The most important thing we can do to become and stay healthy is to learn how keep excess fat out of our bodies. We already know that excess fat is the primary contributor to our poor health. And we all know that eating in excess is the primary way we gain fat, but most people don’t know exactly how we lose fat.
Sure you probably know that by eating less and exercising more you will lose fat, but it isn’t quite that straight forward. Fat gain and loss are highly regulated processes that we have for our survival, and losing fat is acting against our own bodies survival instincts if we don’t do it right.
There are actually two types of fat in our bodies: White Adipose Tissue (WAT) and Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT). WAT is the main type of fat we are trying to get rid of. It is primarily formed of triglycerides and is a great source of energy in out time of need. It is also not metabolically active which means it does not use energy at all.
Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) has a much higher number of mitochondria (the power house of the cell that uses energy) then WAT cells and also has a special protein that allows it burn energy in a non-efficient manner. This means that BAT cells produce heat instead of energy in a form of non shivering thermogenesis.
Brown Adipose Tissue research is still coming out, but it looks as if exposing yourself to slightly cool temperatures (just cooler then what you are used to without shivering), will help stimulate the growth of this tissue and help improve your ability to lose fat as it uses up a lot of fat to keep you warmer.
While that is good to know, it probably isn’t as important as knowing how we reduce the size of our White Adipose Tissue cells. Fat loss is primarily a hormonal action with the main hormones being epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, ghrelin, growth hormone, and testosterone.
Through a series of chemical interactions these hormones cause fat to be split apart into triglycerides (fatty acids) that are then deposited into the blood stream and taken to the cells that need energy the most. So anything that helps to increase the hormones above will theoretically also increase fat loss.
It is also good to know what causes us to gain fat in the first place. Primarily the hormone insulin is responsible for helping to transport nutrients into cells (in this case fatty acids into fat cells). An increased blood glucose level is one of the causes of increased insulin so anything that reduces overall blood glucose levels should help reduce insulin as well.
One of the most effective strategies to lower blood glucose levels is to limit the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Carbs significantly increase your blood glucose level because they are so rapidly absorbed, and thereby cause your insulin to spike when you do. This isn’t always a bad thing. If you have just recently exercised then this will rapidly restore the level of glycogen (a polysaccharide or complex sugar) in your muscles. If you haven’t recently exercised and therefore have used up your muscle glycogen your body will begin storing the excess energy as fat.
All forms of exercise increase the amount of hormones listed above that help contribute to fat loss. Weight lifting however, increases growth hormone and testosterone more than any other exercise making it the preferred exercise for fat loss.
One final way to lose fat is to selectively fast for periods of time to allow the body time to metabolize fat. This is best accomplished by intermittent fasting or eating within a window of time. In other words, fasting for 18 or more hours and eating in a 6 hour window (1pm-7pm). This allows for maximum fat burning ability, but the effects wear off over time. To get the benefits without the downsides it is recommended that you have a “carb refeeding” once a week where you eat a ton of food to “up-regulate” your fat burning hormones.
To put it all together the best way to lose fat is to:
1. Keep blood glucose levels down by limiting carbohydrates, especially highly refined foods such as bread, pasta, etc.
2. Fast on a regular basis to allow for maximum fat burning time (the simple rule is that when your body runs low on energy from food it must burn fat).
3. Include a carb refeeding time at least once a week so that your fat burning hormones don’t permanently “down-regulate”. (Fast for too long though and your body adjusts itself to compensate.)
4. Try to eat the bulk of your calories and carbs after a workout, not before.
5. Include weight lifting in any exercise program you do. (Bodyweight squats count as weight lifting for instance)
These are the basics. There are obviously whole books on the subject but you only need to know a few things to understand how fat loss works. And if you follow the five things listed above you will be well ahead of most people when it comes to both knowing about fat loss and actually losing the fat you want to lose.
This is our 36th challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…
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