Cold and weight loss: does the cold make you lose weight?


No need to opt for a drastic diet to lose winter pounds: when outside temperatures drop, the body mobilizes to provide heat to the entire body. A mechanism that allows us to burn calories.

How does the body react when it's cold? What is thermogenesis?

Faced with cold, our body maintains its temperature at 37°C (the average human body temperature) thanks to a thermal regulation system. called thermogenèse. The colder it is, the more our body creates heat to regulate itself.

White fat and brown fat, what's the difference?

You should know that humans have several types of fat: so-called white fat and so-called brown fat. As the American site reminds us Health, these are the so-called brown fat cells which use energy to heat the body, contrary to white fats which store calories in the form of lipids as in the case of abdominal fat. Too much white fat, a hallmark of obesity, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and other diseases. On the other hand, brown fat burns chemical energy to create heat and help maintain body temperature.

Researchers have previously shown that in response to cold, white fat cells in animals and humans take on the characteristics of brown fat cells. Thanks to recent studies carried out on this subject, we know that white cells can turn into brown cells and vice versa.

How can we bring about this change? Move while doing sports or… shivering. Exposure to cold allows the release of two hormones, irisin and FG21, which communicate between adipose tissues and muscles, and thus transform white fat into brown fat.

Losing weight in the cold is possible!

In 2014, scientists demonstrated in a study that cool temperature changes human fat and metabolism. A team led by Dr. Francesco S. Celi of the Virginia Commonwealth University and Dr. Paul Lee, Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, explored the effects of ambient temperature on brown fat and metabolism.

“Researchers had 5 healthy men, average age 21, reside for 4 months in a clinical research unit at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The men engaged in regular activities during the day and then returned to their private rooms each evening. The room temperature was set to 24°C in the first month, 19°C in the second month, 24°C again in the third month, and 27°C in the remaining month. Participants were exposed to the temperature for at least 10 hours each night. They wore standard hospital clothing and only had sheets. All meals were provided, with carefully monitored calorie and nutrient content and all consumption monitored,” says scientist Carol Torgan in a summary of the study (source 1).

Result : “ after a month of exposure to mild cold, participants saw a 42% increase in brown fat volume and a 10% increase in fat metabolic activity “, she explains.

Cryotherapy, or cold therapy

It is also on this observation that the principle of cryotherapy is based, or cold therapy, a technique which consists of exposing the body to relatively low temperatures thanks to a dedicated machine. In addition to its therapeutic indications (reduction of pain, muscle recovery, well-being, etc.), cryotherapy can have an aesthetic aim (cryolipolysis). It is used for its effect on the reduction of localized fatty deposits, and for its tightening effect to fight against cellulite. In fact, the activity of the body in the face of this cold thermal shock will require energy, which will require the burning of calories.

How many calories do you burn when you're cold?

The cold therefore contributes to weight loss, but it does not alone allow you to lose weight. Exposure to the cold only represents a very small part of the total caloric expenditure (around 5 to 10% depending on the temperature and duration of exposure to the cold). There total calorie expenditure is the quantity of energy that the body needs to ensure its basic metabolism. To lose weight, it is considered that it is necessary to induce an energy deficit of 10 to 15% of the total energy requirement.

If exposure to cold can help you lose weight, this technique must be taken into account in a global approach. Regular sporting activity, combined with a balanced diet, remains the best way to control your weight or lose it. Because yes, do sports in cold weather is entirely possible, even if it is necessary to equip yourself well and take some precautions.

Bottom line: you may lose a few extra calories by turning down your heat, or shivering outside, but nothing beats regular exercise and a healthy diet to control your weight!

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