How the body regulates fat…part 1 – The Ideal

One thing I realise when I talk to many people about nutrition is that most folks interest is specific to weight loss. The most frequently asked question is, ‘Can’t you just tell me what to eat?’ I always say no. Not because I couldn’t but because I shouldn’t. The key to these issues is fundamentally to understand WHY. So, exercise? Yes…but why? Eat less sugar? Yes…but why? Eat complex carbs over simple ones? Yes…but why? Sleep? Yes…but why? Drink less alcohol? Yes….but why and so on…

Listen, if you know the answers to all these ‘why’s’ then great and what’s more you certainly don’t need me or anyone else to tell you what to do as you’ll already be doing it. However, if you don’t know the answers then let’s go on a journey of learning together, shall we? I promise it will transform your health. Knowing why you eat or do not eat some foods and drinks is going to be the foundation of the rest of your healthy life. Maybe this will also help you decipher or maybe you’ll correct and teach me – either way I hope there is some actionable and practical sense at the end of all this…

The more I discuss this with people and research and read about the subject the more the ‘absolute truths’ I grew up with are making less and less sense. I’ve always believed we should question everything but somethings are so ingrained in the modern psyche that they don’t even register on the radar to be questioned…and I think claims like ‘fat makes you fat’ and ‘fat is bad for you’ are the exact type of lifelong accepted truths that need to be questioned…

Understanding the nature of fat and the fat cells is key to understanding what makes you store too much fat and gain weight, surely? It sounds obviously logical doesn’t it that to work with your body’s systems is the key to staying a healthy, well regulated weight? Right? Yet, when I asked around pretty much no one actually knew how we get fat – the actual process, and regulating systems, the body employs to maintain a steady fat mobilisation (in and out) and subsequently a healthy weight.

Essentially it goes something like this:

As we eat the digestive system coverts the food and drink we eat into its nutritional elements. A majority of this is glucose and glucose is the primary fuel of every living cell in your body. As soon as glucose is detected in the blood stream the pancreas releases the hormone insulin – it releases it in amounts to match the amount of glucose. Insulin’s job is to be like a gate keeper to the cells and open them up to receive the glucose – so without it the cells cannot be fed. As the cells will only take what they need at that moment any excess glucose in the blood stream is stored in the fat cells as free fatty acids. This has to happen as it cannot remain in the blood stream. The reason this is an involuntary process like blinking and making the heart beat is because the body simply cannot trust you to do it right!

Once all the glucose has been stored, and blood sugar levels are back to normal, insulin closes the cell doors and slowly leaves the body. Then when your body needs a bit of energy, and there is no immediate glucose handy (i.e we don’t immediately eat something), then the body calls on the fat cells to release the stored free fatty acids which then go around the body feeding the cells. They don’t need insulin to unlock the doors to the cells so they are a perfect quick release fuel for the cells. So, if the body controlled everything this perfect balance of storing excess energy as fat and releasing it in times of need would be the body’s natural way to supply energy and regulate fat in the body. This is the perfect scenario. The ideal.

However…this is rarely what happens. In part two I will explain the current usual state of things within our bodies and in part three attempt to suggest things that we might do to help our bodies by allowing them to regain control of our fat regulation!


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