6

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Is it natural that the density of body fat fluctuates wildly while on paleo?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created October 18, 2010 at 6:00 PM

Since starting paleo, I've noticed that my body fat, especially in the hip area, goes from really jelly-like on some days to more firm and dense on other days. There will sometimes be drastic changes in density overnight, in both directions. I've heard that the process of losing fat requires that the fat soften first, but sometimes my body fat will harden up overnight, without any change in diet. Is anyone else experiencing this? Are these rapid changes to be expected with Paleo?

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on October 19, 2010
at 01:45 AM

Olga- I wish I had some references, but this is all from old-time bodybuilding lore. Subcutaneous water is just a little water retention under your skin. Fat cells are 5-30% water, and when you burn fat, some of them get smaller as the fat portion gets pulled out. I could see the body pulling water into muscles if you were dehydrated, but am not sure how much of that would come from fat cells, and how much from more plentiful supplies (such as intra-cellular fluid, blood, etc).

E46d4f7e35e46ee4e8211ab4bc852023

(1510)

on October 19, 2010
at 01:21 AM

phew! I'm so glad that I'm not the only one. The changes are insane. I go from squishy to firm overnight sometimes. At least what we're doing is driving real changes in body composition.

E46d4f7e35e46ee4e8211ab4bc852023

(1510)

on October 19, 2010
at 12:52 AM

It's interesting the McDonald suggests a dry carb-load to pull out the water. I'm not sure what the Paleo equivalent of that would be. I do know that I woke up very dehydrated this morning and with jelly-like fat, drank something like 6 glasses of water and tea during, and I swear that my fat feels even more jelly-like this evening. So weird. I guess I just have to wait it out. I don't want to dehydrate myself just for some quick vanity.

E46d4f7e35e46ee4e8211ab4bc852023

(1510)

on October 19, 2010
at 12:49 AM

Sorry Kamal, but I still totally lost. Where does the subcutaneous water come from? Is it the fat cells that are pulling it in? Do you agree with Ambimorph's finding about it being hoarded by fat cells to temporarily make up for the glycogen loss?

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on October 18, 2010
at 09:49 PM

I agree, the hypothesis is not well substantiated.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on October 18, 2010
at 08:27 PM

Well, low carb diets are diuretic to an extent, but that is intra-muscular glycogen. The poster was wondering if bodyfat changes density--I haven't seen anything pointing to this. When fat is lost, the adipose cell gets smaller. It doesn't fill with water or undergo some other compositional change.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on October 18, 2010
at 08:21 PM

Okay, I've added Lyle McDonald's thoughts on this to my answer.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on October 18, 2010
at 08:08 PM

Of course it's water, but is water retention a stage in fat loss? I mean is there anything to the idea that fat cells or other cells hang on to water in the process of weight loss, or is it just random?

E46d4f7e35e46ee4e8211ab4bc852023

(1510)

on October 18, 2010
at 06:42 PM

by lowest do you mean softest?

B4aa2df25a6bf17d22556667ff896170

(851)

on October 18, 2010
at 06:24 PM

Could be water weight vs. body fat.

Af842c68e3d07fa0e35b4274f3acaeec

on October 18, 2010
at 06:08 PM

Perhaps it has to do with body temperature? You're body does cool overnight, so maybe see if it's soft after working out or something vs when you wake up.

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7 Answers

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4
100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on October 18, 2010
at 06:20 PM

That's interesting. I've heard another person tell me that as he has lost weight, he goes repeatedly through stages where his fat will first get "jiggly" before firming at a lower volume. I think I've seen it on myself, too, but I don't have high confidence. I've never heard this anywhere else before now. I'm wondering whether and how the hardness you are experiencing correlates with your size and weight changes, and with the carbohydrate content of what your eating. Have you noticed?

Edited to add: Okay, here's what Lyle McDonald has to say about it from Of Whooshes and Squishy Fat:

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 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.

E46d4f7e35e46ee4e8211ab4bc852023

(1510)

on October 19, 2010
at 12:52 AM

It's interesting the McDonald suggests a dry carb-load to pull out the water. I'm not sure what the Paleo equivalent of that would be. I do know that I woke up very dehydrated this morning and with jelly-like fat, drank something like 6 glasses of water and tea during, and I swear that my fat feels even more jelly-like this evening. So weird. I guess I just have to wait it out. I don't want to dehydrate myself just for some quick vanity.

2
21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on October 18, 2010
at 07:37 PM

The culprit is...SUBCUTANEOUS WATER. Body density does not change appreciably in short intervals, and fat density doesn't really change at all. When fatty acids get cleaved and shuttled off to be used for energy, they come from a variety of body parts (which is why spot reduction is largely impossible). I would also imagine that the temperature of bodyfat is constrained to a narrow interval--when one molecule is cleaved off, that doesn't change the temperature of the body fat mass as a whole.

Bodybuilders "dry out" using various salt and water cycling techniques, which we sometimes do inadvertently. However, our changes are much less noticeable. Going from well-hydrated to dehydrated at 15% bodyfat shows way less drastically than does the same process at 7% bodyfat. Vascularity can be brought out in various ways as well, such as drinking some red wine, pumping up the bodypart at hand, etc.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on October 18, 2010
at 08:27 PM

Well, low carb diets are diuretic to an extent, but that is intra-muscular glycogen. The poster was wondering if bodyfat changes density--I haven't seen anything pointing to this. When fat is lost, the adipose cell gets smaller. It doesn't fill with water or undergo some other compositional change.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on October 18, 2010
at 08:21 PM

Okay, I've added Lyle McDonald's thoughts on this to my answer.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on October 18, 2010
at 09:49 PM

I agree, the hypothesis is not well substantiated.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on October 18, 2010
at 08:08 PM

Of course it's water, but is water retention a stage in fat loss? I mean is there anything to the idea that fat cells or other cells hang on to water in the process of weight loss, or is it just random?

E46d4f7e35e46ee4e8211ab4bc852023

(1510)

on October 19, 2010
at 12:49 AM

Sorry Kamal, but I still totally lost. Where does the subcutaneous water come from? Is it the fat cells that are pulling it in? Do you agree with Ambimorph's finding about it being hoarded by fat cells to temporarily make up for the glycogen loss?

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on October 19, 2010
at 01:45 AM

Olga- I wish I had some references, but this is all from old-time bodybuilding lore. Subcutaneous water is just a little water retention under your skin. Fat cells are 5-30% water, and when you burn fat, some of them get smaller as the fat portion gets pulled out. I could see the body pulling water into muscles if you were dehydrated, but am not sure how much of that would come from fat cells, and how much from more plentiful supplies (such as intra-cellular fluid, blood, etc).

2
4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

on October 18, 2010
at 06:30 PM

Mine fluctuates with salt intake, hydration level, and carb intake

1
183f5c49a7a9548b6f5238d1f33cb35e

on May 18, 2011
at 04:46 AM

I've totally noticed this change in fat consistency - I have been trying to lose bodyfat for nearly 2 years now, and I go through stages where my thighs, back of the upper arms and belly become watery and soft, then firm up again. I'm losing size very, very, slowly (2 years to lose 4cm on the belly) but the back and forth change has happened consistently throughout the 2 years. Now that I'm down to the last 10 pounds I notice the squishy fat even more. Its really strange!

I heard that fat cells "fill up with water" once they have been emptied of fat. Your body holds onto this water, and then eventually dumps it.

1
Bbeb370ffc4b2264608dbd388208dc0e

on October 19, 2010
at 07:03 PM

No one has mentioned "thought" so I will. I've found that your state of mind "reflects' scarily acurately at times. See if you can catch yourself. If you pay attention, you might find that when your are feeling good about yourself....the last stubborn fat seems to look better. I'm being serious here..mind and body are one.

1
D67e7b481854b02110d5a5b21d6789b1

on October 19, 2010
at 01:00 AM

Thank you so much for posting this question. I thought I was doing something wrong-the fat density on my hips is worrying me so much that I have been researching liposuction for spot reduction (not very paleo huh?). Somedays it is squishy, somedays it is firm. I have been trying to eat the exact same things it order to determine what is causing this but I have not been able to pin it down. It is getting very frustrating waiting on the last ten pounds.

E46d4f7e35e46ee4e8211ab4bc852023

(1510)

on October 19, 2010
at 01:21 AM

phew! I'm so glad that I'm not the only one. The changes are insane. I go from squishy to firm overnight sometimes. At least what we're doing is driving real changes in body composition.

0
Bebc8909d95205d0f266c839304c7d3c

on October 18, 2010
at 06:34 PM

I'm adding my vote to the relationship to hydration. In the morning, when I wake up, dehydrated, my fat levels look the lowest. I'm not sure about salt intake (I'm not monitoring it closely enough), but carb intake definitely has an effect. The carb effect tends to take a day or two to show up.

E46d4f7e35e46ee4e8211ab4bc852023

(1510)

on October 18, 2010
at 06:42 PM

by lowest do you mean softest?

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