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Thermodynamics and Cold Exposure For Fast Fat Burning?

by Susan · 51 comments

thermodynamics and weight lossThermodynamics & Cold Exposure To Burn Fat?

Over this past holiday season, I picked up a copy of Tim Ferris’s new book, The Four Hour Body.

For those of you unfamiliar with Tim, he is an avid self-experimenter in all things lifestyle, business, health, and fitness. The Four Hour Body is a compilation of all his experiments in fat loss, muscle building, increasing sleep, improving sex, preventing injuries, and running further and faster.

It was an awesome read! There were tricks and tips he used and experimented with that blew my mind. I can’t wait to try some of his suggestions!

Naturally, one of the most interesting chapters to me was the ones on losing fat. A lot of great and very surprising info.

One of the most surprising tips Tim offered was the concept of cold exposure for fat loss.

Cold Exposure For Fat Loss?

Tim talks about a guy named Ray Cronise in his book. Ray wanted to lose weight but could not believe losing fat was as simple as calories in-calories out.

One of the main reasons why Ray was having a hard time buying into this common myth was because of swimming great, Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories per day and is ripped. Ray knew that Phelps was certainly not able to exercise enough each day to support the excessive amounts of calories he consumed on a daily basis. So why could Michael eat that much food and not gain weight?

Phelps spends 3-4 hours per day in a pool. Water apparently is 24 x more thermally conductive then air. And if you have ever been in a public pool to swim laps, then you know they keep that water damn cold!

Anyway, this guy Ray in Tim’s book figured this out and then did a little self experimentation himself. In the first 12 weeks he attempted to lose weight before realizing what he did about the water, he lost 21 pounds. That’s 1.75 lbs per week. Not too bad.

After he realized cold exposure was the key to Phelps’ lean body, he lost an additional 27 pounds….but in only 6 weeks! That’s 4.5 pounds per week!

And he could owe it all to thermodynamics. Ray was losing energy in the form of heat, by exposing himself to the cold. Apparently, exercise and energy storage are not the only too ways you can utilize energy.

Check out this video with more details:

As I described yesterday in my post with 3 unique healthy eating habits, Tim describes how we have both white and brown fat in our body. Brown fat contains a much higher level of fat burning enzymes and mitochondria, which helps burn fat and dissipate excess calories as heat that would otherwise be stored as white fat – the normal fat you probably know and love from your hips, thighs, and butt.

So, if you have to have fat you want it to be brown fat, the “fat burning fat”, not white fat. And if there was a possibility of actually controlling the amount of brown fat one had then it could theoretically be done using cold stimulation.

5 Reasons Why Cold Exposure is Healthy

According to Tim…..

1. Cold exposure makes your body release fatty acids to fuel your shivering.

2. Cold exposure increases adiponectin, a hormone secreted by fat cells and responsible for fat burning, and glucose uptake by muscle that may last long after you warm up.

3. Cold exposure stimulates brown fat, the “fat burning fat” to increase in quantity and activity.

4. Cold exposure improves immunity.

5. Cold exposure may be an effective treatment for depression.

5 Ways To Use Cold Exposure To Lose Fat

According to Tim…..

1. Lay on your back on the couch with an ice pack under your lower neck and upper back for 20-30 minutes, preferably in the evening.

2. Drink 500 ml of ice cold water immediately upon waking. I wrote about this yesterday when I discussed 3 healthy eating habits.

3. Take 5-10 minute cold showers, focusing the water on your lower neck and upper back. Best times for a cold shower is before breakfast or before bed.

4. Take 20 minute ice baths that induce shivering.

5. Do some of your exercise in a pool! Swim laps, take an aqua jogging class, or even aqua aerobics!

6. Go for shiver walks. That is, go for a walk with the most amount of clothes on that will make you shiver slightly.

I will be doing some self experimenting with cold exposure and thermodynamics for fat loss in the coming weeks. I will most likely be swimming, and using ice packs on my neck and back. Except for the occasional cold shower, I have no desire to sit in a tub of ice.

Questions For YOU!

  • What do you think of using cold exposure for fat loss?
  • Do you think you will try any of these cold exposure methods?

Let me know the answers to my questions in the comments section below.

Freezing in 2011 to help you burn fat,

Susan Campbell, MS, CSCS

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1 Amr Boghdady January 8, 2011 at 10:26 am

I’ve always known that your body burns calories while trying to keep your body warm, but I thought it was an insignificant sum!
But the idea of keeping in cold water is pure brilliance!
We’ve just installed a small TV in our bathroom, so I might try spending a couple of hours everyday taking a cold shower while watching it :D
Will try for a week, and post the results back here
Thanks for the idea!!

2 susan January 8, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Hey Amr, thanks for the comment, but I certainly don’t thing a couple of hours everyday in the cold water is necessary or doable! HA! Maybe just a few minutes at the end of your normal shower?

Thanks so much for adding to the conversation!

3 Deb January 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I am such a cold wimp it’s ridiculous so the only method I will be trying is to drink the ice water!

4 susan January 8, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Hey Deb, I’m totally with you! The only other thing I can tolerate is swimming because I can keep moving!

5 Mitch January 7, 2011 at 11:17 am

Hmmm, an interesting thought and presentation. I’m not quite sure I believe it in totality, but I’m seeing where he’s coming from. When we’re cold, our body shivers to try to warm us up; that’s known for sure. If your body is trying to warm you up and you decide to exercise, in a way it might seem like your body would react and help you lose weight. Except when you’re exercising, if you’re wearing even a warm up jacket you’re going to heat up and shiver at the same time and risk illness; that’s not good at all. Sitting under a cold shower for 10 minutes; I don’t many people could stand that. Swimming in intentionally cold water for longer than the Polar Bear swimmers do at the new year; preposterous. Frankly, even if it does work it’s a bit extreme and I wouldn’t believe there would be many physicians that would encourage the process.

Nope; can’t do it! lol

6 susan January 7, 2011 at 11:52 am

Hey Mitch, what do Doctors know? ;-)

It isn’t so much the body trying to warm you up, it’s just the process of the body losing energy in the form of heat. People who swim competitively swim in water that is about 80 degrees. It sounds warm, but it really isn’t. I swim every week at a local indoor pool where the swim team for the city practices. I practically go in to shell shock when I hit the water. But I’m a pansy when it comes to being cold!

And as awesome as this fat loss technique may (or may not) turn out to be, I am sure few people will have the will power to be able to sit and shiver themselves to leanness!

Thanks for the awesome comment! I know I can always count on you! Can’t wait to read about what women are!

7 Geoff Robertson@total self improvement January 7, 2011 at 9:29 am

Hey Susan, I have not heard of this technique before. Maybe I need to get out or read more :-)

I am not sure about the validity of comparing the activities of an Olympic swimmer with those of an average Joe – or Joanne – but what you say about inducing heat loss leading to weight loss does seem to make sense.

I think the sheep story above in the comments is not relevant as an argument because you are not advocating that we all run around naked, rather that we participate in short, controlled exposure to cold and then return to normal, if there is such a thing.

How is your experimentation going?


8 susan January 7, 2011 at 11:48 am

Hey Geoff, not too many people have heard of this before. But because of the book, word is getting out. And the guy whose story you heard in the book, Ray Cronise, has even started a brand new website telling you his story and how to do it.

I have been lightly experimenting…..shiver walks with the dog. Can’t bring myself to sit in an ice bath or cold shower just yet!

Thanks so much for leaving a comment and adding to the discussion! Much appreciated!

9 Jeremy Logsdon January 6, 2011 at 11:16 pm

I’ve never tried using cold as a means of burning extra fat, but I have used it to facilitate muscle aches ending. When I lift really hard, if I suspect I’ll have an achy day the next day, I’ll start off with a hot shower, and for about thirty seconds each, I’ll alternate between as hot as I can get it and as cold as I can get it. It’s often seemed to do the trick!

10 susan January 7, 2011 at 8:46 am

Hey Jeremy, Not many people have tried cold exposure as a way to burn fat. I think it has been a really good secret, along with the majority of the population never actually came up with the correlation. This Ray guy seems to be one of the few to figure it out so I think it is cool that Tim Ferris added his story to the 4 Hour Body. The topic has definitely been one of the most controversial I’ve ever posted to my blog.

I think you are spot on when it comes to ice and mitigating muscle soreness. Many long distance runners take ice baths for a few minutes after a long run of competition to help mitigate delayed onset muscle soreness over the next few days. It works like a charm. Also, did you hear the story about Lance Armstrong and his first marathon after he retired from cycling? He ran the race, took a really long, hot shower, drank a bottle of wine, and then got on an airplane for a long flight home. Essentially, all of the things I just mentioned are no-no’s when it comes to post race recovery. He was a hurtin’ unit the following week. If only he took an ice bath instead of cold shower!

Thank you so much for coming and taking the time to leave a comment.

11 Lean Muscle Matt January 6, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Hi Susan and friends,

Love the post, and I’m also deeply fond of the resulting conversation! :)

As far as the pool temperature is concerned, I believe that Susan is correct with her estimate of about 70-80 degrees. Remember that homeostasis for the body is roughly 98.6 (we know this because this is the temperature we had to be over to stay home from school growing up :) ), so water at 24x more thermally conductive than air is really going to make your body work overtime to stay warm.

In response to Todd & Steve’s comments, I think you may be missing the point of the Phelps chapter. Keep in mind that a 190 pound person running a marathon would burn about 3,500 calories (according to Runners World).

In the chapter ‘Ice Age’ from 4-HB Ray Cronise states that according to his calculations the caloric burn rate for competitive swimming should be about 860 calories per hour. That would mean that in order to burn the calories in the diet we’re talking about Phelps would have to burn calories at twice the rate of a “normal” competitive swimmer. The argument here is not DOES he do this, we know he does, the point of contention is HOW. The missing variable in Ray’s calculation was that water is 24x more thermally conductive than air. With this variable included in his calculation the math suddenly made sense. Ray then thought to apply this thermodynamic advantage to his own fitness journey apart from actually swimming. Ray commented on a post of mine called “Use Thermodynamics to Lose Fat?” (thanks for the Tweet Susan that’s how I found you!). :) Feel free to visit to read more of what he has to say on the subject, as well as a link to his personal website.

The REAL story of the Ice Age chapter to me is that Ray Cronise lost a respectable 21 lbs during the first 12 weeks of his fitness journey WITHOUT cold exposure, but the WOW moment is that he lost a staggering 27 lbs during the following 6 weeks WITH cold exposure. For me an increase of this magnitude is hard to dismiss.

I admit that I approach a good chunk of what Tim says with a healthy amount of skepticism, but he definitely inspires me to turn myself into a human guinea pig to find the “truth”.

Wonderful conversation group. That’s one thing Tim’s REALLY good at. Getting people to talk!

Best wishes for 2011!



12 susan January 7, 2011 at 9:16 am

Hey Matt, glad you found me, I don’t even remember how I found your post – I think it was through a comment you left on another blog. Either way, thanks for stopping by and giving your 2 cents.

I agree, Ray’s story and theory was plausible enough for me to add them her to the blog. But I didn’t realize how awesomely controversial this was going to be! It’s pretty cool!

In the end though, all we can do is a little self experimentation on ourselves to see if it works for us. That goes for any fitness and weight loss theory floating around out there. It doesn’t matter if it worked for someone else if it doesn’t work for you.

Thanks again, Matt. Come back anytime.

13 John McNally@Blogging for Pleasure and Profit January 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm

The 4 Hour Body seems to be everywhere Susan, thanks for the review.

I don’t really believe the cold exposure theory. Farmers who want their sheep fattened up make sure they are shaved all winter. The sheep are uncomfortable, and their bodies accumulate more fat as protection against the cold.

I agree with Steve, Phelps is ‘easily’ burning up all those calories by training for world records. I’m nowhere near his league, but I know that I eat more than most people. I run 50 to 80 miles per week, and burn it all up. Needless to say fat isn’t a problem either.

Running may be hard, but it is enjoyable. I couldn’t say the same for those ice baths. :o

Leamington Spa, England

14 susan January 6, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Hey John, thanks so much for the awesome comment!

Yeah, the 4 Hour Body is everywhere – mostly because there are a few controversial topics in there, such as the thermodynamics/cold exposure thing. I thought it was a great topic to explore. I have since learned more about Ray and added a new video to the post that gives a lot of background on him. He even has a new website!

It’s ok to be skeptical – I, myself, think that it is entirely plausible that Phelps is as lean as he is because he spends so much time in cooler water. I realize that he is swimming and burning calories the entire time, but the cold exposure may simply have an additive effect.

Or maybe no additional effect at all. But the good news is that it won’t cost someone anything to give a few of these options a shot if they want to enhance their fat burning efforts. The most they lost is their time……or their fat? :-)

Thanks again for coming by!

15 Cammy@TippyToeDiet January 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I have no clue if there’s any merit to the ‘cold exposure’ thing, but the good news is that it will cost me $0.00 to try it out and it doesn’t involve going to the stinky gym. :) That said, I refuse to sit in a tub of cold water. Maybe a nice outdoor walk on a cold and sunny day. If nothing else, I’ll get Vitamin D boost.

16 susan January 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Hey Cammy! Thank you so much for coming to the blog and taking the time to leave a comment. Much appreciated!

I love your openness to try this – you’re so right to point out that it costs nothing to try.

This cold exposure stuff has been great! Everyone’s a critic! I am a big believer in self experimentation so I will say that the theory is definitely plausible until I prove otherwise! And I’m with you on the not sitting in cold water thing. I’m in upstate NY so I just started walking the dog without my jacket. I also drink ice water in the morning.

If you try it come on back and let me know how you made out! Thanks again for the visit!

17 Steve@Lifestyle Design January 6, 2011 at 11:24 am


Not sure how I feel about this one. I am also currently reading “the four hour body” I like ferris and his writing, but sometimes I find that he can make some crazy sounding things seem plausible. To a layman, it all seems plausible but I would like to see some real scientific research before I dive in and really believe in that one. It seems as much anecdotal as hard scientific data.

As for Phelps. I totally believe he could be easily burn over 12k calories a day. Swimming itself is an intense full body workout and he is not doing the doggy paddle in the deep end. 4-5 hours of workouts for him are probably 10k calroies alone and then his metabolism likely would run fast for a bit after. now that I think that way 12.5k doesn’t seem enough. dude needs to eat more.

18 susan January 6, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Hey Steve – yeah a lot of it sounds crazy, but if it works for a few people you have to wonder what the deal is. And, as I mentioned before, my bf is a contractor who works hard outside year round. And the jerk always gets too damn skinny in the winter! So, I thought it was a fun topic to debate, because I knew there would be a lot of good responses to this! The most far fetched stuff I read in the 4 hour body is Tim’s experience with muscle building. I’m no expert but knowing what I know about muscle and physiology, I don’t buy it.

What do you think about the muscle stuff?

The cold exposure thing is plausable……but I’m no mythbuster!

Thanks so much for joining the conversation!

19 Todd@PhitZone January 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm

That’s it–we need to get Mythbusters involved!

20 susan January 6, 2011 at 5:55 pm

I’m sayin’…..

21 Patricia@lavenderuses January 5, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Hi Susan

This is a new one on me. Don’t know if it true or not. But sitting here in our sweltering summer heat, drinking lots of iced water and taking cold showers doesn’t sound too difficult :-)

Interesting post and thanks for sharing it with us Susan. Much appreciated :-)

BTW wanted to tweet the other post I just commented on but couldn’t find the Tweet button! It’s on this post ok so will RT this.

Patricia Perth Australia

22 susan January 6, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Oh yeah, you are completely backwards weather wise from the US! I suppose jumping in a refreshing pool and loading up on ice water is more the norm for you these days! I have not done any self experimentation with this myself yet so I am really just passing it along to people to try. Cold exposure is definitely worth a shot and it will be determined on an individual basis whether it is valid or not!

Thanks again :-)

23 Samantha Dermot January 5, 2011 at 5:20 am

I was discussing with my brother last night about drinking cold water. I’ve heard that it can actually make you bigger than ever, but it proved that what I heard before wasn’t true at all. I will try to follow some of your tips starting today and see what will happen.

24 susan January 5, 2011 at 8:50 am

Hey Samantha, thanks for coming by and leaving a comment. I have never heard that cold water would make you big. The only thing I had ever heard was that it might make your metabolism higher because of thermodynamics. Who knows how true it is but I’m sure doing some self experimentation won’t do any harm. Water is a good thing either way.

25 Chris @ Protein Shakes January 4, 2011 at 5:14 pm

wow this is something new to me!
I never knew that cold exposiure was actually beneficial. it gets pretty darn cold during the winter in chicago and this is def something that was a worthwhile read!

26 susan January 5, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Hey Chris, yeah just try running around outside in the middle of a Chicago winter in your t-shirt! Let us know how it works! :-) Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.

27 Todd@PhitZone January 6, 2011 at 11:58 am

It’s the beer and brats in the summer that’ll get ya in Chicago. :)

28 susan January 6, 2011 at 12:45 pm

True dat, Todd!

29 Heather January 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Interesting! I’d always heard that you don’t lose as much fat swimming (years ago), but I haven’t kept up on the research. Does it help to drink ice water all day? — may be the one thing I’m doing right consistently :-)

30 susan January 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Hey Heather! Thank you so much for coming by the blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I thought the cold exposure stuff was pretty interesting. I can’t say it is 100% accurate but there has to be some theory behind it. If the theory is true, I imagine it wouldn’t hurt to drink ice water all day long. And if you are already doing that, kudos! I struggle with drinking…..it’s one of my own personal new years resolutions. I assume that it would also be pretty powerful in the evening, when we are most insulin resistant, but what do I know? :-)

31 Todd@PhitZone January 4, 2011 at 11:46 am

That last sentence is the seller. :) Seriously, you give good argument to the theory, so I’ll withhold judgment until I read it. I just finished rereading Kevin Trudeau’s book about HCG, and it put me in a grumpy mood… again.

32 susan January 4, 2011 at 12:43 pm

HAHA yeah I read that. He’s such a scammer. Even still, I swear I just heard something about HCG coming into mainstream. It was on the news or something. I’d rather lose weight the old fashioned way!

33 Todd@PhitZone January 4, 2011 at 9:57 am

The only problem that I see with Tim’s cold theory is that while Phelps spends a lot of time in the pool, it isn’t necessarily in “cold” water. Phelps does not train in a “public” pool, and I can’t imagine that his training pool is cold.

I disagree also with the thought that Phelp’s doesn’t exercise enough to burn those calories. He’s not lounging in the pool, so yeah, 4-5 hours in the pool actually swimming tends to burn a lot of calories. Additionally, Phelp’s has turned his body into that proverbial fat-burning machine. His body is looking for fuel, and with the little amount of fat that he has, its either “feed me, Seymour, or I’m gonna eat yo’ muscles.”

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a fan of “The Four Hour Work Week”, and while I haven’t read it yet, I’m not looking forward to this latest book. I’ll save my opinion for when I read it, but from what I’ve seen so far, and heard in an interview, I’m not impressed. I digress. :)

34 susan January 4, 2011 at 11:40 am

Hey Todd, thanks for the comment. It is very controversial – a few things are in there. And until I test it out on myself I can’t be sure either. Pools that swimmers use are generally in the high 70′s to low 80′s (I think) so it does stand to reason that we would lose some energy in the form of heat. I was always my leanest when I swam laps once each week. And after I got thinking about it, I started to look at by boyfriend who is a contractor. He gets so damn skinny in the winter while he works outside all day (I have to force feed him) and in the summer has a little bit more fat around his middle. While the theory on Phelps may not be 100% correct, I’m not ready to completely close the door on the cold exposure theory. But I have no interest in putting myself through it! HA! Thanks again for coming by, and you should check out the book just so you can be cool like me!

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