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Fat loss is a topic of interest for many people, ranging from professional athletes desiring increased performance to obese individuals wanting to boost health and longevity.
The health and fitness industry is littered with weight loss tips and fat burning tricks. While much of this advice is valid, there are many misconceptions when it comes to fat loss. Many people work hard without seeing results, which leads to frustration and failure.
To sort fat loss myths from fact, it is important to have a basic understanding of fat loss and its controlling factors. Also, becoming familiar with the role of gender and genetics is helpful for designing a successful fat loss plan.
Here is everything you need to know about fat loss and how to control it.
Principles of Fat Loss
Fat adheres to the Law of Conservation of Mass: matter is neither created nor destroyed, but it may alter its form through chemical reaction.
Fat is initially formed by triglycerides entering the body through food consumption. After undergoing several enzyme processes, the fat micelles are turned into chylomicrons and sent into the bloodstream. From here, chylomicrons are broken down into fatty acids through a process called lipolysis. At this point, insulin turns fatty acids into fat molecules which are stored in fat cells.
Through restricting calories and increasing physical activity, we require the body to use more energy derived from triglycerides to perform basic functions. This limits surplus calories and reduces the amount of caloric energy sent to fat cells for storage.
Fat is lost when the body releases energy from fat cells to fuel itself. It does this by secreting hormones from the pancreas and pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands. These hormones release fat using a variety of mechanisms.
The 3 primary mechanisms are described below:
• Thermogenesis: This refers to the production of heat inside tissues for the purpose of raising body temperature; shivering is a form of thermogenesis. It also takes place directly in fat cells and breaks down fat to generate heat.
• Lipolysis: This process breaks down fat molecules using epinephrine, norepinephrine, glucagon, and adrenocorticotropic hormones. This is accompanied by hydrolysis, a chemical reaction that splits molecules apart. Once a molecule is split, a fragmented water molecule is added to open ends to prevent future bonding.
• Oxidation: Fat oxidation is the process of breaking down fatty acids to produce energy. It is also an important part of most fat burning mechanisms. Oxidation occurs when acetyl coenzyme A is added to fatty acid molecules. This turns fat molecules into long chain acyl-CoA and allows them to enter the fatty acid β-oxidation pathway. From here, molecules are utilized by the electron transport chain to produce ATP energy.
Fat Loss Myths
People trying to reduce fat are often mislead by trends and misconceptions not backed by scientific evidence. Unfortunately, sometimes these misconceptions are left uncorrected so long they become compounded as fact.
Here are 3 misconceptions that show up frequently in the world of weight loss.
Myth #1 – Eating Fat Makes Me Fat: People are under the impression ingesting fat directly correlates to fat gain. Therefore, avoiding dietary fat eliminates fat accumulation.
Answer: Eating in excess causes fat gain, no matter what food type. However, fat is a powerful source of energy and requires less food to gain the same amount of energy when compared to other foods. For instance, your body makes 102 ATPs (energy units) from one molecule of fat. Compare this to 30 ATPs from one molecule of sugar.
Experts say people should change their mentality to “if I eat excess fats, I will get fat.” Fat is a valuable addition to any diet when used proportionately.
Myth #2 – I Can Target Where I Want To Lose Weight: Many people think targeted exercises are effective for influencing certain body parts, e.g. doing 100 crunches a day to flatten your stomach.
Answer: While this is disheartening, the truth is targeted fat loss is physically impossible. During exercise, metabolism fires to break down fat molecules. Unfortunately, the body takes energy from anywhere available; it doesn’t perceive the difference between thigh fat and breast fat.
Fat loss only occurs through total body metabolism boost. Exercising amps metabolism but doesn’t indicate what fats should be used. Often, fat distribution is determined by hereditary factors.
Myth #3 – The Lowest Body Fat Percentage Is Best: Many individuals, especially women, are under the impression all body fat is negative and should be eliminated.
Answer: This is perhaps one of the most dangerous misconceptions. An excess of body fat presents health complications, but not having enough fat can be just as detrimental. It causes side effects like bone loss, chronic fatigue, increased risk of infection, and hormonal imbalance.
The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition says females with fat percentage below 15-20% are in a dangerous zone. For men, falling below 5% body fat increases risk of health problems.
Gender and Genetics
Certain biological factors have an influence on fat loss. While some factors cannot be changed, there are ways to modify lifestyle to accommodate hereditary needs.
Gender plays a significant role in fat loss: men naturally lose weight quicker and easier than women. This might be due to hormonal differences. However, it is mainly attributed to the fact that men are designed to have more muscle than fat percentage.
Women on the other hand are designed to carry more fat and less muscle. This stems from the early days of evolution when men needed strength to hunt and defend the tribe, while women needed fat to carry healthy infants to term.
Women can boost fat loss by increasing muscle percentage, but the results almost never match male counterparts. Women are generally advised to focus on cardio exercises, while men should focus on strength training to keep muscle-to-fat ratio in favor of muscle.
Genetics play a pivotal role as well, although scientists are still trying to understand the link between genetics and weight. Recent research indicates genetics control 40-70% of factors influencing body composition. However, not all scientists agree.
Research performed by the Harvard School of Public Health suggests genetics only affect the level of susceptibility to fat gain but doesn’t decree an individual is destined to be overweight. While genetics might make weight loss more difficult for some people, there isn’t any component that can’t be reversed through diet and lifestyle modifications.
People with genetic predisposition to obesity need to be more careful about caloric intake and physical activity. A dietician or professional trainer can help you customize a lifestyle plan optimal for your unique health profile.
Quick Fat Loss Tips
Everyone knows that with enough dedicated diet and exercise, weight loss can be achieved if given time. However, not everyone has time for a complicated diet program or tri-weekly gym visits.
Luckily, there are a few easy methods to help you start losing fat today.
Buy Smaller Plates
If you pile your lunch onto a plate sized for a child, visually it looks like the plate is loaded, discouraging feelings of deprivation. You might feel like you ate a ton after the plate is empty, but you’ve actually eaten less than what you typically serve yourself. This is a great way to reduce caloric intake without testing willpower.
When trying to lose weight, walk whenever you can. Adding an extra 30 minutes of brisk walking each day results in 150 additional calories burned. To lose a pound a week, you need to burn about 500 calories a day. Therefore, walking can cover a significant portion of daily caloric burn.
Drink More Water
Replacing sugary beverages for water can have dramatic effects on fat loss. Water is responsible for flushing out toxins and regulates many bodily functions. It also induces thermogenesis and promotes fat loss. Studies show drinking 500 mL water increases daily energy expenditure by 24%.
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