Hi friends, and welcome to this month’s Joyinmovement newsletter.
Since I started writing these Joyinmovement newsletters back in 2005, one of my goals has been to provide you with the know-how, tools, and motivation to create healthy nutritional choices and exercise rituals you can live with, and benefit from, for the rest of your life.
One of the comments I receive when readers email to thank me for these newsletters is that I’m able to break down sometimes complicated information in a way that makes it easier to understand and use. That’s what I’m going to do this month on a topic that many of us think about but perhaps don’t quite understand: fat loss.
I was reading an article about what really happens when body fat is burned, and wanted to share the basics with you. I promise not to get too science geeky with this, so please keep reading. I hope you’ll find it interesting.
Most people really don’t know how fat cells work, how the fat burning process takes place, or where the fat goes when it’s burned.
When you lose body fat, do you think the fat cells are lost as well? If you answered no, you’re correct.
When you “lose” body fat, the fat cell does not go anywhere. It stays right where it was just under your skin and on top of the muscles. That’s why you won’t see muscle definition no matter how much muscle building you do when your body fat is high.
You store your fat inside the fat cell in the form of triglycerol. In order to be burned it must be released from the fat cell. When you release it, the fat goes into the bloodstream as free fatty acids and they are transported through the blood to the tissues where the energy is needed.
We store calories of energy in body fat cells. So now we have to ask, what will trigger the release of all these stored fatty acids from the fat cell?
In an energy deficit state, your body needs energy because you’re consuming fewer calories than you are burning. When this happens your body releases hormones and enzymes that signal your fat cells to release your fat reserves instead of keeping them in storage. The stored fat or energy gets released into the bloodstream as fatty acids and they are shuttled off to the muscles where the energy is needed.
If you do any reading about health and fitness, you’ve probably heard of mitochondria. This is the “cellular powerhouse” where energy production takes place and where the fatty acids go to be burned for energy.
The fat cell does SHRINK when the fatty acids are released. That’s why you look leaner when you lose body fat. Your fat cells are now smaller. A small or “empty” fat cell is what you’re after if you want a lean look.
Years ago science believed that the number of fat cells could not increase after adulthood, only the size of the fat cells could increase (or decrease). Now, though, we know that fat cells can indeed increase both in size and in number and that they are more likely to increase in number at certain times and under certain circumstances. I find this very interesting.
These times and circumstance might include late childhood and early puberty, during pregnancy, and during adulthood when extreme amounts of weight are gained.
Some people are genetically predisposed to have more fat cells than others, and women have more fat cells than men. An infant usually has about 5-6 billion fat cells. This number increases during early childhood and puberty, and a healthy adult with normal body composition has about 25 to 30 billion fat cells. A typical overweight adult has around 75 billion fat cells.
So think of it this way. Body fat is basically just a reserve source of energy and fat cells are the storage bins. An actual physical storage bin stays the same size, but your fat cells can expand or shrink in size depending on how filled up they are.
Another good analogy is to picture a balloon. When it’s not inflated with air, it’s rather small. It expands as you fill it. Your fat cells, when you are lean, are nearly empty. When your energy intake exceeds your needs, your fat cells inflate like balloons.
So you don’t actually lose fat cells, but you shrink and empty them out.
Here’s what to remember:
1. Calories do count because the signal that triggers your body to release energy from fat cells is creating an energy deficit. Calories in versus calories out still counts.
2. Always reduce your caloric intake conservatively. A drastic reduction in calories does cause quick fat loss, but never works long term. You’ll go into starvation mode. So it’s better to use exercise to burn the fat rather than low calorie crash diets.
3. If you feel yourself gaining fat, decide to put a halt to it. Depending on your circumstances, you might actually be multiplying your fat cells and this will make it more difficult to burn fat in the future.
4. If you’ve already achieved a fat level you’re satisfied with, remember that your fat cells are not gone. They have emptied out. Keep up your health and fitness lifestyle!
5. Genetics are only a minor factor. You have no control over how many fat cells you were born with. You do, however, control the major factors that determine how much fat you store: lifestyle, exercise, nutrition, and mental attitude.
I’m at a lean versus fat level that I’m happy with. I find it much easier to maintain this level then to be inflating and deflating my fat cells. I’m aware of what and how much to eat, as well as the movement levels I need to maintain my body composition and health. I imagine many of you join me in knowing this about yourselves. It’s always good to review the basics, though, and understand how our bodies function.
Until next month, stay healthy, move well, and stay in good communication with your fat cells!