Know how your body stores fat

Posted Nov. 22, 2010, at 7:32 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 17, 2010, at 3:19 p.m.
Stan Small of Bangor is a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach.
Stan Small of Bangor is a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach.

When working with clients, I’ve learned that the best results come when they have an understanding of what is going on inside their bodies. So, let’s dig in.

Every one of us has fat. Some of it is needed to maintain a healthy body and some of it is not. An alarming fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is that nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Understanding what causes fat to be stored can give us the knowledge we need control our weight.

We are all equipped with thousands of tiny fat cells that are just sitting there waiting to be filled. They don’t ever go away. A cool fact about fat cells is that we typically don’t generate new ones after puberty. However, if an individual gains a significant amount of weight, the body may then produce additional fat cells. As we gain weight each cell continues to get bigger and bigger like a tiny balloon that has the ability to inflate with vitually no limits. If and when the contents are needed, the fat is released and the cells shrink back down in size.

Our ability to store fat is impressive and at the same time problematic. It is our source of future energy, kind of like a squirrel packs food away for the long cold winter. It’s there just in case we need it. The problem occurs when we continue feeding ourselves more than our daily activity requires.

A little-known fact is that it takes approximately ten times more energy for your body to break down dietary carbohydrates and proteins for fat storage than it does to store fat directly. When given the choice, your body will always choose to store fat first, rather than burn it for energy. This is one reason that following a low-fat diet is beneficial.

How is fat stored? There are two hormones that play an important role in weight maintenance, both of which are produced by the pancreas. The first hormone, insulin, is one that most of us have heard of. What you may not know is that insulin promotes fat storage by stimulating the removal of sugars from the blood. When blood sugar is high after eating a large meal or consuming sweet drinks and snacks, sugars get delivered to the liver and then to hard-working muscles for energy. The excess is transported to; you guessed it, fat cells. The only way to release the stored fat is by burning more calories than you consume.

Even though the topic is fat storage, I feel it is necessary to mention insulin’s polar opposite, glucagon. It is a lesser-known hormone, also produced in the pancreas, involved in the liberation of fat. When blood sugar is low, glucagon triggers the release of stored fuel for energy, first from the liver and then from fat cells. The newly liberated fuel then gets transported to working muscles and burned.

Stan Small of Bangor Fitness is a certified personal trainer.

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