It’s difficult not to feel an irrational hatred towards fat-cells. Admittedly they’re there for a reason, and they play an incredibly important role. I just wish they weren’t quite so ‘visible’.
When I say ‘they play an important role’ – what is it they actually do? There are three primary functions of fat-cells (adipocytes):
- They act as a fuel-reserve in times of energy depletion
- They provide insulation and conserve body-heat
- They act as padding to protect the organs
Fat-cells come in two different forms:
- Brown adipocytes – the fat contained within these is utilised for heat-production. It cannot generally be metabolised as energy
- White adipocytes – fatty-acids secreted by white fat-cells can be used by muscles & tissue as a ready source of energy.
Because white fat-cells are the ones which secrete a fuel-source; these will form the principal focus of this post. It’s the harnessing of energy from white fat-cells that forms the basis of ketosis. As such, we ought at least to understand a little bit about them.
I recently discovered a fact about fat-cells that left me feeling cold – fat-cells never die; they just shrink!
When I say ‘they never die’, yes they do have a finite lifespan; but when they come to the end of that lifespan, the cells simply get replaced. They never truly decrease in number.
As someone who was happily losing weight, secure in the belief that their fat-cells were dissolving; this came as quite a shock. It almost verged on the depressing!
So what does this actually mean to someone who’s trying to shift a few pounds? Does everyone have the same number of fat-cells? If you’re overweight, are you condemned to stay that way for the rest of your life?
Babies are generally quite pudgy. The degree of ‘pudginess’ is pretty universal; it certainly in no way corresponds to the breadth of body-shapes displayed in the adult population. At what stage then does this divergence occur?
Men & women store fat in different places. Men around the stomach, chest & buttocks; women around the buttocks, hips, waist & breasts. As with babies, this differentiation is not marked in childhood; it’s during puberty that white fat-cells are laid down. After this point, the number of fat cells in your body remains unchanged throughout your lifetime. I wish someone had told me this when I was 13!
The only exception to this is found in the case of the clinically obese. In this state, the existing fat-cells cannot contain the sheer quantity of fat generated by the body. New fat-cells are therefore generated to store it. What a lovely thought.
It’s the sex-hormones (testosterone & estrogen) which prompt how and where our body-fat is stored. And these only kick in during the teenage years.
So, if the number of fat-cells our bodies contain is determined at puberty; how come our waistlines expand and contract in response to what we eat? How is it that going on a diet makes us slimmer? If we’re not losing fat-cells, how do we lose weight?
The answer is, that fat-cells shrink. And if we eat too much, they expand. Each cell is like a small plastic-bag, constantly topping-up or depleting its fat-levels in response to our energy-intake & expenditure. When metabolic times are hard, our fat-cells shrink. That’s because the fat they contain is being burnt as energy (the joyous state of ketosis!). As times improve & energy becomes more plentiful; our bodies ferret away the excess and store it in the form of triglycerides in our white fat-cells.
When our adipocytes are full, we expand like a balloon and look fat. When they’re emptied, we lose weight and slim down.
And what’s the best way of achieving this? Ketosis.
In order to lose weight most effectively, we need a diet where our body switches to stored-fat as its principal energy-source. The body will always burn glucose first, because it’s easy & rife. Glucose is the body’s “energy-path” of least resistance.
Accessing the fat-stores requires enzymes that we’ve chiefly put into retirement. Our bodies have become so dependent on glucose-energy that we lose our ability to burn fat. The only way to make the switch, is to remove glucose from our diet entirely. This way, the body cannot simply (and lazily) go down its trusted path of least resistance, because that path’s no longer available!
Once the required enzymes have been built up in sufficient quantity, we enter a state where our bodies can burn either fat or glucose as energy. This is called ketogenic-adaptation (more on this is another post). It’s the state in which our ancestors lived, able to access whichever fuel-source was most readily available, with no great ‘metabolic shift’ required.
But if you need to lose weight and shrink your fat-cells; the fastest, most reliable and healthiest way, is to cut out the carbs which provide us with glucose. You’ll then enter a ketogenic state and start to burn your stored-fat as fuel.
So give your fat-cells a spring-clean and make sure it’s a good clear-out! Don’t forget to let me know how you get on!
Enough for now and thanks for reading,