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 Intermittent Fasting – What should my eating schedule look like

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Although I was, until most recently, studying the physiology of pain (see Bring Up Pain for more about this topic), it definitely wasn’t the only topic I was interested in. One topic in particular got my attention in the last couple years, Intermittent Fasting or IF. Its many mentions in multiple media platforms was enough to ignite a spark of curiosity, but it was certainly not sufficient enough to have me follow this trend blindfolded. However,  a careful study of the science and its effects from an extensive literature review got me entirely convinced of its benefits. I hate to be a sheep and follow the newest fad, but I have to say that this one might be totally worth trying out.

Being overweight never really felt like a terribly wrong physical state to be in. I like my body and I like that it has led me to have a different perspective on myself. In the last article (Bring Up The Beginning) I’ve mentioned that I was bullied, mainly because I was a full blown nerd, but another reason was my very thin figure. Some people were spreading rumors that I was anorexic. From bad to worst, my family doctor was insisting that I should gain some mass since I was below my intended BMI. However, it was really difficult for me to gain mass. I ate so much, and no, I didn’t purge. Though, I was very athletic, and it was, with hindsight, probably why I could remain so slim.

At the end of high school, I began receiving another type of attention from guys. They started flirting with me. It took me a couple of years to figure out that the only thing they were interested in was my appearance. This realization led me to despise myself, and I then really thought that no one really cared about me. This was definitely the darkest time of my life. Finally, my objective to gain weight finally saw some success and simultaneously I started to date this incredible man that despite my emotionally unstable predisposition was patient and caring. Unconsciously, I started to link gain weight to my potential to be loved and cared for.

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We have to face it. Life is not that easy. If only taking weight would be the solution to finding love then everyone would be aiming for it, I am right? Additionally, with knowledge came the realization that being overweight can lead to several health problems. Turns out, even though I don’t have a negative view of my appearance, I came to accept that I need to redefine what acceptable is. I can see that I will never be that very slim beanpole that I was in high school, ouffs! But I just can’t be ok with being 25 kg over my intended BMI. I understand that most professionals would suggest undertaking moderate physical activities, but it was simply impossible for me and trust me, I’ve tried. I am not saying that I’m abandoning the idea of physical activities forever. For now, I have limitations that make those very difficult to perform while aiming for weight loss. Meanwhile I have to say that I’ve tried outdoor running, at home workout and indoor yoga, none of them seemed suited for me, at least for now. 

Then one day I fell upon an online post claiming intermittent fasting as a healthier alternative for weight loss than stricter dieting methods. The following research I did surprised me. Not only is there scientific evidence claiming that IF can lead to weight loss, at least temporarily, but there are also plenty of other benefits that accompany the adoption of IF. Contrary to many promoted weight loss methods, IF is more of a lifestyle rather than a specific diet change. First, it doesn’t require you to add or suppress certain food. Second, it doesn’t ask you to keep track of your calorie consumption, and at last, you are in control of when you want to stop it or not. The only major difference with If compared to the usual eating habit is the timing of your feeding. Depending on the IF style you choose, you may have more or less freedom, but that decision is up to you.

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I am not claiming here that fasting a revolutionary novelty, but it has been studied very little over the years. Although, recently, there has been a great increase of fasting studies, that may probably have been caused by the reported advantages it could bring to people who have been fasting for cultural or religious reasons. Now, people are intrigued by the fasting phenomena and thus there was the development of a particular type of IF, which got named Time-Restricted Feeding. It is based on a schedule that dictates feeding period over 24-hour days. The most popular TRF are 14:10, 16:8, and 18:6. Those ratios represent how many hours you need to fast next to how many hours you can feed. Thus 14:10 is the most lenient and 18:6 the most stringent of the options mentioned above. The fasting windows might seem harsh, but while fasting requires you not to eat anything, you may still drink as much water, tea, or coffee as you’d like, giving the absence of any sugar or milk addition. There are also many other variations of IF, but it won’t be mentioned here. I personally prefer the 18:6 TRF since it was the technique that created for me the most benefits and the least negative side effects. 

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So, as I’ve mentioned, feeding is not restricted. You can eat as much or as little as you normally do. Yet, you will probably find yourself eating less overall, since you have a shorter eating window. Also, the hunger pangs that often lead to excessive eating and craving may disappear and get you to develop a more mindful eating. The first time I adhered to IF, it took me four days to notice the complete vanishing of hunger pangs. For you, it may take less or more time, but the idea is to stick with it and see where the process will lead you. Tips: Drinking more water really helps you manage your hunger pangs in the first few days. I usually kept with the program for a week before switching it up to allow me to better evaluate where the lacks where, if any.   

As for weight loss, I experienced a loss of 15kg in three months, but I can’t assure you that your loss will be the same, as everyone’s experience will be different. Still, don’t give up if you don’t see the number on your scale dropping. It could simply mean that it could take longer to see any difference. The differences that you will be able to notice are not only pertaining to your weight, but could also benefit your energy level, your concentration, your focus and reduce inflammation. On a more subtle view, it may also have protective effects against many illnesses, like diabetes, cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, heart diseases, and more. It may additionally help you fight ageing.  So even though you might not be interested in losing weight, you could still benefit greatly from adopting an IF approach. 

From the negative side effect perspective, IF could potentially lead to malnutrition, the development of eating disorders or mood changes. Those side effects are triggered by either an over-management of your feeding habits by excessively restricting your eating and/or by not listening for what your body really needs. Malnutrition can be avoided by making sure you eat enough vitamins and nutrients from the different food groups. If you have a very negative self-image triggered by your weight, please abstain from adopting IF, and please I strongly recommend you to ask help from a psychologist or a physician before attempting any feeding habit modifications. If your mood becomes the issue, like becoming irritable, angry, etc., those are normally indicative that you are not consuming as much calorie as you should and I would definitely encourage you to either change your intermittent fasting to a more lenient variation, increase your meal size and/or add snacks between your meals. Warning, please never ever fast intentionally for a period of more than 25 hours or more than 18 hours for consecutives days as it may lead to severe health issues. 

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.