Bring Up Fat—Why I Am Getting Chubbier

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Touch—How do we perceive tactile stimuli

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From all senses that we develop, touch is the first one to form. During pregnancy, fetuses will begin developing feelings of sensations on their faces at week 8. Yet, the nose and the lips will be responsible for processing nearly all sensations. A month later, feelings on the palms and soles will develop, and if we wait for an additional five weeks (week 17), the abdomen will start sensing too. Interestingly, our brain will devote a majority of its attention to those parts especially. It is relatively easy to test this. Try prodding someone else’s back, with their consent, and ask them to evaluate how far two prods are from each other. Then do the same again, but this time over their palm. Were the results similar? Hopefully, the palms results should be unquestionably more accurate than the back results. This effect is possible through the bulkier number of neuronal endings found on the skin of our palms compared to those on our back.

Speaking of neuronal endings, we cannot avoid talking about the many specialized sensory neurons that form the somatosensory neural pathways, which get completed by the middle of the third trimester. From this point on, the baby will feel a more integral range of feelings. Each specialized sensory neuron has, on its endings, receptors that are enabling the perception of different sensations. Mechanoreceptors will provide detection for pressure, light touch, tearing or vibration. Thermoreceptors are sensitive to temperature changes. Chemoreceptors will detect chemical changes, and nociceptors are responsible for transmitting pain signals. It is intriguing to note that pain is the last sensation to develop and appear through the formation of totally different pathways (read https://bringupscience.com/2021/01/23/bring-up-pain-2/ for more). In sum, all specific tactile inputs have distinct neurons responsible for their detections. This statement also applies to touch in social interactions. As opposed to ordinary touch, the tap that we receive on the back of our shoulder, as praise, elicits an emotional response. This particular tactile sensation makes up what we now describe as social or emotional touch. It recruits a different somatosensory system than the one involved in conventional touch.

A piece of evidence supporting the idea that social touch involves the activation of different pathways comes from studying people affected by primary sensory neuropathy. Individuals affected by this disorder are known to display touch blindness, i.e. they cannot feel any tactile input coming from neither their hands nor their bodies. They are even incapable of reading braille, where each letter corresponds to a dot pattern, and all dots are embossed. This adaptation, commonly, grants people who cannot read solely based on their sight the ability to read through touch. Thus as already mentioned, individuals affected by this neuropathy cannot read, nor can they feel the object coming in contact with their skin. However, they strangely can feel a touch from another person and attribute it an emotional value. They, indeed, can feel the gentle touch of someone stroking their arm and communicate that the touch felt pleasant. However, this theory is currently based on anecdotal evidence only, and thus we shouldn’t jump to any conclusion just yet.

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Even if social touch turns out to have no different pathways than conventional touch, it would be reasonable to keep in mind the importance of its impact anyway. Indeed, some orphan children, who grew up in an orphanage, received so little social-emotional interaction that it hampered their growth dramatically and, in some instances, even led to death. I should disclose that customarily the orphanage staff was conveying proper treatments with absolutely no intention of neglect. Unfortunately, they were often too few and could honestly not care for more than the children’s most basic needs. Those needs were thought, at that moment, to be strictly drinking, feeding, sleeping and occasional physical activity. As long as these aspects were all taken care of, they genuinely believe that they tended well. Only now we know that social touch is amongst those basic needs. The lack of it will downright kill a kid. Current studies have demonstrated that social touch enables growth hormone release and will stimulate the immune system. Researchers have found similar findings to support the reciprocal, i.e. that a lack of social touch hinders growth hormone release and cripples the immune system. Moreover, children who were unfortunate enough to have been placed in such an institution were found at an elevated risk to develop behavioural, social and psychological problems.

Additionally, social touch occupies such a meaningful place in our life that, as a result, we may mistakenly associate general tactile inputs to our impression of a person. To illustrate this idea, let us consider this well-known experiment conducted by social psychologists. The psychologist asked the volunteers to describe their first impressions of a stranger. Every subject of the study had the same task, to relay their general impression. The only difference between all the volunteers was the drink they were holding while meeting this other person: Half held a cold drink and the rest a hot drink. We would all think that the beverages they were holding should have no impact on their impression of another individual, but that is not what happened. Curiously, people holding the hot drinks described their new acquaintance as “warmer”; the inverse was also true for the cold drink volunteers. Another experiment tried a different approach through evaluation of the same resume but on two differently weighed clipboards. It seemed that the resume attached to the heavier clipboard made the candidate seem more serious and competent than the individual whose resume was attached to the lighter clipboard.

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Despite social touch playing an integral role in our life, it is not the only factor that can interfere with our touch perception. Emotions play a considerable role in how we interpret touch or pain. The feeling we bear in a particular moment (good/bad mood, relaxed/scared, rested/tired, etc.) may considerably impact how we will perceive that tap on our back. The same tap may feel like an assault or an encouragement, depending on your emotion at the time. If you hate the person, you might think of that tap as an assault, but if that person is a friend, then you could have perceived it as an encouragement. Additionally, when we feel happy, pain does not seem as terrible as when we are sad or depressed. We can only say that touch and emotions are in a very intricate relationship, indeed.

Now, I cannot write about touch without talking about tickles. I honestly find them somewhat intriguing since no one has yet to come with an irrefutable explanation as to why we feel them. There are many theories, however. My favourite one introduces tickles as an evolutionary mechanism that leads to more capable offspring. Tickles are, in the simplest terms, the results of neuronal overexcitation. We, as adults, can feel tickles in only our most sensitive areas, but as a kid, that surface can be as great as the entire space occupied by your skin. Sadly, our sensitivity, as we are ageing, seems to decline progressively. The duality of tickles (being felt as both unpleasant and pleasant) supposedly serves as both an incentive to protect the sensitive areas and encourage wrestling and fighting. Those two consequences force offspring to prepare and practise both their offensive and defensive strategies to better cope with inevitable future threats. It seems such a no-brainer that the more you practise, the better you become, and this is why I genuinely value this idea.

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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.

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Bring Up Tattoo—How it can be possible to mark our skin permanently

Not all appearance alterations are created equal; some may be more short-lived and others more permanent. If you think of tattoos, they mostly belong to the second category. So thinking carefully about certain aspects of the tattoo becomes imperative. Things like the symbolism or the artistry behind your new piece shouldn’t be random. Choosing a…

Bring Up Grad School—What Is the Reality Behind Higher Education

For people who want to pursue studies after completing high school, university studies may look very attractive. So, undergraduate studies may lead to graduate studies. However, undergraduate studies are not the same as graduate studies. The latter is not only more complicated, but it is also very different. First of all, contrary to your undergrad,…

Bring Up Fibromyalgia – When pain becomes an everyday occurence

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 I woke up this morning feeling normal. My brain was working properly, my body didn’t ache, and I did not feel one bit tired. But why am I fricking telling you this? Isn’t it normal? As in everyone should be feeling like this, right? I would be very happy to tell you that it’s truly routine, but I unfortunately don’t have this pleasure. What usually happens goes a bit more like the following: I wake up tired, most likely caused by my insomnia, my brain is foggy, and I start feeling some painful impulses in my body. All of this is triggered by a chronic muscular pain syndrome (CMPS) which could one day become fibromyalgia. The explanation behind the uncertainty resides in how I fulfill the diagnosis, or more accurately how I do not.

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Two years ago, I decided to schedule an appointment with my family physician to discuss some issues that concerned me. The main one was the almost sudden emergence of pain in parts of my body. It was always very localized, never widespread like a headache or a cramp. It felt like a burst of sharp electrical firing in places such as the side of my foot, my hip, the palm of my hand, the inside of my elbow, etc. I would describe the feeling to never spread more than one centimetre wide. The absence of reasonable explanation for the pain was making me worry.

After examination, my family physician concluded that it didn’t meet all the criteria necessary for a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Although she explained that the situation could develop further and worsen. If that is the case, there would be a strong chance that my condition would fulfill the last required criteria for fibromyalgia. She encouraged me to include physical stretching in my daily routine and to do some research (knowing that I am a trained physiologist) on CMPS and fibromyalgia. From her suggestion, I did some research. It was not only to familiarize myself with those disorders, but also to find more ways to help reduce the pain caused by CMPS. As for stretching, I am not proud to say that I didn’t follow her recommendation very strictly. I do stretch, but I am sadly not doing it every day. Most often it’s because I forget, or I don’t feel like it. However, the main reason is that it annoys me. I find it so boring that I feel it’s such an effortful job. I know, I know! I need it, but let’s just say that at this point I became really good at finding excuses for myself in order to avoid it.

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Turns out that the idea of stretching is not that far-fetched. All the research papers examined were praising its benefit in treating fibromyalgia cases. So, I am probably really doing myself some important disfavour by not enforcing the practice. The reasoning behind its efficiency is however unclear. We actually have no clue what might cause the symptoms seen in fibromyalgia. There are only theories. Some people support that it’s triggered by an overexcitation of the glutamatergic neuronal pathways, others support that it’s caused by communication issues between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Even if we don’t know what is at the root of the disorder, researchers are all agreeing on one thing. Fibromyalgia is a centralized disorder, which means that the central nervous system is at fault. By central nervous system I mean everything ranging from the spinal cord to the brain. This central nervous system is being oversensitive, and we yet do not understand why.

I know! You get it! Both fibromyalgia and CMPS are causing pain (read Bring Up Pain, for more information). Here’s a twist, though, it’s doing way more than messing up with your body, it’s also messing up with your head. The constant sleep disturbances and memory dysfunctions are probably my biggest troubles. As I mentioned at the very beginning, I do experience insomnia which has become more and more regular in the last few years. Usually, as soon as I would feel insomnia settling in, I would grab some melatonin which would consistently improve my sleeping capabilities. However, starting two months ago, I began experiencing insomnia every night and this lasted for a bit more than three consecutive weeks. From that moment on, melatonin would not seem to be working anymore. In the best course of action, I could fall asleep by midnight (I usually go to sleep around 9:30 p.m.-10 p.m.) and at worst, by 4 a.m. That means I got on average a good 6–7 hours of sleep every night, which doesn’t sound that bad. That’s if we’re not considering that a good night’s sleep, in my case, usually lasts 9–10 hours. This means that, by the third week, I was in a clear sleep deficit state.

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Being sleep deprived does nothing good on the brain. It also seemed to worsen the memory dysfunction and the fatigue aspects of CMPS. Useless to say that trying to finish up my Master of Science in Physiology was challenging. For example, it took me two attempts to pass the mandatory course exams. The memory deficits were affecting me worse probably because I had learnt to strongly rely on it through many years spent in school. This has led me to develop severe performance anxiety that was best displayed in public speaking scenes. This was gut-wrenching since I loved public speaking, and still do actually despite the trouble. I would have taken twice, or even thrice, as much pain if it had meant retrieving my memory function and avoiding performance anxiety altogether. Now, I can’t even talk without stumbling on my words. It makes it seem as if I have no mastery of what I am introducing, and this genuinely pains me.

Oh well! I didn’t mean to be a drag. As far as I know, there is so much more you can learn about chronic pain syndromes and fibromyalgia. It is gaining awareness, but still, many ignore its impacts. This was my story and is by no means a complete overview of the chronic pain disorders. This was, however, a fair representation about my own experience with the disorder. I realize that my case is very mild, but some of you might not be as fortunate and thus my compassion goes to you. It is not easy for anyone to have to deal with such an awful situation, but luckily, we can find solace in knowing that we are not going through this alone. 

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Let’s also be conscious that there are quite a handful of promising treatments right now. There is much to be happy about. Additionally, if you really take care of yourself, you can seriously have some control over how worse it can get. That be yoga, meditation, stretching, antidepressants, marijuana (yes, that is correct!), acupuncture, diet change or others, it’s all yours to explore. I personally prefer yoga, meditation and diet change, or more specifically intermittent fasting (See Bring Up Intermittent Fasting). Despite not having had the pleasure to try acupuncture yet, I would definitely like to give it a shot someday.

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.