PSA: The "Whoosh Effect" Is Not A Real Thing

photographed by Andi Elloway; modeled by Jessie Diaz; produced by Megan Madden.
Sometimes you can find quirky, but surprisingly solid, health advice on Reddit, and sometimes the tips that people share are seriously misguided. Take the "whoosh effect," for example. There are dozens of Reddit boards with people wanting to know how to "trigger" the whoosh effect, wondering how long it takes to experience the whoosh effect, and sharing advice for how to tell when you're in the midst of it. What's the whoosh effect, you ask? According to some Redditers and unqualified wellness bloggers, the whoosh effect is essentially the period of time during a diet when fat loss becomes noticeable.
People claim that when your body burns fat, your fat cells allegedly fill with water, which makes you feel "jiggly or squishy." After a period of time, they say, the cells will release or "whoosh" out water, and you'll lose weight or notice a change in your appearance. Those who believe the whoosh effect is real are under the impression that if you're not seeing results from a diet, it's because the whoosh effect is just around the corner. Friends, this is not a thing, and it could be a very dangerous way to view health and weight management.
From a physiological standpoint, the whoosh effect simply does not make any kind of sense, and there's nothing true about it, says Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, an obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Fat cells don't convert over to water to then get flushed out of your system," she says. "The idea that you're just peeing out weight doesn't make sense either." But like other diet myths, there may some understandable — albeit incorrect — reason why people seeking diet advice latch onto the concept of the "whoosh effect."
Thinking that you can just "whoosh" away fat cells is an oversimplified (and inaccurate) way of looking at weight loss that doesn't tell us anything about how the body really regulates weight. While most people have a calories in, calories out view on weight loss, many people don't realize that the brain is what controls weight and weight regulation, Dr. Stanford says. "When weight loss occurs, the brain really tries to do what it can to compensate, such that it's going to try to rebound back to where it was before the diet," she says. That's why so many people go through "weight cycling," or repeated loss and gain of weight, for instance. "The body doesn't recognize that excess that's not needed, so it'll do whatever it can do to defend that," she says. In other words: People experience weight-loss "plateaus" because their bodies are designed to work that way, not for lack of willpower.
Another troubling aspect of the whoosh effect is the idea that you can "trigger" the whoosh effect by eating a eating a high-calorie "cheat meal" after starving yourself, but there's no research or medical literature to support that this is the case, Dr. Stanford says. As we've said before, if you deprive yourself of treats, it makes it much harder to pay attention to your hunger cues. But if you allow for some flexibility and eat foods because you enjoy them, you'll be more satisfied. So, this rationale that you should indulge in order to fast-track the slimming effects of calorie cutting isn't just inaccurate, it can lead to a problematic relationship with food.
The thing to remember about the whoosh effect or whatever diet fad comes our way next, is that chances are it's not going to be manageable long-term. "It often takes a dedicated longterm sustained program, in which diet quality and physical activity is maximized, that we really start to see fat loss," Dr. Stanford says. Anything that promises acute weight loss is generally not good for the body, she says. Typically the short-term "successes" are not worth the time, investment, and heartbreak associated with significant rebounds.
So, next time you're on a Reddit board and come across a zany idea that people say works, Dr. Stanford suggests you ask yourself: Is this sustainable for the rest of my life? "If the answer is no, then run far away from whatever it may be," she says. Run so fast that you make a whooshing sound in your wake.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.

More from Diet & Nutrition

R29 Original Series