How Body Fat Works
Is Fat Bad?
Most of us have some body fat we’re trying to get rid of, and it can affect the way we see and feel about ourselves. But it’s important to remember that we as humans need fat in order to live. Developed as survival mechanism, body fat helps us when food and energy are not immediately available. Body fat is an easy way to store energy when we have a surplus, and allows us to tap into it when there’s scarcity. The trouble can come with too much excess fat.
Food Fat vs. Body Fat
Contrary to popular belief, eating fat will not necessarily create fat. The fat you eat is not the same as the fat you carry under your skin. But eating unhealthy food to excess probably will make you fat. The body gets energy mainly from two out of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates and dietary fats. Dietary fats are composed of fatty acids, and are essential for the body to function. Body fat is created only when there is excess energy gained by eating too much of any of these macronutrients.
How is Fat Made?
Energy that the body can use is typically measured in calories. Calories are taken in through the food we eat, and are burned both during activity and also when the body is at rest. At every point throughout the day, if your heart is beating, you’re using up calories and energy. Extra calories that are consumed but not immediately used are transitioned to be stored as body fat.
Extra Science Alert: This extra energy comes in the form of triglycerides, a type of fatty acid. Triglycerides are derived from, and are later broken down into glycerol and fatty acids. Fat cells throughout the body expand in order to absorb these triglycerides, filling up and storing the excess energy for later use.
Subcutaneous vs Visceral Fat
To get deeper (puns!), there are two main types of body fat: subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous is the fat we all know about, and can easily see. It’s soft and squishy, stored right under the skin, and creates those rolls and flab. This fat can have some benefits, serving as insulation to keep us warm and to protecting our organs.
Visceral abdominal fat is also visible, but not in the same way. Visceral fat grows and wraps around internal organs, creating wide barrel chests and makes your belly look hard and tight. This deep fat usually only develops when the body has formed larger amounts of fat. Because it’s hidden deep in the body, it can be more dangerous and cause more severe health risks. This type of fat can be a marker of insulin resistance, as well as increased risk of diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. If you’re at this point, look to make some changes to better your health.
Why Do I Have Belly Fat?
If you’ve ever wondered why fat around the belly and hips is the hardest to get rid of, the answer is efficiency. Weight is easiest to carry in the midsection of the body, closest to the center of gravity. Since the purpose of body fat is to store energy, the body wants to use as little energy as possible for carrying it. Our arms and legs swing as we walk, so added mass on the limbs would take more energy to move, and defeat the purpose of storing it. So the belly becomes the most energy efficient place to store extra weight.
How Much Fat is Safe?
You need body fat to survive, but too much can lead to health problems. But how do you know if you have the right amount of fat or too much fat? While there are some great ways to measure your progress, body fat measurements can be somewhat inaccurate and imprecise. Asking your doctor or health profession is really the best way to see where you stand, and how much you should work to lose.
Knowing is Half the Battle!
Knowing about fat is the key to being able to take control of your health. Understanding its integral role in the body’s functions is a great step in the process of weight management and getting rid of excess body fat. Create a plan, get started, track your progress, and take your time to enjoy the journey.