Seven Things you Don’t Know About Fat Cells…But Probably Should


Most of us don’t even want to hear the word fat.  It is the bane of our existence.  The adversary in our constant battle to get healthy.  We all have fat, some more than others.  The goal isn’t to eliminate all fat from our body and diets as fat plays critical roles in our bodily functions.  There is both a bad and good side to fat.   Understanding a few key points about fat will help us make healthier, smarter choices in the future.

Fat Facts

1.  Fat cells can grow up to six times their original size.  Taking in more calories than you burn is a sure-fire way to make your fat cells grow.  First, they swell to about six times their original size, before multiplying in numbers.  The average adult has around 40 billion fat cells.  A typical obese person will have seen that 40 billion multiply to 100 billion.  After puberty, when fat cells have matured, a person’s lifestyle and genes play the largest role in the losing or gaining weight.  Fat cells are key in assisting the body’s energy stores.  Fat that is used for energy immediately is burned off.  Any excess is stored for later use.  Simply put, if you’re eating high-calorie foods on the regular, and burning very little, the excess is stored and results in weight gain.

2.  Fat cells will make you more womanly.  Sort of.  Fat cells secrete the hormone estrogen.  Excess estrogen will throw your hormonal balance into chaos.  This can lead to a number of health issues.  Estrogen, or the “female hormone” is responsible for fat-storage, among other things.  While estrogen is naturally found in men, elevated levels can have serious health consequences.  High estrogen levels in men will lead to fatigue, decreased sexual function, enlarged prostates, and loss of muscle tone.  There is no good reason to have excess estrogen.  Your body makes what your body needs, don’t add more than you need.

3.  Fat cells shrink, they don’t disappear.  Sad but true.  Despite best efforts, and no matter how much fat you lose, your fat cells are still there.  You can shrink your fat cells, which will result in loss of body weight, but you can’t get rid of them completely.  That means those fat cells you packed on during your freshmen year of college when you had ice cream for dinner 4 nights a week are there for good.  While exercise and healthy eating may have shrunk them, they still lay there waiting for you to pick up that Big Mac so they can grow again.  For obvious reasons, it’s much better to maintain a healthy, consistent weight than to fall into the diet/gorge cycle of losing and gaining.  This is the problem with “quick fix” diets.  This is also the reason why those who were obese but lost the weight have a harder time keeping it off than those who have always been a normal weight.

4.  Fat cells lead to inflammation.  Much like your body responds when you have a cold or other illness, fat cells cause your body to generate an immune response that leads to inflammation.  Macrophages are attracted to fat cells which is why packing on just a few extra pounds can lead to that run-down, fatigued feeling.  The good news is that losing just 10% of your body weight can limit the immune response and get you on track to a healthier life.

5.  Fat cells have different consequences.  Depending on where they are located, they have a different effect on your health.  Most men carry their extra weight in the midsection (think beer bellies).  Midsection body fat increases bad cholesterol, raises blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and leads to extra fat in the bloodstream.  Fat cells in this region are also more metabolically active, which means they release more fatty acids.  Fatty acids lead to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

6.  You need fat to live.  Some people go crazy and think consuming zero fat is the way to go.  WRONG.  You will essentially short-circuit your bodies’ function if you maintain a fat-less diet.  The transportation of vitamins and minerals, as well as the regulation of cholesterol levels will be thrown off.  Illnesses associated with low-fat diets are rickets, night blindness, internal bleeding, and anemia.

7.  Make fat 30% of your total caloric intake.  This may sound complicated, but it isn’t.  1 gram of fat = 9 calories.  If you are on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, you want to eat roughly 65 grams of fat a day.  Aim for the unsaturated kind.  Saturated fats are found in red meats and dairy products can raise bad cholesterol.  Healthy fats such as unsaturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated are found in nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish.  NEVER eat trans fats.  EVER.

Key Points

  • Don’t be afraid of fats.  You need them to live.
  • Eat healthy fats, skip bad fats (fried food, fast food, processed baked goods, etc)
  • Eat red meats and dairy products in moderation.
  • Midsection body fat is some of the worst to have.


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