There is so much information, quasi-information, and just plain bad information out there about fat. We would all like to know how it works, how we can control it, and just how much our genes have to do with it.
What are we to believe, and what are we supposed to do?
Recently I came across a book called The Secret Life of Fat, written by Sylvia Tara, PhD. Her degree is in biochemistry and she is a person who has her own struggles keeping her weight down. In fact, she was driven to go into the “fat field” because of her own observations that she and many others seem to have a much harder time keeping the fat off than “regular” people.
Her book does a fine job of explaining what we actually know so far about how fat works, how it has a life of its own, and how it relates to our brains, genetics and lifestyles to varying degrees.
How Fat Works
Here goes: I am going to give you some of her more salient points so that, hopefully, you will come out the other side with some real facts, greater understanding, and what it can mean for you. Ready? Hang on to your belt buckle, this might be a wild ride!
- Fat is everywhere in our bodies, and some of it is quite useful. We need it for our nerves, cell membranes, cushioning of organs, hormones, stores of certain essential vitamins, and many other things. But, fat appreciation aside, we are concerned here with the stuff that accumulates in excess and sometimes causes health problems.
- Perhaps the thing most people want to know: Is there a predisposition to being fat in our genes? For some, the answer is yes. How many of us? Bummer, but its hard to tell. It probably isn’t as many as we would like to think. The best indication of prevalence I could find for a gene called FTO, which has a fat-causing variant, is in the neighborhood of 16%. And I had to look around for that…it wasn’t given in the book. This FTO gene variant actually causes the unfortunate owners to desire more calorie-dense foods (aka, sugar and fat). There are other genes variants that can effect our fat deposition, but this one seems to be the most well known at this point. Bottom line here: there is still a lot we don’t know, but the gene connection is real.
- Fat is annoying (duh). It likes to stay put once it is there. It does this by creating its own system for self-preservation. It likes to create its own blood supply, and has an intricate messenger system that makes it hard to get rid of it. Another reality: once you lose fat, your body operates on fewer calories than it would have if you had been lean all along. For the sake of simplicity, your metabolism slows down about 20% after you lose weight.
- In addition to that, there is a hormone, leptin, that tells us we aren’t hungry. Fat has this in it. Once you lose fat, you lose leptin. That means you will want to eat, and it is harder to control your appetite once you lose the fat.
- You can be fat and healthy. BIG example: Sumo wrestlers put on weight to help them with their sport. This weight is predominantly under the skin (subcutaneous) rather than around the abdominal organs. Studies on these athletes show that their blood work is great! They don’t have any of the markers for heart disease. The problem comes when fat is deposited around the middle of us (visceral). This is the fat that wreaks havoc with our systems by making us less sensitive to insulin, and letting triglycerides and cholesterol float around in our blood.
- Your gut bacteria makes a difference. Those with a weight problem tend to have more of a certain kind (this has a genetic component as well) that absorbs more calories from food than the bacteria found in lean people. This is an emerging field, but these findings are definitive.
- None of these things necessarily determine your fate, even though they do explain why the battle can be so difficult. I would also like to add that our current widespread exposure to high-fat, high sugar foods is a huge problem. Even those without any of the above predispositions can get hooked because of the way our brains are wired. But that is a different topic not covered here. Suffice it say that in our current emvironment, if you add in a predisposition, you are stuck with a double-whammy.
Finally, THE SOLUTION.
- It is NOT one size fits all! Fat has connections to many hormones and messenger molecules, too many to name here. These all fluctuate over our lifetimes and circumstances, and our responses to them are complicated and individualized. What works for one may not work for all.
- Eliminating all sugar and other carbohydrates is necessary for some but not all, but keeping consumption low is good. Eliminating all fat is dangerous, but keeping even healthy fats to a low level is good for most, if not all. Diets high in sugar and fat have been shown to decrease growth hormone and leptin, both of which would help keep weight in check.
- If you eat more fruits and vegetables, including legumes, and whole grains, it helps your gut bacteria, your satiety hormones, and cuts down on your body’s tendency to put down visceral fat.
- Eating protein also helps with satiety, and helps to stop some cravings for the other bad stuff mentioned above.
- EXERCISE helps direct visceral fat to subcutaneous. It increases testosterone and growth hormone, both known for giving you a better metabolism. It also increases a substance called adiponectin, which is a good guy that sensitizes the body to insulin, guides glucose and fat out of the bloodstream and helps clean out toxins that come from a high fat diet.
So guess what? Now you know more about the reasons for it, but the bottom line is the same that you hear everywhere. Exercise more, eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat protein sources, and keep fats, sugars, and processed foods to a minimum.
Now you also know that fat is a formidable opponent, especially once it is there. The best thing to do is not to let too much of it accumulate in the first place. Because as seen here and observed in real life, losing it and keeping it off is a real challenge.
Have your own challenge with fat? Contact me here.
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