by Mary Gillis, Anything But The Gym
The interesting thing about fat is that it’s this sort of unique tissue with its own metabolic capabilities. Fat cells produce hormones. They have different functions depending on where they’re stored. For example, the fat between our muscles is there for immediate release (like when we need energy for exercising) whereas fat in other regions is meant for storage, protection and is not as easily released. And, another thing, once fat cells accumulate they are there forever. This explains why we have so much trouble losing weight and keeping it off.
So, what can we do? Well, understanding just how biochemically peculiar fat cells are is a great start. It can help you become more aware of your own body and understand exactly what you’re up against so that you (finally!) slim down and stay that way.
Fat Cells and Hormones—The Gender Difference
Everyone wants to know why fat accumulates in certain areas. For women, it’s the hips and thighs. For men, it’s the stomach. Here’s why: Evidence suggests that these regions have higher levels of what’s called lipoprotein lipase or LPL. LPL is a hormone that encourages fat uptake and storage. After a few months into a diet and exercise program, most women find they’ve slimmed down their waistline yet their hips and thighs haven’t budged. Similarly, men might lose weight in their legs but their gut just won’t go away. What you need to do is understand that there will be a point when the weight (from certain areas) won’t come off as easily. To really trim these trouble spots you have to kick it into high gear. Constant stimulation is a key factor. It’s the antidote to fat. The force of contraction on a muscle from weight bearing exercises—such as running, walking or lifting weights—increases blood flow to your troubled areas. Increased blood flow stimulates what’s called lipolysis or fat breakdown. This combats our body’s natural reluctance to release fat from our hips, thighs and stomach.
Immortality of Fat Cells
If you’re putting off starting an exercise or diet program—don’t. Here’s why: Fat accumulates in two phases. The first phase is called hypertrophy where—as a result of inactivity or a poor diet—your body’s existing fat cells expand. This phase is much easier to manage because just as fat cells are able to expand they are also able to shrink. However, should you not manage your diet and keep physically active; your fat cells will undergo what’s called hyperplasia. Hyperplasia is when your body starts to propagate new fat cells. You want to avoid hyperplasia at all costs. Once you propagate new fat cells those fat cells will never go away. This means you’ll have a greater number of readily expandable fat cells to manage.
Mary Gillis is an ACE certified personal trainer and an Applied Physiology doctoral student at Columbia University. She is a former division 1 track and field athlete, figure competitor and triathlete. In spring 2009 Mary launched Anything But The Gym, an innovative New York-based health and fitness company. www.anythingbutthegym.com