Can I lose weight being cold?
November 26, 2008 6:15 AM   Subscribe

Can I lose weight being cold?

It'll get really cold where I live, and running outside at least is a no-go (last winter this city was the worst polluted in the world). Is it possible for me to lose some weight if I underdress?

I get hot really easy anyway, even with the layering thing. I figure I may as well put shivering to good use.
posted by steppe to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I did see on Animal Planet recently that drinking cold water could make you lose weight because your body has to use energy to warm you up. They said it was something like 3 pounds over the course of a year. Don't quote me on the exact number, but it was something minimal.
posted by theichibun at 6:38 AM on November 26, 2008

Your answer is "Technically yes, but practically no." Keeping your body warm is the single most energy-intensive thing your body does unless you're really physically active, but the difference between your base metabolic rate bundled like a Siberian peasant and running in the buff is pretty small by comparison unless you're actively shivering. The reason your fingers etc. get cold is because your body actually stops trying to heat up your extremities by cutting circulation in an attempt to conserve energy. Wearing less won't really help you lose weight; you'll just be cold.

Your best bet is to just eat less. You don't even need to change your dietary makeup; just tak 25% right off the top of your portion sizes. The math is pretty simple. If you're only burning say 2500 calories a day, eat 2000 and you'll start to lose weight, if you keep it up.
posted by valkyryn at 6:39 AM on November 26, 2008

Yes. Your body will burn calories to compensate for the ones you lose (remember that calories are a measure of heat) through body heat-loss.. From what I've read in the past, it's not much, though, and any benefit you get is likely outweighed by the fact that you'll probably be damn uncomfortable.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:39 AM on November 26, 2008

This article mentions that better home heating may be one of the contributing factors to obesity. It does also mention, though, that lower temperatures also cause people to eat more, which might cancel out the effect.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:44 AM on November 26, 2008

drinking cold water could make you lose weight

The energy to heat one liter of water by one degree C is one calorie. Actually one Kilo calorie, but that's what we call calories.

So a really big glass of ice water might cancel out like one olive.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:50 AM on November 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

This is pretty much the same question as "Will drinking lots of cold water make me thin?" A lot of people dont realize that a Calorie (capital C) of food is actually a kilocalorie (1,000 calories). So a text book might say something like "It takes thousands of calories a day to maintain your body heat." Well, a piece of cake is like 500,000 calories if you use the lowercase notation.

So, no. There's way too much energy in food to make a difference and generating heat doesnt cost that many kilocalories. You'd be better off having a slightly smaller lunch.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:52 AM on November 26, 2008

It will, but on a similar scale as cutting your hair every couple of days. So realistically, no.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:01 AM on November 26, 2008

The Straight Dope addressed this as well and there is this prior AskMe. I wanted to add, though, that if you are actually cold enough to shiver, the shivering can increase your metabolic rate/oxygen consumption by 40 to 100%; this is a major concern in the recovery room after surgery. So if you are actually cold enough to shiver you can burn a fair number of calories, but you will be pretty uncomfortable and you will have a hard time doing anything with shaking hands.
posted by TedW at 8:14 AM on November 26, 2008

I think the answer to your question depends almost entirely on how much brown fat you have retained (or possibly regenerated) in adulthood:

Brown adipose tissue (BAT) or brown fat is one of the two types of adipose tissue (the other being white adipose tissue) that is present in many newborn or hibernating mammals.[1] Its primary function is to generate body heat.

It used to be thought that brown fat in adults was quite rare, but recently there is

Unexpected evidence for active brown adipose tissue in adult humans.

The contention that brown adipose tissue is absent in adult man has meant that processes attributed to active brown adipose tissue in experimental animals (mainly rodents), i.e., classical nonshivering thermogenesis, adaptive adrenergic thermogenesis, diet-induced thermogenesis, and antiobesity, should be either absent or attributed to alternative (unknown) mechanisms in man. However, serendipidously, as a consequence of the use of fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG PET) to trace tumor metastasis, observations that may change that notion have recently been made.
The prevalence of active brown adipose tissue in normal adult man can be only indirectly estimated, but it would seem that the prevalence of active brown adipose tissue in the population may be at least in the range of some tens of percent. We conclude that a substantial fraction of adult humans possess active brown adipose tissue that thus has the potential to be of metabolic significance for normal human physiology as well as to become pharmaceutically activated in efforts to combat obesity.

And it is activated by cold ambient temperatures:

Brown adipose tissue activity in man is acutely cold induced and is stimulated via the sympathetic nervous system.

I believe people with a history of allergies, asthma, and perhaps even ADD and ADHD (among others) are more likely than average to have significant brown fat as adults.
posted by jamjam at 9:55 AM on November 26, 2008

I keep the temperature down in my house to save on heating. But, I find that I spend more time huddling under quilts and blankets and less time moving around. If you're going to do this, you have to maintain (or hopefully increase) your activity level.
posted by marsha56 at 10:28 AM on November 26, 2008

TedW, it's interesting you bring up increased oxygen demand in the recovery room after surgery.

Brown fat cells, unlike white fat cells, come from muscle-cell precursors, and can actually be turned into muscle cells by blocking a transcriptional regulator.

And I can't help thinking that muscle cells in malignant hyperthermia seem to be acting a lot more like brown fat cells than the muscle cells they are supposed to be.
posted by jamjam at 1:26 PM on November 26, 2008

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