Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

Breathing New Life into Weight-Loss Science; Keen to Shift Some of Those Kilos Packed on during Christmas Indulgence? A Bundaberg Scientist Has Done the Maths That Shows There's a Limit to How Much and How Quickly You Can Lose It - and He's Attracting Worldwide Attention for His Work

Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

Breathing New Life into Weight-Loss Science; Keen to Shift Some of Those Kilos Packed on during Christmas Indulgence? A Bundaberg Scientist Has Done the Maths That Shows There's a Limit to How Much and How Quickly You Can Lose It - and He's Attracting Worldwide Attention for His Work

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRISTINA ONGLEY Health

T HIS is not your average amazing weight-loss story.

Ruben Meerman didn't tip the scales at a gazillion kilograms. There are no post-weight-loss photos holding his former fatty pants, into which he could now fit two of himself.

The 43-year-old simply lost 15kg in the first half of 2013 after being disturbed by his "fat gut" in a photo, gradually shedding the weight by counting kilojoules, setting a target and walking for an hour and a half each day.

Where Meerman's story differs is here: when he first hopped on the scales and noted his weight loss three months in, he did more than just celebrate the small achievement.

He asked himself the question: "Where does the weight go when you lose it?"

It wasn't an idle question for someone like Meerman, a physicist who did most of his growing up in Bundaberg and who later made a name for himself as an innovative touring science educator in schools and as an ABC TV and radio presenter known as the "Surfing Scientist".

"I was working on a kids book - which I still haven't finished - and while I was reading up for that, I was reading about the digestive system, farts, poos, guts ... you know, all the stuff kids like," he said with a laugh.

"I realised none of the fat I was losing was coming out of my butt, but my lungs. And I thought that was the most interesting thing I'd read in ages, so I did a lot more reading about it."

Meerman's understanding of physics told him the weight couldn't just vanish. That would violate the Law of the Conservation of Mass (which says matter can't be created or destroyed, only transformed into other substances).

And it was well-established biochemistry that fat was broken down into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) - even if he discovered with some alarm that the majority of health professionals and weight-loss practitioners believed it was "burnt off" as energy or heat.

But he wanted to determine what exact proportions of the mass in fat turned into CO2 and H2O, and even a string of biochemists couldn't help him do that.

"Before I came along with this maths, biochemists weren't really interested in the waste products of fat metabolism - just in the energy that comes out of it," Meerman said.

By July 13 he had nailed a complex calculation that said, in simple terms, 84% of fat became exhaled CO2 and 16% became water (for instance, urine, faeces, sweat, tears or other bodily fluids).

There was an important practical ramification of his calculations - for ordinary people who wanted to lose weight while still eating three meals daily, there was a limit to weight loss of about 70-100g per day, depending on kilojoule intake and physical activity.

"That's about half a kilo a week or 15kg in six months. …

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