You may have heard of the hush effect.
This popular weight-loss term supposedly describes a phenomenon in which fat cells fill with water, feel “squishy” for a while, then — Whoosh! – Release all water so you drop pounds seemingly overnight.
If that sounds like a made up word, that’s because… it is. Here’s what you need to know about this persistent fitness myth.
What is the hush effect?
The exact origin of the Hush effect is unclear, but in a 2009 blog post, author Lyle McDonald shared an excerpt from his book, Stubborn fat solutionwhere he explains the concept of Hush: “[Y]You’ll be dieting and dieting and doing everything right with nothing to show for it. Then, boom, almost overnight, you lose 4 pounds and look leaner.”
The quote explains that during McDonald’s college years, a professor “threw out the idea” that when fat cells are empty of triglycerides, they temporarily fill with water instead.
When this happens, your body becomes “squishy” and you experience a plateau in weight loss.
Eventually the cells release water, which “hush,” causing you to seemingly drop a few pounds in one trip to the bathroom.
The concept of fat hush caught the attention of Reddit keto boards around 2014.
Then pseudo-health bloggers (and anyone else hoping to get clicks and views) jump on the bandwagon, claiming Fat Hush is a legitimate, science-backed weight-loss phenomenon.
That may sound plausible — especially if you’re struggling with a weight-loss plateau — but there’s no truth to it.
“There are a lot of gimmicks about weight loss, and the hush effect is definitely in that category,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD
What is the science behind the hush effect?
The Hush effect isn’t much in the way of science.
In a study of 27 obese men and women published in 2003, those who lost about 14.5 percent of their body weight in nine weeks had an increase in water in their fat cells.
However, the subjects maintained that water at one year of follow-up – it did not “hush”.
Some bloggers cite the Minnesota Starvation Experiment — a 1944 study on the physical and psychological effects of semi-starvation — as evidence that a cheat meal can trigger the hush effect.
“They’re completely misusing the study,” says Tim Church, MD, MPH, PhD, professor of preventive medicine at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “It wasn’t a weight loss study. They starved people.”
Other articles claim that drinking alcohol can trigger the hush effect by dehydrating you. But again there is no scientific evidence.
“Beer is 95 percent water,” notes Giancoli. And the calories from alcohol can add up quickly, which won’t help you lose weight.
Is the hush effect a real thing?
Short answer: no. “As your fat cells get smaller, they’re not filling up with water and then collapsing,” Giancoli adds.
The real science of fat loss is that as you lose weight, fat breaks down into carbon dioxide and water.
Most of this is exhaled as carbon dioxide, Giancoli explains. The rest is excreted through water – which can be urine, sweat or breath vapour.
Some people mistakenly think they experienced the hush effect, because they briefly hit a weight loss plateau before losing a few more pounds.
But there could be many reasons – such as changes in your salt intake or alcohol intake, following your meal plan more closely or hormonal fluctuations in women.
The real science is that the Hush effect is “physically impossible,” Giancoli said.
And Church agrees: “Thousands of data points show that there is no such thing as the Hush effect,” he says.