Calories, Oxygen and Weight

Written By:

Landscape view with two tall trees, mountain tops, and a river

If you’re ready to turbo-charge your metabolism, take a deep breath and read on! Whether you’re a hard-core vegan or a Paleo carnivore, there’s one nutrient that every single one of us needs – and that’s Vitamin O, Oxygen. But sadly, even though this nutrient is freely available to us 24/7, far too many people are actually oxygen deficient.

Stress, distraction, and high-speed living all make it hard for us to catch our breath while we eat, but if we knew what a difference a good dose of O2 makes in our calorie-burning capacity, we’d never neglect this awesome digestive supplement again! Join Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, for a fascinating look at the power of oxygen in this “breathtaking” new video from #IPEtv!

Here is a transcript of this week’s video:

Hi, I’m Emily Rosen, Chief Operating Officer for the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.

Today’s Topic: Calories, Oxygen and Weight

Let’s dive in and take a fascinating look at how breathing and calorie burning are intimately connected:

People often talk about burning calories, but few realize that a calorie is simply a measure of heat released when something is burned. Food scientists determine the caloric value of a food by placing it in a special apparatus that essentially torches it to a crisp and measures the heat given off. It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that just about everything has a measurable caloric value.

A fortune cookie contains about thirty calories. The chair you’re sitting can have hundreds of thousands of calories. And all of these calories need oxygen to burn. Now if you want to maximize metabolism, breathing is one of the most effective tools, because the greater your capacity to take in oxygen, the higher your metabolic “burning power” will be.

Breathe in more oxygen and you burn food more fully.

It’s really that simple. The digestive system is hungry for oxygen. Certain parts of the stomach lining consume more oxygen than any other tissue in the body. The intestinal villi, our site of primary nutrient absorption, are charged with the job of extracting large quantities of oxygen from the blood during the breakdown of a meal. When the blood lacks oxygen fro the villi to pick up, absorption decreases.

The more we eat, the more the body naturally wants us to breathe. After a meal, the parasympathetic nervous system initiates synchronous changes in breathing, blood circulation, and oxygen uptake. In other words, the brain automatically increases air intake to accommodate the need for more oxygen.

Breathing more if you eat a lot is the same as exercising more if you eat a lot. If you interfere with the body’s natural switch to deeper breathing because of anxiety or overstimulation, you limit your ability to burn calories. The simple rule here is this: If you eat more, breathe more.

To further examine the relationship between oxygen and weight loss, have you ever had the experience of going on a low-calorie diet and not losing any weight, or dieting and losing weight the first week but leveling off despite continuing your low-calorie fare? Many people are perplexed by this mysterious phenomenon, but the reason is quite simple.

Your metabolism changed. The body learned to tolerate the meager portions of food you served it by lowering oxygen uptake – decreased oxygen means decreased metabolism. In many cases, weight-loss diets actually teach the body to need less oxygen. So by going on a low-calorie diet, you may think you’re doing what’s right for shedding pounds, but you’re actually working against yourself.

Another way to think of this phenomenon is to consider that the act of eating creates a “demand” on metabolism. Just as lifting weights puts a demand on your muscles to grow bigger and stronger, eating food puts a demand on your metabolism to grow more powerful and efficient. Food is literally like a weight that your body lifts.

Indeed, the simple act of eating, by itself, raises metabolism. If we looked at one of the most common measure of metabolism – the body temperature – we’d see that each time we eat, body temperature automatically rises. That’s the reality behind the old folk-medicine adage to “starve a fever” – if you already have a high body temperature, don’t eat, because that will raise it even more.

Can you see how starving yourself or eating meals that are too low in calories can be counterproductive to weight loss?

It should come as no surprise that if eating less food can lower the amount of oxygen we use, and hence lower the metabolism, then eating more food could increase metabolism. Indeed, many people who truly have weight to lose and are on a long-term, low-calorie diet without success can lose their weight once they eat more.

Do you know someone who’s had this unusual experience? Eating more food literally created a demand for metabolic force and hence for oxygen uptake. The resulting increase in calorie-burning capacity far “overweighed” the extra food on their plate.

Certainly, many of us gain weight simply because we eat too much food. But when we shift to the opposite extreme – eating too little food – we will likely slow down our calorie-burning capacity.

If you truly want to achieve your optimum weight and metabolism, you can’t get there by denying yourself and going against biology. Losing weight means gaining life. Eat while relaxed and breathe with full generosity, and you access nature’s plan for greater health and inner satisfaction with food.

Interestingly enough, another simple way you can increase your oxygen intake and hence your metabolism is by opening a window. The percentage of oxygen in outdoor air is generally greater than indoor environments. A lack of oxygen in stale indoor air or windowless rooms – our typical workspace or office building – is a physiologic stressor to the body.

When the quantity of oxygen in an indoor space is too low, heart rate and blood pressure slightly increase, and blood sugar drops; we feel drowsy, irritable, low energy, and in need of a boost. And what’s the typical strategy we use when feeling this way? We reach for food or a cup of coffee to pick us up. Many of us hunger for oxygen but mistake it as a hunger for food.

It’s also useful to notice any resistance you might have to relaxing and slowing down with meals. Oftentimes making this shift can be quite confrontational. It can bring up the parts of us that are seemingly beyond our control. The way we do food is the way we do life. Slowing down and breathing with a meal is about granting ourselves the right to share in the simplicity of joyous moments on Earth. It’s about reclaiming our time, our dignity, and the sanctity of self-care. If you’ve been eating your meals in the fast lane, it’s time to take a deep breath.

I hope this was helpful.

Please email us at if you have specific questions and we will be sure to get back to you. In the comments below, please let us know your thoughts. We love hearing from you and we read and respond to every comment!

Thanks so much for your time and interest.

Landscape view with two tall trees, mountain tops, and a river

Become a Mind Body Eating Coach

Make real, lasting change - in your life and the lives of others using eating psychology coaching tools.


Subscribe to The Psychology of Eating Podcast

Get notified when new episodes go live.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Listen to The Psychology of Eating Podcast

Follow Us

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.