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The “battle of the girth”
The battle of the girth or the inches is an eternal conflict, where we end up spending an awful amount of time, money and energy, trying to lose the fat that we have amassed over the years as a sing of “prosperity” to match are piling bank balance or as a souvenir from our travels around the world and we brush it aside by calling it “vacation weight”.
There are those of us who spend hours on the treadmill, huffing and puffing at the gym, lifting weights and doing crunches in an attempt to get that enviable waist and elusive six-packs and eight-packs that lie dormant, hiding under a layer of fat, while we keep chasing them, thinking we can buy them at a gym or at a pharmacy by buying some over the counter fat burners or at some plastic surgeon’s clinic who guarantees to make you come out looking sculpted like Michael Angelo’s statue of David!
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Then there are those hacks that sell us things like a “Sauna belt” and gadgets that vibrate, that promises to help us melt the fat away by doing nothing but simply strapping on some lame belt around our waist or thighs and watch the fat melt away as we sit on the couch enjoying our favourite series.
We not only spend our time and energy trying to lose fat but also money, in gym memberships, yoga and spinning classes, Pilates or simply resorting to quick fixes and hack jobs. And then there are those of us who keep staring at ourselves in the mirror, hating what we see and how we look and making plans and thinking of ways to lose the weight but never get on with it.
Either ways, the battle of the girth can be quite antagonizing and just demoralizing at times but also exhausting, both mentally and physically. But before we take on this battle and embark upon the journey to lose fat, shouldn’t we know what fat really is, how it gets accumulated, the basic structure and composition and the science behind it?
After all, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t! It’s good to know who you’re fighting before you take on the battle, rather than brandishing your sword in the dark.
In this post of Sen8orial Health Facts, I am going to talk about fat, its molecular composition and what really fat is, so we get a better understanding of our belly that we’re in a constant struggle with and the inches that just wont budge.
Before we proceed further, like I’ve mentioned in my previous health related posts, I’m no medical practitioner, naturopath, dietitian, certified trainer or fitness expert. My knowledge is limited to my personal experience, trial and error methods and limited to my own research and learning over the years that I’m here sharing with you.
You can have your own take away from this post or you may choose to dump it in the bin like thousands of articles that are churned out every week. However, whatever you choose to do, you may use your discretion and better judgement. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m no certified expert but simply a fitness enthusiast, sharing my own knowledge, understanding and experience.
With that done…let’s get started! (Just a self-imposed, mandatory statutory warning in public interest… Lol…)
What are Fats?
Fats are biological lipids, made of molecular compounds of Hydrogen-Oxygen-Carbon…the same elements as carbohydrates. That’s why carbs are most feared and resented by the food and health conscious lot and those who have taken on a diet or a mission to get lean muscles and six-pack, washboard abs.
Carbs are notorious, for they add to your body fat percentage and that’s why high consumption of foods like pizza, burger, chips and other junk that uses a lot of refined flour, potatoes and other carbohydrate rich ingredients are associated with weight gain.
A lesser known fact about carbs is that they are a source of energy and known as brain food. Since carbs share the same elements as fat, namely hydrogen-carbon-oxygen, they tend to be packed with energy.
Carbon-hydrogen bonds are energy rich and therefore, fats and carbs store a lot of energy in every unit. Every gram of fat has twice the energy in each gram of starch or twice as more in each gram of protein. Although proteins are considered as the building blocks of the body and are muscle food, but the energy to lift those weights in the gym comes from carbs.
Low intake of carbs or completing eliminating carbs from your diet leaves you skittish as you feel lethargic. Carbohydrate deficiency slows down your brain function, lowers your energy levels and makes your irritable. That’s why those who take on radical diets tend to go through mood swings and are snappy.
But if Carbs are so important then why are they so controversial?
Our basic diet comprises of three major nutrients Carbohydrates-Fats-Proteins, of the three, our body consumes and burns carbohydrates first for energy since they can’t be stored in large quantities. Our bodies are engineered in a way that carbs can’t be stored efficiently for longer periods of time.
As a result, of the two main sources of energy carbs and fats, carbs are consumed first by the body. These carbs are broken down to glucose which is sugar that is passed through the small intestine to the liver and then released into the blood.
When the blood sugar level rises, the pancreas releases insulin that signals the cells to consume the sugar for energy. The amount of sugar that can’t be consumed by the cells for immediate release of energy is stored in the liver and some in muscles as glycogen. When you go for long hours without food or between meals, your blood sugar level drops and this is when the liver releases glycogen to fuel your body for sustenance.
When the body becomes insulin resistant, as is in case of diabetes, the cells fail to consume the sugar from blood for energy while the pancreas keeps producing insulin in an attempt to signal the cells to consume the sugar. There is too much sugar and insulin circulating in the blood. The blood sugar and insulin levels rise to potentially dangerous levels that can be fatal. That’s why diabetics need to watch their carbs along with direct consumption of sugar, as carbs are eventually broken down to sugar for instant release of energy as the body lacks long-term storage mechanism for carbs unlike fats and proteins .
What are Calories?
Calories are units of energy that you get from the food you consume. When you consume excess calories from direct consumption of sugar, fats and carbs and your body has reached its storage capacity for glycogen, then the liver turns the stored, unused sugar in the form of glycogen into fat for long-term storage of energy or the body converts the extra calories from the food consumption into fat, stored in Adipose cells or Fat cells which are found between skin and muscles as a layer of fat and the remaining fat covering the organs acting as insulation from extreme cold and external hurt.
Hence, every unused calorie from sugar or glucose is turned to glycogen that is stored in the muscles and liver and if the body has maxed out its storage capacity for glycogen, while you keep a steady influx of calories without really thinking of burning it, the extra calories are turned to fat as reserves of energy for future use.
What does “burning” Calories mean?
Burning calories literally mean consuming calories as a source of energy to sustain an activity and therefore it is important to keep the body active and indulge in some form of physical activity or the other…even if it’s as simple as taking four flights of stairs instead of jumping on an elevator!
You need to “burn” those excess calories from the food you consume before you give your body a chance to convert it into fat. If not, then you better watch your diet and have some calorie restrain!
Your body needs energy for sustenance of any activity or action. Some of the energy exhaustion is in the form of body process like breathing, beating of the heart, digestion while rest is for daily activities like walking, doing household chores or traveling for work, etc. Your body needs enough calories to fuel these activities and the excess calories are converted into fat and stored by the body for future use when there’s scarcity of calories.
That’s why when you don’t eat for an extended amount of time or fast, your body drops weight rapidly. And it’s not simply because you weren’t eating but for a simple reason, which is that your body resorted to fat accumulated in the body, breaking it down for energy to fuel the bodily functions in absence of calorie intake from external sources. That is also why one looses weight when sick and has lost his/her appetite, the body resorts to the reserved source of energy…which is your body fat!
When you keep yourself moving and active, the body’s first resort for energy is the carbs and sugar from your most recent consumption of food. Once it has converted all those calories into energy to sustain the ongoing activity and it needs more energy, it resorts to the glycogen stored in the muscles and liver. After the body has exhausted the glycogen to fuel the activity, body’s last resort is the fat which is the reserved source of energy.
Fats are lipids that are used by all living organisms including humans as stored energy. Body converts unconsumed sugar into glycogen and the stored glycogen is converted to fat when there is more influx of calories while the body has maxed out its storage capacity for glycogen, as explained earlier.
Gym and weight loss!
When you first hit the gym and boy do you hit it with a vengeance! the body goes into a state of shock. The body isn’t used to the new activities and exercise regime that is added to your daily routine. And when you also incorporate a diet plan, there by watching your calorie intake and reducing consumption of excess sugar and unrequired carbs and fats, the body tries to compensate for it by burning the reserved source of energy, which is your fat!
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You calorie consumption is the same if not reduced while your daily dose of activity has increased substantially by your visits to the gym or the spinning class or intense Pilates or Hot yoga session. The body has exhausted all the calories consumed in the day and has sucked out the fuel from the glycogen, so you can do your downward facing dog.
Now that the body is stripped of all energy while you keep facing downward, only to look up while you trade the dog for a series of Sun salutation, the body assaults the fat, chipping it away piece by piece to afford your new-found indulgence… it hits the fat bank to pay for your expensive habits that seem to be taking a toll on the fat reserves! (well, those Pilates class and Hot yoga sessions are pretty expensive…quite literally). That’s how you lose the fat and the inches around your belly…simple math!
But where does the fat goes?
Ever wondered where does all that fat, pounds of lard that was covered under a layer of skin and very much visible in the form of those bouncy thighs, giggly arms and overlaps around the belly flab goes?
You often hear stories and see before and after images of people who weighed 300 and 400 odd pounds and now have shrunk down to 120lbs or 140lbs. God knows I looked baffled and amazed when I would watch these amazing transformation stories on shows like Oprah or on the Discovery channel while growing up.
But where did all that tubs of lard disappear?
Well, you’d be surprised if I told you, flushed down the drain and vanished in thin air! Quite literally… Wanna know how?
Lets go back to the molecular make up of fat which is essentially Hydrogen-Oxygen-Carbon. That said, lets reflect on the First law of Thermodynamics that states “Energy in a matter or mass cannot be created nor destroyed but it merely changes form“
Which essentially means, the energy stored in a matter can change form, from solid to liquid and to gas with infusion of heat or by lowering the temperature to reverse the process. Therefore, when you heat a cube of ice it turns to water and subsequently evaporates into air as gas after reaching its boiling point and if you reverse the procedure by cooling gas, it changes form to liquid and further solidifies into a cube of ice. The same applies to any matter be it metal or pounds of lard sitting in your belly and thighs which are power houses of energy.
While performing an activity when the body heats up and needs excess energy, the molecular compound of fat is broken up to release energy from its bond. When this molecular compound of Hydrogen-Oxygen-Carbon is broken to release energy, H2O which is water is flushed out of the body in the form of sweat as you perspire to keep your body cool as it heats up while running on the treadmill, for instance. While CO2, Carbon dioxide is released into the air with exhalation.
That’s how your fat which is stored in your body in solid or semi solid form, is converted to water which is excreted in urine, sweat and tears while the remaining is converted to gas which is exhaled out in the form of CO2 and that’s where all that fat goes…in the puddle of sweat you created under you cycling machine in the spinning class and the air you breathe out.
It’s not just the water you drink that gets flushed out in your sweat and urine as it also contains your fat. So, the next time when you’re on the treadmill, sweating bullets like a pig and panting as you gasp for air…all the burgers and pizzas you had is just melting away in front of your eyes. Just not the way you thought they would!