Losing weight is not about losing fat – it’s about getting the burn rate up but not by that much

By Stephen Pate – There are so many bogus ideas and scams around weight loss. It’s a multi-billion industry foisting useless schemes to burn those extra pounds but the truth is very simple. Weight loss or gain is based on how many calories we consume and the rate we burn off the calories, our metabolic rate.

If we eat more and exercise less we will gain weight. To lose weight, eat less than our daily caloric requirement and increase our exercise.  Any physical activity which increases the caloric burn rate or metabolism will work.

CBC News is adding to the misinformation with the story yesterday Jeff Woods explains how our bodies metabolize fat. Jeff Woods says – and he is wrong – that we need to run off the fat.

The problem is our bodies are made to store fat. We have millions of fat cells that healthy adults will not lose. What we can do is lose weight by shrinking the fat cells smaller since they are elastic and will grow or shrink to store energy for another day.

Fat science and learned observation

The science of fat is well known. If you want to get the full scientific story, there is a reasonably clear article called  How To Make A Fat Cell Less Not Thin: the lessons of fat flux by Dr. Peter Attia MD.

“Barring the presence of scientific evidence I’m unaware of, and barring surgical intervention (e.g., liposuction), reducing the adiposity of a person is achieved by reducing the adiposity of individual adipose cells, collectively. In other words, the number of adipocytes (fat cells) we have as an adult does not change nearly as much as their size and fat content.  So, for a person to reduce their fat mass, their fat cells must collectively lose fat mass.”

So to lose weight, it is not an issue of losing fat cells but getting the little devils to give up their stored energy.  Dr. Attia calls this fat flux – when the fat cells en-mass are in the state of giving up their stored energy. Of course, that is easier said than done since the body works hard to keep them nice and “fat” in case there is a famine or we get left out on the cold some night.

It all boils down, according to Dr. Attia, to convincing our bodies to start burning off the stored energy in the fat cells, making them smaller and making us healthier and more attractive.  If we are eating tons of junk food or just too many calories for our normal daily activity level, that’s not going to happen.

I think the article is worth a read, even if it gets scientific at times, because you are going to say Stephen knows nothing about this topic. He’s a music journalist, a guy who knows computers. That’s correct but I will add my own personal experience as a morbidly obese adult who spent 17 years in a wheelchair – later.

The development of fat cells during our growth period or youth is one of the strongest reasons that argue against childhood obesity. Extra fat cells created in obese children will plague the individual for the rest of their lives.

Fat cells, called adipose tissue, are special cells with a nucleus, surrounding elastic tissue and this great energy storage system which stores excess sugars as triglycerides as lipids. Our liver decides how much sugar we need to burn and sends the excess to the fat cells as stored energy. Insulin is the chemical that controls the process. It’s a very cool and complex system.

All the complex stuff that is going on in a single fat cell as it decides to store or burn triglycerides TAG

All the complex stuff that is going on in a single fat cell as it decides to store or burn triglycerides TAG

Other than surgery, we don’t lose fat cells which are replaced at the rate of 10% per year. While you may not like the look of excess weight, normal fat cells insulate your body and organs and make your skin look smooth and you look beautiful or handsome.

The complicated part about the body is that our emotions and hormones often tell us to keep eating beyond our needs. Food is good. Food is the last great temptation, we tell ourselves, after cigarettes and other pleasures get the ‘bad’ label.  We have to train ourselves to eat less,  to eat healthy foods and fewer calories to lose weight and to maintain a healthy weight.

Observations of a non-exercising person

About 15 years ago I started using a wheelchair, walking very little and exercising less. I weighed about 220 lbs which is morbidly obese for my height. After 2 years of reducing my calories to 1,200 a day and modest exercise, my weight dropped to 160 lbs.  Since I monitored my food/calories and exercise daily on the computer, my observation is that weight loss was more dependent on what I ate versus how much exercise I did.

Fast forward 8 years and I stopped exercising, ate more carelessly and my little fat cells filled up to 210 lbs again. I kept that weight long enough to have a heart attack and get serious about my weight again.

Almost a year later, I weigh about 180 lbs but got stalled because I didn’t exercise to increase my metabolic rate – turn up the caloric heat as it were.  6 weeks ago I? entered a rehab program with daily exercise and my weight started to drop again.

It’s not healthy to not exercise, from a heart and other health perspective, but it’s also necessary to exercise to lose weight. Exercise tells the body that it should burn the triglycerides, get the fat in flux. Exercise is harder for people with disabilities but not impossible.  We just have to be more careful in designing a program that works.