Full text of author Ruben Meerman’s talk: How Breathing and Metabolism Are Interconnected at TEDxBundaberg conference. In this talk, Ruben shares his knowledge on how to breathe yourself thin by explaining where fat goes when you lose weight.
Ruben Meerman – Author of Big Fat Myths
About seven years ago, I saw this photo of myself and decided that I had to do something about this thing.
So I ate less food, moved around a bit more, and lo and behold, this happened. I lost 16 kilograms.
And you’re probably wondering: How did he do it?
But I was wondering: Where did the 16 kilograms go?
And I’ve been infatuated with this question ever since. I ended up publishing a paper about it in the British Medical Journal, very brief paper — 850 words, two figures.
And then, I published a book about it, which was no bestseller because it told you that you had to eat less and move more to lose weight. No one wants to hear that.
But it’s now a first-year subject at the University of New South Wales, and so I better explain that I did not figure out where fat goes when you lose weight. That was done a long time ago.
In fact, here’s some time posts for you. When Captain Cook sailed past Bundaberg in 1770, we didn’t know what happens to fat when you lose weight.
But when the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Cove, we did know the answer, and it was all figured out by this bloke in between. His name’s Antoine Lavoisier. He figured out that respiration is a combustion. You turn food into carbon dioxide and water. And in the process, nothing is lost.
Nothing is created. Everything is just transformed.
And so, what did I do?
Well, when I lost weight and I first thought about this, I was so infatuated. I wanted to know if I lose 10 kilos, where does the 10 kilos go precisely? And it took me months to figure this out.
But it turns out that when you lose weight, 8.4 kilos out of every 10 comes out of your lungs, which I think is the best fact I’ve ever heard, so I gave — you’ve got to add oxygen to do this, so you can’t do it (snap) like that. It takes a while.
So I gave a talk about this at TEDxQUT a long time ago now, and then I did a story for ABC TV Catalyst, and I met this fellow, Professor Andrew Brown, who teaches biochemistry. And I showed him my calculations, and he said, “That’s pretty interesting. Let’s try and get that published.”
And so he helped me get it into the British Medical Journal.
And the other thing we did was we surveyed 150 doctors, dieticians and personal trainers and asked them what they thought. And here’s the thing: what they think happens is impossible. You can’t turn fat into energy, because it’s made of atoms. And you would need antimatter atoms to annihilate them.
So that’s literally impossible.
And since then, I’ve realized, well, hang on, this is part of a much bigger gap in health literacy. I’ve asked literally thousands of kids this question: When you breathe in, what are you inhaling? Oxygen.
And what are you exhaling? Carbon dioxide.
What they don’t realize is that they’re breathing in atoms, and two go in, but three come out. And it’s this atom here that is the gap in health literacy. It’s also the secret to weight loss because it means that your exhaled breath is heavier than your inhaled breath.
And when you ask around, so few people know this. Well, have a listen to these people:
Ruben Meerman: What’s the gas that you inhale in out of the air that keeps you alive called? Oxygen.
And what’s the gas you breathe out because you’re alive? Carbon dioxide? Carbon dioxide?
Now third question. Where did the carbon atoms in the carbon dioxide come from? Oh … I don’t know.
I’ve got no idea.
I wouldn’t have a clue, mate.
Ummmm, wow! Good question.
I should have concentrated more in chemistry.
So where do carbon atoms come from? Or … Umm, pollution? Fumes? Gas? Cars and stuff? I don’t know. Yeah. Vehicles. Don’t know. Cow poop? Should know, but don’t know.
So to be somewhere in the body, right? Out of my lungs. My lungs? From the environment? From your blood stream? From living things? Maybe from the blood? From plants? My chemistry days are over. I’ve got nothing. From the food we eat?
You know that! You got there! Really? So you eat it.
Yeah We eat it? From what?
Have you heard of carbohydrates?
Oh, yes. Oh, OK.
What do you think the carbo bit means?
Probably carbon dioxide? Does it connect to somewhere?
Like carbon and hydrogen and oxygen together?
Carbon – carbohydrate, yeah. It’s not the same word.
Never thought. It’s C-H-A. Carbon-hydrogen. OK, interesting.
What do you do for a crust? I’m a PDH PE teacher.
…Video clip ends.)
This is not a gap in health literacy. This is a gaping black hole in health literacy. And the amazing thing is we supposedly learned all this stuff at school. We learned all the dots, but no one ever teaches you how to connect them.
So the word carbohydrates is the big clue, and that’s because it stands for carbon atoms that have been hydrated by — well, if you’re dehydrated, you need to drink water. And water has a chemical formula, which stands for a bunch of atoms.
So where do these carbohydrates that you eat come from? I mean what is this stuff? And it all starts in plants.
So Step 1 in making carbohydrates is plants suck water out of the soil. They take the water molecules, stick it into a molecule called chlorophyll, you’ve all heard of. It takes a photon of sunlight to zap that bond and zap that bond, and now we have the atoms free.
You do that twice, and you’ve got enough atoms now to make an oxygen molecule, which is the waste product of photosynthesis. And by the way, you breathe that stuff.
So every oxygen molecule you inhale came from two water molecules.
Step 2 is to take carbon dioxide out of the air into the leaf, and into a chemical process, which is called the Calvin cycle. And if you get six carbon atoms and stick them together, you can make glucose, which is the most important carbohydrate in the cosmos.
If you rearrange those atoms, then you can make fructose, which is what sugarcane does, which I have a stalk of over there. And if you stick it in sunlight, it will turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar.
If you stick glucose to fructose, you get table sugar, and if you stick galactose to glucose, you get another famous disaccharide. It’s called lactose.
If you’re lactose intolerant, you can’t break the bonds between this oxygen atom and its neighbors. So all of this stuff is understandable if you know about atoms, and it all starts in plants.