of my body to be found.
I couldn’t believe it. You can imagine the disappointment I felt after enduring such a grueling cardio routine for almost a month, only to seemingly go backwards! It wasn’t until I did a little research that I figured out what was actually happening, and all I can say is it is one ugly sign of progress.
Soft fat vs Hard Fat: Understanding the process behind weight loss
Basically what was happening is my body was finally starting to process the old stored fat, in a very big way. As a result of this, blood was starting to circulate around the fatty areas and a long term buildup of ‘hard’ fat was beginning to soften up as it became ready to be consumed by my body. I never really thought about it but then I realized that in some areas of my body I had really low blood circulation and one of those areas was my lower belly. Even after intense workouts that area would still remain colder than the rest of the body.
So to allow the fat in this area to finally burn and be used as energy, your body needs to start opening up capillaries near your skin’s surface and allowing blood to flow through. When you are in a fairly dormant state of little or no exercise, these capillaries close over time as the fatty areas of our body are very hardy and don’t require much in the way of circulation. This increase in circulation and opening of capillaries leads to softening of your subcutaneous fat.
The second factor at play is that you have a certain number of fat cells in your body regardless of your current body composition. The reason your actual fat levels vary is to do with what state the fat cells are in. They can either be filled with fat, or shriveled up and empty, as well as any state in between.
The strange process of replacing burnt fat with water
One theory regarding the appearance of ‘soft’ fat is that when you lose fat deposits quickly from your fat cells, they haven’t had time to get smaller to accommodate, so they fill the extra space with water. This theory was based on a preliminary study, and which admitted to being inconclusive.
To me though this theory of filling with water makes sense purely from a ‘how I felt’ perspective, as I didn’t seem to get bigger or smaller, but rather the weight on me just became very jiggly and soft.
This period lasted for about a week as I continued my routine, but after this time I did start to lose weight appreciably and my body got much more toned and lean.
If you are in a state of sudden exercise-fuelled weight loss, be aware of the potential for this soft fat phenomenon to occur, and just know that there is nothing much more you can do than ‘ride it out’.
At the end of the day it is a very good sign that your body is increasing circulation through old hard fat stores, and this is just an unfortunately ugly road bump on the way to weight loss.
This post was written by Sam Matthews who is a fitness blogger based in New Zealand. Check out his site here.