It sounds too good to be true. Get a massage and lose weight. It reminds me of the images of the vibrating fat belt machines from the 1950′s. Certainly the notion of vibrating fat off the body has been debunked by now, yet I still read of spas and massage therapists claiming to be able to break up fat cells through massage therapy or some other technique that “melts” off the inches.
Well here’s the skinny about metabolism. Food is potential energy in the form of calories. When we eat, the body breaks down the energy from food and directly uses it for all functions of living including: breathing; heart pumping; thinking; maintaining body temperature; all muscular movement; cellular and tissue repair; and the digestion of more food. The human body over hundreds of thousands of years has evolved a very efficient method of storing excess energy for sustaining life in between meals, whether that is a few days or only a few hours. Energy not immediately needed to sustain life gets stored as fat.
Fat is a very dense supply of stored energy. Each pound of fat contains about 3500 calories. That’s more than the average adult requires for living a normal, active lifestyle for an entire day! Still, fat is not the body’s preferred energy source. Carbohydrate is where the body likes to get it’s energy first. If carbs (sugars, starches, alcohols) are not available, only then will the body begin to metabolize fat.
So when a particular massage technique is touted as able to break up subcutaneous fat tissue allowing the fat to be re-absorbed into the body, I wonder how that “freed up” fat is expected to be metabolized. Without a way to metabolize this fat, the body will simply re-store it again, most likely in the same location that it was freed from.
There is researched and documented evidence of the diuretic effect of some massage therapy techniques like lymphatic drainage which can temporally achieve a reduction in body weight, but this is lost water, not lost fat. Losing the excess fat is what will improve physical health for most people.
The only way I know to metabolize stored body fat is to create a negative caloric balance by decreasing food intake and at the same time increasing physical activity. This is where massage therapy does help.
The positive effects of massage therapy for facilitating recovery from physical activity have been well researched and documented. Massage therapy has a direct impact on the circulatory system as it loosens muscle and tissue fibers and moves fluids into those spaces, which allows for greater amounts of oxygen and nutrients to reach those cells for metabolism. This loosening of the muscle fibers also restores the plastic and elastic function of the muscle itself which aids in its recovery from physical activity. This allows you to resume your physical activity sooner and at the same or higher intensity, helping you burn more fat!
Let’s not also discount the fact that massage therapy just plain feels good and creates a sense of emotional well-being. This feeling is not just a “fat-free reward” for your efforts to lose weight. It is the doorway to reconnecting a positive state of awareness about your body, which reinforces your resolve to improve your fitness through more physical activity. Physiologically, this good feeling arises from the activation of the para-sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for inducing the sleep state where the body repairs itself from your workout during the day. Massage therapy therefore can also help you achieve better sleep overnight so you can resume your physical activity and burn more fat in the morning!
So yes, massage therapy can help you lose weight, but only in support of the efforts you make in choosing low calorie/nutrient rich foods along with daily physical activity that exceeds the amount of calorie you eat.