Bring Up Fat—Why I Am Getting Chubbier

Olya Kobruseva|Pexels.com

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.

Meruyert Gonullu|Pexels.com

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.

RODNAE Productions|Pexels.com

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.

RODNAE Productions|Pexels.com
Andre Furtado|Pexels.com

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.

Andrea Piacquadio|Pexels.com

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.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

Bring Up Biophilia—What makes us particularly attracted to nature

No one can dismiss the amazing feeling we get after spending some time in nature. We instantly feel relaxed and reinvigorated. Some might attribute this effect to time spent far away from work, and even though they could be correct, it is not the whole picture. Biophilia is a relatively new concept that brought the…

Bring Up Blood—How our oxygen gets carried throughout our body

Good evening my dearest followers, Please, take a moment to enjoy this excerpt for my newest post (Bring Up Blood). We could most certainly not live without blood. It is absolutely essential for the survival of our most distant limbs and organs. Even though almost all of our respiration is thanks to our respiratory organs,…

Bring Up State of Panic – What makes us completely lose it

Kat Jayne|Pexels.com

Waking up in March 2020, while the whole COVID-19 pandemic was unravelling, was no cup of tea. I was foolishly thinking at first that this pandemic wouldn’t change much in our daily lives. After a couple months, I got hit really hard by the observation that things couldn’t be further from the normal we used to know. I was forced to realize that this situation would remain so for a very long time. Given that I had to plan my wedding for summer 2021 and manage a website by myself which got launched no earlier than January 2020, I found this situation considerably troublesome. I won’t hide that this ordeal was a huge anxiety trigger for me. My biggest concern was especially the difficulty getting food. Before the pandemic started, I usually proceeded to order my groceries online, but now it was simply impossible to find an available delivery slot. My fiancée and I came to realize that we had no other choice than to walk down to the grocery store ourselves. 

Anna Shvets|Pexels.com

Yet our troubles were still far from over. Before we could even see the entrance of the grocery store, we were forced to notice the interminable lineup. I’ve heard that Montréal got hit pretty hard on that front compared to other regions in Quebec, and from what I experienced, I couldn’t agree more. The lineups were often so long that it would typically take us, my fiancé and I, well over an hour to simply get into the store. At the entrance, we were informed that only one of us could enter. So naturally I went in. I only started picking up the grocery to discover suddenly that most essentials were out of stock. Think about flour, sugar, eggs, canned foods, toilet papers and more. This was all so far out of my already established habits that it was sufficient enough to trigger an unbearable anxiety episode. It got so bad, at one point, that I had totally given up on even contemplating being productive. Watching Rom-Coms was my main distraction and was definitely what kept me going day after day. Months into the pandemic, with the help of my already busy fiancé, I decided to kick myself in the rear and do something about it.

The change of mindset was accompanied by summer and its relaxed restrictions. The possibility to see friends and family was more than welcome. Altogether, it was sufficient to have me overcome the anxiety which made me go through somewhat resembling more of a normal life. With perspective, I can say that my anxiety had manifested itself through avoidance and immobility, often referred as Freeze when we talk about this topic. There are, nonetheless, other possible reactions when faced with this same situation. The reactions can be so different that if we compare two of them, they may look completely contradictory. For example, some may become slobs, not doing much really, and some might develop a full-blown panic, hoarding everything on their paths. From a narrow point of view, we may interpret the latter reaction as selfish; however selfishness is not the driver behind this behaviour, fear is.

I feel confident enough to state that most of us have never experienced anything similar to this before. The closest thing that we may have experienced are natural disasters, accidents and attacks. All of those are very localized and in all of those situations we might expect help from outsiders. In the case of this pandemic, everyone was affected. We could only seek help from within us. A lot of people were quick to jump to the most horrific conclusion. Without toilet paper, what would we do? People got so afraid of missing essentials that they hoarded as much as was possible creating a massive shortage in grocery. This was perceived to be enough to validate their actions when in fact it was just the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, this shortage may have been avoided if people kept their buying habits unchanged and not going full rampage mode on the grocery aisles. 

M. Spiske|Pexels.com
K. Grabowska|Pexels.com

When we learn to understand the elements that contribute to the development of anxiety, we are in a better standing to act in a more moderate way. A way that doesn’t give in to a state of panic, or even fear for that matter. Truly enough, years ago, I thought that anxiety merely originated from being overwhelmed for a very long time. It was only from one of my university courses that I discovered that anxiety was truly more complex than this. I found out that much like pain, anxiety is an adaptive response that is meant to protect us. It was so finely tuned to detect potential threat, that even now in the absence of significant threat to our life, it still fires up. After much research on the topic, experts came to determine very specific factors that can trigger anxiety, which they summed to the term “NUTS”. NUTS is an acronym for Novelty, Unpredictability, Threat to ego and finally Sense of control. Typically, the more of these elements are present in a situation, the more anxiogenic (causing anxiety) this situation is said to be.

Let’s use this current pandemic as an example to illustrate these elements. The novelty aspect speaks for itself. We have never encountered anything even slightly similar in our life. The pandemic was the result of an exposure to a new strain of coronaviruses (Sars-Cov-2) that, even though was not very deadly, was efficiently spreading. When we came across this virus last spring, we knew barely anything about it. This brings me to the second aspect, unpredictability. We certainly didn’t know what the proper protocol was to apply when dealing with this, nor did we know how long this pandemic would last. We clearly didn’t know if we were in contact with it or not, viruses are invisible to eye scrutiny and this particular virus could even be spread by asymptomatic people. Also unknown was what our immune reaction would be if or when we came in contact with it. This last unpredictability was also appealing to the third aspect of anxiety, threat to ego (self). At last we have the sense of control aspect of anxiety which in this case is not very impressive. The only real control we have over the situation is our reaction, which we don’t have much control over to begin with.

M. Wormwood|Pexels.com

With all that said, it’s not surprising that the anxiety triggered may have been intense for many of us. Sometime so intense that it would have translated into fear in some and panic in others. Panic is often accompanied with emotionally compromised decisions that are taken in the spur of the moment and wouldn’t be repeated in normal circumstances. This brings me back to the toilet paper hoarding problem I’ve mentioned earlier. This behaviour is not very popular in our everyday life, but in times of panic, it is widely common. People momentarily stop thinking about the wellbeing of others and primarily think about theirs. Considering that when anxious people are easy to jump to the worst-case possible scenario, rumours about possible toilet paper shortage is enough to instigate fear in people’s mind and react accordingly. Hoarding also proves to be a way for people to gain a sense of control over the situation.

Kate Trifo|Pexels.com

In a couple of months, we will be marking our first year into this pandemic. Things have now begun to feel like a new reality. We still would prefer our life to go back to normal, but this new everyday existence has now become more bearable. Without the common state of panic that many experienced early on, people have currently resumed to think about the wellbeing of others. We can again observe acts of generosity and compassion to others. We have come a long way and, as long as we remember to look for the components of anxiety, we can learn to better cope with what life decides to throw at us. 

Sora Shimazaki|Pexels.com

To help you respond better when anxiety starts to hit, you need to wonder about NUTS and ask yourself how you can decrease novelty (e.g. Reading, be careful not to become obsessed, which you exacerbate anxiety), diminish unpredictability (e.g. plans for as many scenarios as you may be able to come up with), lessen the possible threat to ego (e.g. set measure to protect yourself, for COVID-19 pandemic, it could be distancing, wearing protective equipment or even staying home) and finally increasing control (e.g. learn ways to control what you can, could be trying to moderate emotion, maintaining relationship, fixing a work schedule, etc.).

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.