Aesthetics have never been as significant in our lives as in today’s world. With the advent of the fitness fad, a body with a low fat percentage is deemed fitter and superior. However, fitness and health must go hand in hand. It may not be certainly said that a body with low fat percentage is apparently as healthy. The body has a natural tendency to store fat which is essential for it to function properly. Hence a certain amount of fat is always required to keep it thriving in the day to day life.
However, a body with a high amount of fat may as well be termed unhealthy. Higher values of body fat can be a harbinger for diseases and can adversely affect the quality of life. Fortunately, fat levels can be tamed with a change in the lifestyle, making way for greater health benefits.
Let us examine some facts about fat to know its natural association with the body.
Why does body store fat?
Storing fat is something that is hardcoded in the body as a result of evolution through the millions of years. The body stores energy in the form of fats as a reserve for periods when it may not be supplied with food or in case of recovery from diseases or injury when it needs extra fuel.
Fats are more calorie dense molecules as compared carbohydrates that store calories in combination with water. This means, to store the same amount of energy, fats by weight (more calories by weight) would be lesser and more efficient than carbohydrates by weight (lesser calories by weight). Hence the body uses fats to store the energy for future use.
How is fat stored in the body?
Our meals are comprised of macronutrients – Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein, in variable quantities as per the nutritional profile of the food product.
The macronutrients are broken down into simpler entities during the Digestion process. The Carbohydrates are broken into glucose, the Proteins into amino acids and the Fats into fatty acids. These products of digestion are transported to the cells through the bloodstream where they are absorbed to release energy, and, used for growth and development.
The hormone Insulin is responsible for the absorption of glucose into the cells throughout the body. It enables the glucose in the bloodstream to be consumed by cells for energy. However, if we have glucose in extra amount, more than the quantity required by the body, it gets stored as fatty acids in the fat cells as a future reserve of energy. Moreover, some parts of the fats that we consume in our diet are also stored in the fat cells as Triglycerides.
It can be concluded in the broad perspective that whatever extra food that we consume is mostly stored in the body as fat.
The fat we see on the body – Subcutaneous Fat
The fat that is easily seen or felt on the body, lies under the skin. It is known as the Subcutaneous Fat. A paunch, chubby cheeks, love handles, arms and thigh fat, all fall under this category. This fat is distributed along the Subcutaneous Tissue that supports important functions in the body.
The fat layer in subcutaneous tissue forms padding for the body and protects the bones, muscles and other organs from damage due to the external force. It also serves as the passage for nerves and blood vessels between the muscles and skin and helps in regulating the body temperature.
The fat we cannot see easily – Visceral Fat
Visceral fat is the fat layer surrounding the organs in the body. This fat is stored in the abdominal cavity and surrounds the vital organs such as the liver, pancreas, intestine and stomach. It helps in protecting the organs by providing a cushioning layer around them.
It is also referred to as ‘active fat’ as a greater value of visceral fat actively increases health hazards. High levels of visceral fats can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. It is also associated with heart diseases and raised blood pressure.
Type of Fats in the diet
A moderate quantity of healthy fats is essential for the body. The fats are categorized into 3 families – Unsaturated, Saturated and Trans fats.
These are the most healthy form of fats that are essential for the body. These include Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats. They are liquid at room temperature. They must always be included in the diet. A few good food sources are – Nuts, Seeds, Fatty Fish and Oils such as Olive, Vegetable, Sunflower, Soybean etc.
A moderate quantity of saturated fats is not harmful to health. These are solid at room temperature. Food sources rich in unsaturated fats include – Red Meat, Eggs, Fatty Milk, Cheese, Butter, Palm oil, Coconut Oil etc. High levels of saturated fats can lead to high cholesterol and heart diseases.
These are man-made fats artificially created by hydrogenation of oils. Foods containing trans fats must always be avoided in a healthy diet. Having trans fat in food can highly increase the risk of heart diseases and type 2 diabetes. Most fried and baked food products like biscuits, cakes, frozen pizzas etc contain trans fats.
How to get rid of extra fat in the body?
To start with, it is essential to note that there is no spot reduction of fat in the body. This means, that intending to reduce, say, only the belly fat from the body is not possible naturally. Reduction of fat is a holistic process where fat storage of the whole body is affected rather than a particular body part.
The active fat or the Visceral fat is affected first when we kick start the fat loss process. The Subcutaneous fat cuts at a later stage pertaining to a prolonged fat loss.
The basic principle of fat loss is to reduce the number of calories we ingest into the body per day as opposed to the calories that the body burns through the routine activities.
Generally, this calorie deficit is advised to be around 250 to 500 calories from the total calories we need to sustain the present weight of the body to forge a healthy fat loss.
For this to be possible, we need to know the total calories burnt in our routine along with the type of physical activity we perform. One way of measuring this is by using the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) calculator available online. From the total calories we ingest, we must create a deficit of 250 to 500 calories to lose around 1 lbs or 453 gms of body weight per week.
A calorie deficit must be based on a diet that contains all the macro and micro nutrients – Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats along with Vitamins and Minerals in adequate proportion.
If counting calories is not your cup of tea then basic techniques of keeping track of the weight or the body measurements come in handy. If you notice a decrease in weight or waistline measurement or simply your clothes appear loose during the course of the regime then you are on track with your weight loss goal.
Some of the key points to keep in mind for healthy fat loss are:-
1) Fat loss does not mean starvation. It must be fueled with a balanced calorie deficit diet.
2) Physical exercise such as a cardio workout or resistance training aids to burn calories and keep the muscle mass intact. This means the body loses fats but retains most of the muscle mass. Any type of physical activity must be a part of the routine for a person aiming to lead a healthy lifestyle. Losing fat naturally requires an ample amount of physical activity so that the body taps into the stored energy reserve from fats. It also improves the metabolism of the body, in turn, enabling effective use of ingested calories.
3) Eating a clean diet with minimum to no processed food is a boon for healthy body composition. The fat loss diet must consist of calories from healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables and fruits, healthy fats found in nuts, dairy products, meat, legumes and protein from plants or animal products.
4) The calorie deficit must come from a cut in the carbohydrate or fat intake while an optimum intake of protein must be maintained for preventing muscle loss.
5) Excess sugar has a detrimental effect on health. Minimizing sugar intake from processed foods, soft drinks, fast food, confectionaries etc would help the body maintain a healthy insulin level and thus control the excess calories. Hence, keeping away from food with high sugar content must be at the top of a fat loss diet.
6) The calorie intake must always be kept in check. A diet with prolonged high calorie deficit may prove harmful to the body. Constantly providing the body with fewer calories may damage the metabolic rate, cause fatigue, disrupt body recovery and hamper essential body functions.
7) The most important thing for any fat loss regime is consistency. It is imperative to stick to a workout and diet regime to see the results. Our body takes time to shift into a different form especially when we try to cut out the stored reserves of fats. Hence believing and adhering to the process is a must.