what is fat
What is FAT? Before we go any further let’s look at this material we call fat.
We are so focused on how unattractive fat makes us feel and look, we then forget why our body composition includes fat. Why do we need fat we ask, fat cells known as adipose tissue is made from cells called adipocytes. Fat is an excellent protector and insulator, it cushions our body under our skin and keeps our internal organs in place and also prevents drastic heat loss. This is what is known as essential body fat, which is necessary to maintain our life and reproductive functions.
We store fat under our skin (called subcutaneous fat) and in our body cavity around our internal organs (called visceral fat). Fat together with our liver stores Vitamin D in our subcutaneous fat and releases it into our blood stream slowly as we need it. Our brain and nerve cells relies on fat and in fact our prime source of energy is from glucose which our body uses to produce fat.
Triglycerides are stored in our fat cells, when they expand in diameter and get larger they make us look fat. Triglycerides are important for energy reserves, these fat cells secrete chemicals that play a part in our appetite, protects nerve tissue, and help regulate women's menstrual cycles.
The pancreas releases enzymes called lipases that attack the surface of each fat molecule and break the fats down into two parts, glycerol and fatty acids. Because fat molecules are too big to easily cross cell membranes, the fat cells must be broken down first. This ensures that they pass from the intestine through the intestinal cells into the lymphatic system, or any cell barrier. These fat cells are called lipoprotein, they transport dietary lipids (fats) from the intestines to various areas in our body. They also enable fats and cholesterol to be transported in our water based bloodstream. Lipoprotein lipase break the fats into fatty acids and are found in the blood vessels walls. The fatty acids are then absorbed from the blood into fat cells, muscle cells and liver cells. Once in the liver, the glycerol and fatty acids can be either further broken down or used to make glucose.
The differences in the way men and women store fat
The hormone Estrogen causes fat to be stored around the pelvis (hips), the buttocks and thighs in women, men on the other hand tend to store visceral fat around their bellies. This sex-specific fat, as it is known for women, is supposed to be a physiological advantage during pregnancies. Women’s bodies are more efficient at storing fat because their bodies are always in preparation for fertility, fetal development and lactation. This is known as the healthy fat, even though it is not aesthetic, it is because women have larger fat cells around the gluteal, pelvic and thigh area which we know as cellulite.
The rate of body fat accumulation particularly sex-specific fat, is attributed mostly to changes in female hormone levels, such as prolactin and oxytocin required for lactation (nursing). Sex-specific fat cells around the hips and thighs increase their fat-releasing activity and decrease their storage capacity. While at the same time fat storage increases in the mammary adipose tissue. So basically the fat stores from the hips and thighs are now being used to produce milk, women tend to deposit fat in their bodies during pregnancy and lose it during lactation.
Men tend to store excess fat in the visceral, or abdominal area. Not only is this not an advantage, it is dangerous and even life threatening. A large belly, where the waist circumference is larger than the hip girth, is strongly associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes, elevated triglycerides, hypertension, cancer and risk of early mortality.
Women have a lower basal fat oxidation rate because their body composition is made up of less muscle mass, their BMR is much lower than men. Men actually lose weight easier than women because of their high muscle mass ratio to fat, even when they are resting men burn more calories than women. The reason is hormonal, men have testosterone which causes them to have more muscle mass and less percentage of body fat. Women have estrogen which causes them to store more fat which they need physiologically. Women store 11% more body fat than men, even women body builders never get to below 6% body fat.
Women have to do a lot more exercise if they would like to achieve the same health benefits as men, this includes both diet and exercise. Even though exercise alone might be enough for men to lose weight, women need to take their caloric intake into consideration also.
Losing Weight, Losing Fat
As we know too much fat besides being unattractive, is not healthy and causes a lot of problems. Being too fat causes clogged arteries, heart disease and high risk for heart attacks and diabetes. It is so important for us to regulate our cortisol levels by controlling our behavior pattern towards food, and get into a healthy lifestyle as part of our daily routine.
Our weight is determined by the rate which we store energy from the food that we eat, and the rate at which we use that energy. Our body breaks down fat as we lose weight, but we cannot reduce the number of fat cells we have. We will always have the same number or fat cells we were born with. As we lose weight each fat cell simply gets smaller and as we gain weight our fat cells expand.
Fat cells are our body’s emergency storage, they store fuel for us just in case we need it later on to survive. If we didn’t have fat cells, we wouldn’t have survived the famines of the past. During the holocaust the people who survived were the ones who had a larger fat store. Fat cells are a sophisticated survival mechanism that is unfortunately getting all the wrong signals today. Our body was not designed for the constant intake of food, especially the processed junk food that contains preservatives and high levels of sugar.
Maintaining a stable weight in this day and age takes a lot more effort compared to our parents’ generation. We live in a world with too much abundance of junk food, stress, financial responsibilities and sedentariness. We are however exposed to an abundance of information and awareness of what a healthy lifestyle is supposed to be. We are more educated than our parents about exercise and nutrition, we do know that we should be doing some kind of physical activity every day and try to eat healthy.