noun - any of several substances forming the chief part of adipose tissue of animals and also occurring in plants, that when pure are colorless, odorless, and tasteless and are either solid or liquid esters of glycerol with fatty acids
adjective - corpulent; obese
I hate the word “fat”. I hate it because I am a scientist and a personal trainer and the word “fat” has two very different meanings in those two different contexts. I hate it because of the fear and shame and social stigma that have become associated with the adjective “fat”. I wish I could remove the adjective version from the English language altogether, or replace the noun with a totally new and different word. There is so much confusion and misunderstanding about the noun because of most people’s negative association with the adjective. Today I hope to change that a little with this post.
First, take a second to re-read the noun form of fat above and notice that there is no negative connotation there. This is important: Fat is not a bad word. It is a compound in your body that is necessary for absorbing certain vitamins, and when consumed, it is the source of essential fatty acids, a dietary requirement. It helps you maintain healthy skin and hair, it insulates your body organs from shock, and it helps maintain your body temperature. It can even act as a buffer against diseases, storing chemical or biological toxins until they can be removed from the body. Finally, it stores energy that can later be broken down and used by your body to do things like this:
I recently watched a moving TED talk by Lizzie Velasquez, an amazing woman who has a genetic disorder that has left her with dangerously low body fat. If you have a few minutes, it is a worth a watch for many reasons, and you will hopefully gain a greater appreciation for the good, positive things that fat does for your body.
Not all fat is created equal
Let’s delve a little deeper into what fat is. Fat is a compound that stores energy. In your body, fat is stored in specialized fat cells. There are two main types of fat cells: white fat cells and brown fat cells. White fat cells are the ones you probably think about when you think of body fat: they store fat for later use as an energy source when needed. Around 50g of white fat cells stores more than 300 calories (technically kilocalories, for the scientists out there). Brown fat cells, on the other hand, actually break down fat to create heat. 50g of brown fat can burn up to 300 calories (kcal) in one day. Infants have a lot of brown fat (about 5% of their body mass) to keep them warm, and it was originally thought that brown fat disappeared from our bodies after infancy. Recently, however, scientists discovered that brown fat persists into adulthood and continues to help us stay warm in the cold. When we are exposed to cold temperatures, our bodies can increase the amount of brown fat cells to produce more heat, thereby burning more calories. Interestingly, shivering and endurance exercise both release a protein called irisin, which can help convert some white fat into brown fat. Some scientists think that brown fat might actually help protect against obesity.
So the next time you look out the window and see this, think of it as a golden opportunity to increase your brown fat stores!
The truth about fat and your health
We have a fair number of clients who come into the gym and tell us their goal is to lose weight. What they actually mean is that they want to lose body fat and change their body composition. Usually this is for our clients’ own perceived aesthetics, though some clients might also be motivated by health factors. The truth is that people can be healthy across a large range of body fat percentages, sizes, and weights. The Health At Every Size movement promotes healthy eating and physical movement with the goal of improving one’s health, not necessarily losing weight. The movement sites numerous studies that show that weight and BMI (body mass index) are poor predictors of disease and longevity, and that being 5 pounds underweight is likely to be more harmful than being 75 pounds overweight. There is also growing evidence that increased physical activity alone, even without changes in body composition or weight, is enough to improve virtually all markers of cardiovascular health.
But what if your goal is still to lose fat for your own aesthetic or athletic performance reasons? Both exercise and nutrition are important components of that, but studies show that if you just diet, the weight that you lose will be a combination of both fat and muscle. Losing muscle means that you are slowing down your metabolism, which is the opposite of what you want to do when you are trying to lose body fat. Plus, muscle is what allows us to perform at our best in our daily lives. Two things have been shown to help preserve muscle while losing weight: doubling the recommended daily protein intake (1.6g of protein per kilogram of body weight instead of 0.8g) and regular strength training.
At The ShockYard, we focus mainly on strength training for a number of reasons, too many to go into in one blog post, but here, then, are two important ones:
So that’s the skinny on fat. Thanks for reading and have a happy, healthy day!