Hey everyone! As promised, here is the first of a ten part series specialising in fat cell metabolism and the science of fat loss.
To better understand everything that will be coming up in later posts, some essential information on the biological functions of fat cells need to be given first. At every new part in the series I want you to always keep in mind how each new bit of information fits in with what has been covered previously and the context that it occurs in.
The series will be broken down in to:
Part 1: Basic Fat Cell Biology
Part 2: How Fat Is Stored
Part 3: How Fat Is Released
Part 4: What Happens After A Meal
Part 5: What Happens Between Meals and Overnight
Part 6: Hormonal Control of Appetite, Hunger and Metabolism
Part 7: Hormones Involved In Fat Storage
Part 8: Hormones Involved In Fat Loss
Part 9: Topographical Distribution of Body Fat
Part 10: Effects of Diet, Sleep, Stress and Exercise on Fat Loss
As always, there are some important preliminary bits of information to understand and to keep in mind before we get in to the main details.
Part 1 today will give you a brief introduction to basic biological functions of your fat cells. This information will help you understand the basis of why your fat cells do what they do.
1) Your Fat Cells are Specifically Designed to be Fat Cells
Your muscle cells are designed to be muscle cells. Your liver cells are designed to be liver cells. And every fat cell is designed to be a fat cell.
What I mean by that is the way your fat cells work is not the same as a generic cell you might have learned about in physiology class.
The metabolic environment, enzymatic environment and control of the cells processes are not the same as other cells in the body. It’s metabolic processes are set up differently.
If you want to understand fat cells, you need to study fat cells. Consider this series a study in Fat Cells.
Obviously, a big part of a fat cell we are all too familiar with is their role as a specialised storage site for energy. This is the part we are all too familiar with.
BUT. That is not all your fat cells are designed to do…
2) Your Fat Cells are in Fact an Endocrine Organ
Contrary to what most people believe, your fat cells are not just a storage dump for your “excess calories”
It has only been in recent history we discovered your fat cells are in fact an endocrine organ. What this means is that your fat cells actually produce and release hormones. Hormones are messenger molecules that talk to the other parts of the body. These hormones can be powerful influences on your metabolism and appetite amongst other things.
Think about that for a moment and let it sink in. Your fat is not just excess energy stored. It is an actual organ. You fat cells actually talk to other areas of the body. They can also receive messages from other areas of the body. It is the largest and most widespread endocrine organ in the body.
What’s more is you can actually exert an influence on this organ. You can influence it’s output (how much it talks to other areas of your body and how loudly it yells). You can influence its sensitivity to other hormones (how well it listens). You can also change the size of this organ!
We will discuss the role of your fat cells as an endocrine organ in further detail in part 6, the hormones they release, and all other hormones that govern appetite, metabolism and weight control.
3) Your Fat Cells are Under Strict Metabolic Control
Being an endocrine organ, your fat cells are actually under regulatory control. In plain English, this means your body actually cares if your fat cells get too big, or too small.
Your body hates change. It loves what is called homeostasis. Which basically means “It loves its home to stay the same”.
Consistent blood sugar levels. Consistent core temperature. Consistent blood alkalinity. A nice, steady, stable environment to operate in. If things start swinging too far one way or another, it makes some changes to counteract them.
Think of it just like your body temperature. You have an inbuilt thermostat set at 37 degrees C. If you have a fever, this is actually your thermostat getting turned up. Your body then tries to increase its temperature by shivering and making you feel like you’re cold so you put extra blankets on. If your temperature gets too high though, you start sweating and taking your covers off. Once you are hot, your temperature has already peaked.
Same with your fat cells. If your fat cells get too big, they tell your body to stop eating so much and tell you to move more. If your fat cells get too small, like when you lose too much weight, your fat cells will tell you that you’re hungry, tell you to eat more, and they will make you feel lethargic to conserve energy.
What this also means is, your body is already an awesome calorie counter. We’ve just mastered ways to trick it.
4) How Do People Get Fat Then?
If our bodies are so good at stopping us from getting fat, how the hell do we get so fat?
As I just mentioned, we’ve mastered the art form of getting around the regulatory control of our fat cells. By the end of the series, you will understand that you can change how your fat cells operate. Obviously they can get bigger and they can get smaller. But there are other factors going on that influence if you listen to the signals or not (more on that another day). What this also means, is if you get to the stage where you are obese, you in fact already have an underlying metabolic dysfunction going on.
On a long term part of the spectrum, this is how Yo Yo dieting means you will get fatter over time and why people have “metabolic damage” after a comp (if they do repeated binges on too much junk). After this relative starvation period, your body wants to get back to its set point as quickly as possible. If you do anything to extremes (like crash diet or get to comp leanness), as a protective mechanism, you body can sometimes “reset” it’s fixed point. Just like you do when you have a fever. Meaning you will rebound. Hard. And it will take time to get it back to normal again. Sometimes months.
You can also train it the other way though. You can reset your thermostat to stay leaner. This is one of the reason why it’s easier for lean people to stay lean and the fat people get fatter. It’s like a class war in your body. Also a good reason for, even though your insta crush may have nutella every 2nd meal of the day, you may not be able to afford the same luxury if your metabolism has been crap for a while.
The simplest example I can give is the metabolic response of people with two very different metabolisms. If you ever talk to someone who has just finished a comp and had a huge binge on junk food, they will most likely tell you they couldn’t sleep that night. They were tossing and turning, they were hot, they were sweaty. This is because their body kicked the metabolism in to overdrive and frantically started about burning everything off.
Contrast this to your christmas lunch where you binged. What did you feel like doing after you overate? Sleep? These are two very different short term metabolic responses to essentially the same stimulus. And you have the power to change how your body responds to this!
5) It Takes a While to Start Affecting Meaningful Change
This homeostasis and regulatory control of your fat cells also means that you aren’t going to make real meaningful changes if you only diet for a week.
How long does it take to even have your body care about anything? You can normally start changes in your internal metabolic machinery after about 2-3 weeks. There have been a couple of bits of research where people have been able to start reversing the effects of insulin resistance after just 2-3 weeks and other papers where you can start increase insulin resistance after 2-3 weeks. It seems this is the length of time of consistently doing something before your body even starts to give a crap. So, if someone complains to you they haven’t lost 7 kg’s of fat after 1 week of dieting, you can kindly slap them in the face from me.
One final point before we go, and this is EXTREMELY important to keep in mind when putting all of the series in to relative context.
There is no ONE thing that is the only thing that controls your fat cell. That’s part of the reason why everyone who bangs on about just decreasing calories is kind of right. And everyone who bangs on about just decreasing insulin, is also kind of right. But none of them are COMPLETELY right. And it’s a shame that people seem to have to subscribe to just one way of thinking instead of looking at the whole equation in context.
In summary, things you need to take away from part 1 is simply this:
– Your Fat Cells are Specialised Cells Set Up For Storage
– Your Fat Cells are in Fact an Endocrine Organ
– Your Fat Cells are Regulated
Click Here for Part 2: HOW FAT IS STORED
Ben Minos has Bachelor degrees in both Physiotherapy and Exercise Science (Human Movements). He has worked as a Personal Trainer for 20 years and a Physiotherapist for close to 15. Ben has authored a book on nutrition titled Calories Don’t Count, available through iBooks, Amazon and most online retailers. He has also authored many articles for Ironman Bodybuilding Magazine and also co authored Australia’s first Kettlebell instructor certification course. He has competed in Natural Bodybuilding over a number of years, as well as prepared numerous clients for the stage.