Dr. Kellee Rutley-Fat in the Fire
Understanding the physiology behind how we store fat is vital to our health.
Summer is in full swing, complete with the season’s poolside parties, outdoor soirees and tropical getaways. But this fun in the sun can strike fear in the hearts of those who dread donning summer’s more revealing attire.
Unfortunately, even a glimpse of a bikini-clad mannequin in a store window can make someone fall for a fad diet or weight-loss gimmick out of sheer desperation. It’s no surprise that weight loss is a billion dollar industry. Americans spend more on nutritional supplements, health club memberships and weight loss surgeries than all other countries combined—yet we still have the “fattest” population, and our children are being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes at an alarming rate.
Why are we so overweight?
While the word “obese” conjures images of very large individuals, “metabolically obese normal weight subjects” have been described in medical research since the 1990s. This means that the BMI (body mass index) is dead. Having a normal BMI—or a normal height-to-weight ratio—is irrelevant in many cases. Many Americans have a normal BMI, but are still characterized by a higher-than-acceptable body fat-to-lean muscle mass ratio. And this normal weight obesity (NOW) is significantly associated with cardiometabolic dysregulation and a high prevalence of metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome, or syndrome X, is a combination of four factors that are strong predictors of serious health risks: abdominal fat, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels. A person does not have to exhibit all four factors to be at risk, and none of these factors need be extremely high to be considered present.
Understanding the physiology behind how we store fat, how we burn fat and how we maintain weight loss once it has been achieved is vital to our health as individuals.
If eating less and exercising more were the answer to the problem, we could all stand and cheer. While exercise is a very important part of maintaining a healthy weight and building lean muscle—the engine that burns calories—Americans have been trying to eat less and exercise their way to weight loss for decades to no avail.
For most people who are struggling with extra weight in the form of body fat, the problem is sugar. After a lifetime of eating processed, carbohydrate- and sugar-laden foods, our pancreases are literally exhausted. Insulin is the primary fat storage hormone, and when it is circulating in the blood at high levels, the body will store carbohydrates as fat. Tissues then become resistant to the positive and necessary effects of insulin. Adding insult to injury are the chemicals we consume, unknowingly, that unleash metabolic chaos on our finely-tuned systems.
Losing fat rather than lean muscle mass requires us to reduce our sugar intake in order to use fat as energy. If we have plenty of fruit smoothie in the gas tank, the body has no need to go into fat stores. Lean muscle mass must be maintained to avoid “rebounding” and regaining weight in the form of fat after it has been shed.
There are techniques and protocols to lose unhealthy fat and maintain lean mass. But if this is offered in the form of a stimulant drug or a pregnancy hormone, beware! There are no magic pills, miracle injections or exotic potions that will give us real and lasting changes in our weight and health.
Weight loss should be supervised by a licensed healthcare professional who can monitor vital signs, body composition, health status and the potential need to adjust medications. Any weight loss method should target weight gain at its source, which is insulin resistance. Maintenance should include continued support and monitoring, as well as an exercise and eating plan that make sense. No diet is a vaccine against weight gain, and since most people regain weight after it has been lost, any program which does not offer a solid, whole food-based maintenance plan should be avoided like…. sugar!
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