As we grow old, our bodies change enormously. Our skin seems to get drier or, at least, more sensitive. Our hearing steadily decreases, and our overall strength diminishes (that uniquely happens if we stop exercising sufficiently). I had no difficulties believing any of the above, and I knew that all these things would one day happen to me. However, I am pretty stubborn. I could not admit that one day my body would start abruptly gaining weight. This resistance was a product of my childhood. As a child and as a teenager, I struggled with what was considered a drastically low body weight. Other children and teenagers would seek to humiliate me by spreading lies about my weight. They would tell their comrades that I was anorexic and therefore disgusting. The truth was that I never, thankfully, suffered from any eating disorders. Not then and not now.
From what I understand, I had a fantastic metabolism, which allowed me to eat whatever I wanted without my body having to store it. Two elements could explain why this was the case; either the tremendous level of activity that I had to maintain or my chronic anxiety. My mother, seeking all possible relief from our sometimes overbearing presence, insisted that my sisters and I went outdoors right after completing our homeworks. We were only allowed back inside at sunset, when it was time for us to go to bed. During the weekend, we spent most, if not all, of our time outside. Fortunately, I had sisters to keep me company, and we would keep each other entertained through games and simulated adventures. Being considered the most responsible one (I was deemed the oldest, despite having a twin sister) was often a burden I had to carry. Over time, anxiety finally got its hold over me.
All that said, I seemed incapable of developing any fat. Not only was my classmates’ harassment pushing me to try gaining some weight, but also my family physician tried encouraging me to do so. I honestly couldn’t manage it. I concluded that I would never be able to change anything about this and not even through ageing. After high school years were over, my slim figure started attracting a different kind of attention. This change got me to begin making peace with my appearance. I was then confident enough to get my first boyfriend; I was 18 years old. It sadly didn’t last. I sincerely believe, in hindsight, that the only thing he was after was my physical appearance. A similar situation happened with the second boyfriend, which led me to adopt a no romantic relationship rule. I was despising the attention I was getting from men and women. Men, indeed, were attracted by my appearance but couldn’t care about my feelings. As for the women, they were starting rumours about me saying that I was a very loose woman and without honour.
I then had a newly acquired mission and determination. I had to gain weight. To do that, I stopped all the physical activities I was doing (Volleyball, Ultimate Frisbee, Dancing, Running and Working out). All that while maintaining the same food intake. Little did I know that this mission would be way easier to accomplish than I thought. In only the span of two years, I had gained 22.5 kg (50 lbs) in fat. However, for the first time ever, I was okay with my appearance. I was beginning a relationship with a fantastic man, and he was accepting me, not for my looks, but for my personality and my wits. As such, my weight stayed more or less stable for the next six years. Only recently did I realize that my health was beginning to suffer from this excess mass. I knew I had to gain muscle mass and reduce the sheer amount of fat I had accumulated so far.
I knew that I had to pick up physical activity back again. I had to start burning more energy than I was consuming, which would kick-start ketosis. Ketosis would allow me to transform this fat into ketones bodies which I could use as an energy source. However, two years ago, being active was truthfully tricky to implement since I was suffering from chronic muscular pain disorder. The stress on my joints created from my excess weight was beginning to hurt me, which again brings me to the importance of losing weight. I then started intermittent fasting, which also activates ketosis. With intermittent fasting only, I succeeded in losing approximately 11 kg (25 lbs), which allowed me to be active once again. I started taking regular walks and working to further my improvement, but I know that all this is a work in progress. Dropping everything now would mean having to start everything all over again next month.
Fat cells are also referred to as adipocytes and can live up to ten years. This statement means that they can hold the memory of their characteristics for a very long time. Thus, cells that have been massive for a very long time will try their best to stay this way. So you really have to keep watch over your food intake and physical activity for a good ten years. Otherwise, the product of all your hard work would disappear faster than you can possibly imagine. Although, many other characteristics may be desirable in fat cells, like their type (determined by their colour). In all three types, the cells holding a brown colouration (brown adipocytes) are more beneficial. Mainly present in newborns, these cells are essentially responsible for producing heat instead of storing fat, like the white adipocytes. However, most adults possess these white adipocytes, which make us more prone to accumulating fat. Here, not all hope is lost since there are ways to change white adipocytes into beige adipocytes, which share some common attributes observed in brown adipocytes.
These adipocytes’ colour modification is also called cell “browning.” You can achieve such change by either repeated exposure to cold or exercise. As for the exposure to cold, the temperature that we are exposing ourselves to does not need to be extreme. It barely needs enough chilling power to engage our body to start producing heat. So reducing our ambient room temperature to a few degrees can be sufficient, or going outside on a chilly day for a quick walk can also do the trick. Personally, I started dressing up more lightly when I am at home, which is somewhat of a big deal since I am oversensitive to cold. I am always used to dressing up super warmly. For example, I typically wear sweaters even during summer. As for exercise, any moderate activity can do. I sporadically practise yoga. I regularly walk and work out. Occasionally, I treat myself with the opportunity to go hiking.
Besides helping with fat “browning,” exercise also helps to isolate adipocytes to the parietal region. This region refers to mainly what is attached to the skin. Fat cells nearing organs (visceral fat) are especially threatening. They significantly increase the risk of developing the following: heart attack, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Additional recommendations to keep this balance in check would be to adopt a better diet and integrate stress management techniques into our lifestyle. An adequate diet should include healthy food with low levels of transformation, and it should be well balanced. We should avoid all products containing highly processed (refined) sugar. We should opt for leaner meat and introduce fish in our feeding habits. Stress management techniques could include, but are not limited to, yoga and meditation. Both these techniques should help keep stress hormones, like corticosteroids, in check as they are known to increase visceral fat accumulation.
Just remember that it does not matter how hard we all try; we all must keep a certain percentage of fat in our bodies. Actually, on average, fat will account for 15% of the men’s total mass and 22% of the women’s total mass. This percentage can even rise to 50% without the person being considered morbidly obese. Still, muscle cells weigh more than adipocytes when comparing their respective density. The density of muscle cells is 1.1 g/mL compared to 0.9 g/mL for adipocytes. That should explain why we seem to plateau after a while of working out regularly. We may not stop losing fat but instead gaining a massive amount of muscle.
Fun fact: The only place where we will never accumulate fat is in our eyelids.
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