Let us picturise a fat cell. Think of a tiny plastic balloon holding a drop of butter. Believe it or not, your body holds more than 40 billion fat cells. And if you are obese then you can multiply that number 2 or 3 times or more depending on your weight.
What is a fat cell?
These billions of balloon-shaped fat cells are responsible for two primary functions: storing energy and providing energy. When you consume more calories than you expend, your fat cells store the energy for later use. When you take in fewer calories than you need, your fat cells release stored fatty acids into your bloodstream. Even when you are starving, your bodily processes continue without any interruption until you are able to start ingesting food again.
Fat cells have the ability to expand or shrink depending on whether food is in abundance or in short supply. Your fat cells are capable of storing hundreds of pounds of energy. When food is plentiful, the cells expand. If an individual keeps overeating, the fat cells continue to grow until they look as if they are about to explode! But when they reach the absolute limit, these cells do not divide the way that other body cells do; instead they relay a signal to adjacent cells to start producing more fat cells.
Fat cells are also extremely long-lived. You may have heard that fat cells never die. Actually they do: every year 10 % of your body’s fat cells die. However they are quickly replaced by new fat cells, which basically means that the total number of fat cells in your body remains constant. Generally if you lose weight, your fat cells shrink but they do not disappear completely. Liposuction reduces the numbers of these cells, but weight gain can still occur in other areas as the remaining fat cells expand.
The life and death cycles of fat cells is quite complicated to understand but the important fact to remember here is that fat cells, under certain circumstances will give up their energy and shrink.
Making Your Metabolism Work For You
The More you move the more you burn
The majority of people think about the word ‘metabolism‘ as burning calories or in terms of how many calories they burn in a single day. Some people seem to be blessed with ‘superior’ metabolism that allows them to drink and eat whatever they desire without becoming obese. But metabolism is not a fixed number. If you are not one of those lucky people who can eat whatever they desire, take heart. There is a great deal that you can do to make your metabolism work for you, particularly if you increase your level of physical activity and exercise.
Moving your muscles requires energy. The more you move, the more calories you burn. Physical activity accounts for almost 20 % of the total number of calories that your body burns up in a single day. But this number varies from individual to individual. This is why exercise is so important! It is easy to understand that if you consume more calories that you expend during the day, you put on fat. Too much fat is unhealthy but then a little bit provides your body with an emergency supply of energy. In women, fat cells create the hormone estrogen. Women whose estrogen levels are about to reduce as they approach menopause sometimes develop a “menopot” (small amount of belly fat), which is nature’s way of ensuring that the body still has some estrogen. Excess fat may however result in too much estrogen which can result in hormone-related problems.
If you are carrying extra fat, you can burn it off with some exercise – but only, if you consume fewer calories than what your body needs so that it is forced to dip into it’s energy reserves. Unfortunately for all the dieters out there, it takes a lot of exercising to burn off all the calories contained in a single chocolate chip cookie. That is why exercising and dieting must always go hand in hand!
Why Dieting Alone Will Never Work
Your body always tries to strive for harmony and balance. When faced with any threat, whether it be a virus, extreme heat or an injury, your body pays a huge price just to be able to get back to it’s comfort zone. Unhealthy dieting also has the same negative effect on your body. When you severely restrict the number of calories that you consume, your cells get the message that you are starving. This challenge to your body is not taken lightly by your system – in fact it readies for war! A warning light flashes and biochemical changes begins to take place within your fat cells and within the rest of your body. Here’s what happens when you diet:
1. Your metabolism slows down
Your body perceives the lack of nutrients as a threat and thereby begins to conserve energy by decreasing your metabolism to as much as 40 %.
2. Your Body Activates Fat Storing Enzymes
Your body begins to store more fat to ensure your survival. Researchers have measured the production of the fat-storing enzymes and found that their numbers double during a very low-calorie diet program. What this effectively implies is that your body is now working twice as hard to store fat and can store twice as much fat as it did before you went on a diet which is in fact counterproductive to your desired goals!
3. Your Body Reduces It’s Fat Burning Enzymes
Research has also proved that when you go on an extreme low-calorie diet, your body’s levels of fat-burning enzymes lowered by as much as 50%. This makes you even more prone to gaining weight, both during the length of the diet and afterwards. This is definitely a big problem when you want to lose weight again in the future.
5. Your Body Loses Muscle Mass
It is by now well known that extreme dieting is the fastest way to lose muscle. When you restrict your calorie intake, your body begins to look for readily available sources of energy. It begins to extract energy from your muscles, making them smaller, weaker and less efficient at burning fat, both during and after your diet. Low levels of glucose cause your body to burn the protein in your muscles for energy. This means that as you lose weight, you are in fact losing a combination of fat, water and muscle tissue. With less metabolically active muscles in your body, it becomes that much harder for you to burn calories. The Semi Starvation Study published more than half a century ago in 1950, by Ancel Keys and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota, was the first research study to prove that extreme dieting has devastating effects on our physical as well as mental health. In a more recent study, researchers observed that restrained eating habits were often associated with not only low self-worth and a fixation on body shape but also fostered anxiety, depression, fatigue and confusion.
The Bottom Line: Restricting Calories is Not The Way To Get Fit! Get Physically Active & Embark on a Long Term Fitness Program And Do Not Damage Your Body Through Diet Fads!