Obesity is unhealthy, but too little fat isn’t good for you either. ~Dr. Sylvia Tara, author of “The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body’s Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You” (Norton)
Instead of waging war against all body fat, we need to learn how to discern between good fat and bad fat, and sustain a healthy amount of good fat to protect our wellbeing.
Dr. Tara explains that fat is a vital organ that releases essential hormones and sends crucial messages to our brains.
In the 1980’s, Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, a molecular biologist at Rockefeller University, discovered fat as a mechanism for hormone production. Dr. Friedman was researching clinical mice that ate uncontrollably. Nine years later, he confirmed (through his study of the mice) that fat produces a hormone he named leptin, which is released into the bloodstream and binds with areas of the brain responsible for appetite. The obese mice in his lab had a genetic defect [in their fat] that prevented them from producing leptin, which would signal them to stop eating. There are humans [with a similar genetic defect] who can eventually eat themselves to death.
Genetic defect aside, when we lose weight, our production of leptin decreases, which causes us to become hungrier than we were before weight loss. Leptin directly affects our muscles and thyroid hormones, slowing down our metabolism. These decreased levels cause us to regain weight. Leptin deficits affect brain size, while decreasing wound healing and compromising the immune system. Leptin is also the producer of adiponectin, a hormone that keeps our blood clear of harmful toxins and fats.
The fat in our bodies that produces leptin and adiponectin is called subcutaneous fat [found directly under the skin] in the abdomen, thighs, buttocks and arms. This subcutaneous fat is different from visceral fat (bad fat), which is stored under the stomach next to the internal organs. This visceral fat causes inflammation that leads to diabetes and heart disease.
Good fat is our ally, producing adiponectin, circulating the fat in our blood, out of our veins, and back into the subcutaneous fat, therefore reducing our visceral fat supply. Another method of releasing adiponectin is exercising, which helps promote its release. Doing high intensity, interval training three times a week as well as intermittent fasting (increasing overnight gaps between meals to up to 14 hours) helps visceral fat reduction.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for visceral fat loss. Sustained weight loss is a long-term commitment and lifestyle change, but it’s possible when we learn to become friends with our good fat, first.
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