Cool – Not Cold – Showers For Fat Loss?

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I got a really interesting comment yesterday on my 2011 post A High Intensity Approach to Cold Weather Training.

From Rick D:

My first exposure to thermogenics was from a french physician who wrote a book in the early 80’s about his pioneering work using cool temperatures to lose weight. He advocated cool 25 degree C showers once or twice a day and also living 2-3 degrees below your thermal neutrality point. His methods were very successful with his patients. He discovered that once the excess fat was lost, the body would be balanced and no more fat would be lost.

Before going into the comment, I want to highlight that this is the opposite method that I was advocating in the post. Here was my tip:

At the end of your daily shower, turn the water to as friggin cold as you can handle without having a heart attack. Do deep slow breathing and relax. Aim the cold water directly between your neck and shoulder blades. Hold this for 30 seconds. End the shower. That is it. If you want you can do a quick rinse on your legs, but that is optional.

Which way is better? Brief exposure to very cold or longer exposure to cool? Initially I thought brief cold was, but I now I suspect longer cool is superior. There are a few reasons.

Being temperature resilient and losing fat are two distinct goals. If a temperature reduction is the path to fat loss, then choosing the method that provides the greatest heat sink would be superior. 30 seconds at ice cold is likely less of a heat sink than a normal shower with 100% cool water. I read a statistic that said the average shower length is 8.5 minutes. That is long for me, but it sounds right.

In the comment above he cites 25° C as the shower temperature, which is 77° F. For me that wouldn’t be too cool, so I would instead personalize this recommendation a little lower. My take away is you should drop the temperature from warm to cool, but nothing cold enough to elicit a stress response. If you find yourself speeding through the shower based on discomfort, the temperature is probably too low.

If you are already taking full showers at cold temperatures, this post probably isn’t going to be of value. But for the majority of us that dislike the idea of always taking cold showers, I think this method makes sense and is more sustainable for fat loss.

cold shower

Doccia fredda (Cold Shower) by Sergio Pani

I believe the key to benefiting from cold temperature stress is the ability to quickly warm up. You want to end the stress and not prolong it at a lower level. If you easily get cold or your home isn’t warm, then stepping out of a cold shower isn’t the end of the stressor. In 2012 when I did the experiment Freeze the Animal, where I would swim in the cold Puget Sound for a few minutes daily, I discovered the benefit was more closely tied to temperature of the environment once I ended the exposure, not how cold the water temperature was.

From Rejecting the Seasonal Approach to Nutrition:

What I learned is that cold exposure is fine and even has a positive mood effect, but the key to locking in those benefits came from how quickly I could warm up. When I stepped out of the Puget Sound when it was windy and 50 F, it took an hour sometimes to warm back up. It was miserable. When it was sunny and 70 F, I could warm up in minutes. Very enjoyable.

Warming up is much easier from a cool than cold. It is less stressful. For the last year I have done fewer and fewer cold water blasts at the end of my shower. As my primary health focus went towards increasing body temperature and reducing stress levels, I didn’t see as much benefit in the cold shower finishes. I still walk around in cooler temperatures without a jacket. As long as I am moving, I find it invigorating and not a bit stressful.

Which develops greater cold exposure resiliency, time or temperature? I think this might vary from person to person and it will depend on their environment. But for me, I have started the 100% cool shower method. It is not stressful and I believe it will increase my temperature resiliency, albeit maybe not as much as cold showers, but it will more sustainable for me. And if I drop a few pounds, win-win!

Have you had any experience with cool showers? Did you lose fat or widen your temperature comfort zone?

18 thoughts on “Cool – Not Cold – Showers For Fat Loss?

  1. Jim

    MAS,
    Interesting update.
    First, a helpful comment on an old post. (I know you’ve contemplated shutting down comments on old posts).
    Second, I’ve read the 4HB and related articles about cold, brown fat, and such, but I’m skeptical. I think the body will just adapt otherwise, or may even add fat. I remember 80’s fitness guru Covert Bailey (of “Fit or Fat” fame) mentioning that he had found swimmers to have relatively thick sub-cutaneous fat layers, possibly due to the need for thermal protection from hours spent in the water. On the other hand, Ellington Darden (Nautilus and H.I.T. guru) used to recommend drinking a gallon of ice water a day, and sleeping in a cold environment–I think mostly for the potential calorie burning effects.
    In any event, it’s easy to try.

  2. Rick

    Just an added comment that the physician also stated that in three weeks of cool exposure, circulating thyroid hormones would normalize which would also be metabolically beneficial.

  3. Pauline

    To Rick D: “My first exposure to thermogenics was from a french physician who wrote a book in the early 80’s about his pioneering work using cool temperatures to lose weight. He advocated cool 25 degree C showers once or twice a day and also living 2-3 degrees below your thermal neutrality point. His methods were very successful with his patients. He discovered that once the excess fat was lost, the body would be balanced and no more fat would be lost. ”

    I would like to know the name of the french physician and the name of his book?

  4. Mycroft Jones

    I left a comment to the same effect on the original post. I’d love to know who this French doctor was, read his book, and get more information on his protocol. Want to make sure we aren’t missing any important details. I tried the cold showers and just couldn’t do it. Cool showers sound like something I can do, and it fits with the idea of hormesis much better.

  5. BigTex

    Why not just do walks with less clothing on, in cooler temps?…you can kill 2 birds with one stone…

  6. Rick

    @Pauline and Mycroft Jones: The name of the physician was Dr. Paul-Robert Thomas. His French book was translated into English and privately published as The Cool Diet. It is long out of print and only available from used book sellers. He doesn’t mention brown fat in the book but that knowledge was in its infancy in the early 80’s.

  7. @Jim – I have no plans to shut down comments based off post age. I will shut off comments on posts where everything has been said and the only ones showing up are brotards that wish to brag about themselves and insult me. I think that only applies to less than 5 posts out of the 2,000+ on the site.

    I too share your concern that the “body will just adapt”. That certainly would apply to caloric burn, but you’d still get the benefit of temperature resiliency.

    @BigTex – True. But not everyone lives in a place that is cool year round. Right now I am in the SF Bay area. It was 84 F today. But I was able to take a 4 minute cool shower.

    @Rick – Thanks for stopping by with the book info.

    @All – After I wrote this post, I thought of the term I was looking for, which is gradual resiliency. Instead of pushing the cold boundaries in a stressful manner, one does it very slowly degree by degree. Never pushing the process and trusting that the body will adapt and learn to generate more heat when called upon.

  8. Seantheaussie

    Last southern hemisphere summer I tried cool 27-25 degree Celsius showers with hyperventilating for less than a minute and then a perfectly acceptable shower temperature that didn’t inspire me to shorten my shower. Over winter I have definitely had greater tolerance of lower temperatures than in previous years.
    One night I tried sleeping with an uncovered bare torso and was comfortable at 13 degrees air temperature. That was a surprise.
    I have no idea if there is a connection.

  9. Mycroft Jones

    Ok, the “Cool Diet” should be here in a week or two, looks like I was able to grab a used copy before the rest of you took them all. There are two more used copies left.

  10. Pauline

    Thanks for name of book, too expensive to ship to the UK. Maybe Mycroft Jones can give some feedback once his read the copy he ordered. I love reading books based on doctor’s firsthand experience, often the older the book the better.

  11. Mycroft Jones

    Ouch. My order for the Cool Diet was cancelled today, guess someone else read this blog post and bought it before I did. Whoever successfully ordered the Cool Diet, please post here with your info.

  12. Mycroft Jones

    Finally succeeded, a copy of the Cool Diet should be here in a couple weeks, it was shipped this morning.

  13. Mycroft Jones

    The Cool Diet arrived just now. It is 233 pages of extremely large type. Just a brief glance so far, and it is pushing all the right buttons; this doctor is mentioning the problems with “febricides”, medications that take a fever down, and thus prevent the body from fighting off pathogens with its internal temperature system. And he talks about the problems with anti-biotics.

    Written in French in 1983, translated to English and published in 1989. His book is very timely, fits in exactly with all the gut biome research that Tim Steel, Grace, and Richard Nikoley have been doing. Also he gives further insight into things that were explained in the book “Becoming the Iceman”.

    Pretty amazing for an old book like this to tie together so many current strands of the paleo-sphere.

    So, that is just my 30 second eye-glance skim overview; now I’m going to sit down and read it!

  14. Mycroft Jones

    I must also say, if I had just seen this book on a shelf, I would have ignored it. The cover looks like so many sincerely wrong doctor written diet books of years past. The front cover reads like this:

    How to lose weight
    Without eating less
    Without medication
    Without exercising

    The Cool Diet

    A 100% Effective method developed by Dr. Paul-Robert Thomas.

    Presentation does count for a lot.

    Once the book opens though, it is a roller coaster ride of ideas. “The Prometheus complex is the intellectual equivalent of the Oedipus complex; children envy their elders ability to make fire, smoke, and write cheques”, etc.

    Before this book, I didn’t know the effect of cold temperature on female menstruation. This gives new meaning to the term “Ice Queen”! You’ll have to read the book to find out.

  15. Mycroft Jones

    @MAS ok, I’ll pull out my notebook and take notes as I go along. This is one of the few books I’ve felt excited about taking notes as I read it. I usually intend to take notes when reading but rarely do.

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