In fact, if you're a healthy adult with normal body composition, you have approximately 30 billion fat cells. This is an astronomical number when you think about it. Did you ever wonder why you have so many? Have you ever wondered what those fat cells are for?
The answer is, fat cells are part of our genetic code and they allowed us to use stored energy when food was scarce. This survival mechanism is very much the same today as it was 10,000 years ago. However, today our needs have changed. There is an abundance of food in modern society today.
When you consume too many calories, your body goes into storage mode for that "rainy day," so to speak, but the "rainy day" does not happen. So your body simply stores those extra calories as fat. When you eat less calories then your body demands your cells release stored fat for energy. Pretty simple equation, however it does not appear that all fat is the same.
The placement of fat deposits on our bodies varies depending on each person's genetic influences, lifestyle choices and nutritional intake. Men tend to store their body fat around their bellies and chest. Women tend to store it around there hips, buttocks, thighs and back of their arms. A complete discussion of hormones and fat storage would be beyond the scope of this article, but let it suffice to say that certain hormonal process do determine body fat distribution.
There is one major factor that many people do not realize when they are attempting to lose body fat and this can be a stumbling block in anyone's long term success. Many people approach fat loss and fitness with great enthusiasm and determination. With this attitude, they lose body fat and feel great, but even so, they just do not seem to get rid of ALL they fat they want to. They lose fat successfully for a time, but ultimately get stuck just before all of the fat is completely gone.
This is commonly known as a plateau and this plateau phenomenon causes many people who were previously successful to lose their enthusiasm and return to their old ways. When old habits take over again - and this happens to the majority of dieters - the body fat comes back with a vengeance. This is due to programming of the fat cell. Each time you try to lose body fat again, it seems to take longer and require more effort.
So what is the real solution? It's simple - you must understand how fat cells work and how to get past the plateau phenomenon and defeat this last bit of body fat, that we often call stubborn fat.
I have worked with many clients and I would say most of them have a good amount of stubborn body fat. This fat is literally "programmed" to be very difficult to lose. It seems to remain on our bodies no matter what we do, hence the word stubborn fat. Modern diets and weight loss programs almost all seem to work in the beginning, but then they never really address this crucial part of fat loss - the last bit of stubborn fat.
Stubborn fat develops when your hormonal pathways are broken down. Age does play a role in this: Fat deposits increase and become more resistant to fat loss methods as you get older. This you have little control over, but some things that lead to stubborn fat development are under your control. Yo yo dieting is one of them. Losing weight on crash diets and then regaining it - often known as the "rebound effect" - will only increase stubborn fat in the long run. A decrease in exercise and activity level also compounds the stubborn fat problem. This is why people who crash diet on low calories and refuse to exercise and move their bodies, often have the worst stubborn fat problems of all.
Our ancestors really never had to deal with this problem because they moved and engaged in physical labor as a regular part of daily life, whereas technological conveniences and the modern lifestyle have caused many of us to become lazy and inactive.
Stubborn fat is metabolized extremely slowly and is resistant to the hormonal process that takes place while the fat burning process is started up. To burn fat, the adrenal hormones better known as adrenaline and noradrenaline, attach to the fat cell receptors and essentially "open them up" so the fat can be used in the energy pathways. There are two kinds of receptors in your fat cells: one is alpha and the other beta. The beta receptors are much more active and respond to adrenal hormones. To lose body fat, the adrenal hormones switch on and the body begins to use fat as energy. However, in the case of people with stubborn fat, this does not occur, so no body fat is lost.
According to my good friend and colleague Ori Hofmekler, author of the warrior diet, "stubborn fat" has a lower ratio of beta receptors to alpha receptors." Therefore, your body's hormonal "fat dissolver," adrenaline, will not be able to enter the fat cell and open the door. Ori also points out that "to make these matters worse, stubborn fat has more estrogen receptors which cause even more stubborn fat."
If all this sounds bad enough, what makes it even worse is that if you indulge in the typical modern diet and sedentary lifestyle, this often results in reduced insulin sensitivity (read my past article on Insulin Sensitivity for more information). Added on top of everything else, your fat tissue becomes so incredibly resistant to your attempts to lose it, it seems like you will be stuck with it forever.
Diets fail because they only look at the caloric reduction side of the equation. You need to understand the other variables in the equation - exercise and lifestyle. You need to understand the deeper issues you are really dealing with. Getting rid of stubborn fat is not nearly as simple as just slashing calories and dieting. Stubborn fat is the result of a complex interplay of biological and hormonal processes - all of which are affected by how you eat, how you move and the type of lifestyle you lead.
Now that you understand why you have stubborn fat, right down to the hormone and receptor level, the question is "How do you alter your nutrition, exercise and lifestyle to get rid if this resistant body fat?" The answer will be found in part two.
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