Fat: Burning It – Part 3

Fat: Burning It – Part 3

So now that we understand the two main types of body fat – visceral and subcutaneous – the burning question is how to get rid of it. The simple answer is: We oxidize (burn) it.


Fat gets used as energy to support muscle contractions and other bodily functions, whether during exercise or at rest (holding yourself upright, digestion, blinking your eyes, breathing, beating your heart).  Because exercise requires your body to burn more energy than when you are at rest, exercise can play an important role in getting rid of it, but there’s more to it than that. Exercise alone will not get rid of it.

We’re conditioned to think reducing calories is the key to fat loss. The standard diet rule is, “Eat less.” However, calories, while important, are only part of the fat issue. Equally important is where the calories come from because the type of macronutrient – fat, carbohydrates, proteins - in the food has a profound impact on whether fat gets released from a fat cell into the bloodstream for transfer to your cells to get burned as energy.

After decades, the health Establishment is waking up to the fact that the key to fat loss is not eating a “low-fat” diet. Rather, the key is to eat fewer carbohydrates, processed foods containing sugar and refined grains. Check out this NY Times report on a recent study demonstrating the superiority of low carb eating versus low-fat.

There is a very simple physiological reason why eating fewer carbohydrates encourages fat loss. High carb foods cause a rapid increase in the hormone insulin. The presence of insulin interrupts the action of a key enzyme called hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL). HSL signals the release of fat out of fat cells into the bloodstream for oxidation (the energy production process your muscles use when, for instance you walk, blink your eyes, digest, fidget, breath). Insulin stops fat burning. In fact, more fat collects because insulin increases the effects of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which stores fat.

Here’s where exercise plays a critical role in fat loss. First, exercise increases your metabolic rate which burns more energy, both while exercising and for hours afterwards. Second, exercise stabilizes insulin levels. By so doing, HSL can do its job to rid your body of excess fat.

The food prescription to lose body fat is to eat mainly vegetables, protein and healthy fats, such as olive oil and nuts, all foods that satisfy hunger. Minimize sugars (deserts, breads, salad dressings, alcohol, ketchup) and starches. Avoid processed foods because they are mainly carbohydrates. It’s that easy.

If you want to shrink the fat parts of your body, first understand that it took a long time to accumulate that fat, likewise it will take time to get rid of it. There is no safe, healthy, long-lasting means to get rid of it that is quick. No pill, no powder, no magic exercise program, no herb used by a primitive tribe in Brazil.

When you lose fat, you’ll lose it everywhere. There is no such thing as spot reducing. The visceral fat goes faster than subcutaneous fat. You can watch it disappear by measuring your waist right above the belly button before you change your food selections and start to exercise more. If you want to see changes in subcutaneous fat, measure you upper arm and thigh at the same time. Check them every couple of weeks. Whether you measure or not, you’ll feel your clothes are looser.

Never forget that there’s no going back. Lots of people “diet” and lose fat. Most gain it back. It’s not because their body chemistry mysteriously changed. It’s because they relapsed and re-adopted a fat forming and fat preserving way of life.


Note: If you want to learn more about body fat and how to get rid of it, read books by Gary Taubes, Jeff Volek, PhD and Stephen Phinney, MD, Jimmy Moore, or any of the Paleo lifestyle books by Loren Cordain or Robb Wolfe.










Fat: Invasion of the Body Snatcher – Part 2

Fat: Invasion of the Body Snatcher – Part 2

When someone with the classic pot belly (anymore about 2 out of 3 of American adults) looks at themselves in the mirror, the fat underneath the skin that he or she can grip with between the fingers is likely the tip of the fat-berg, so to speak. That’s the subcutaneous fat.

However, we can’t see or touch the fat that’s most dangerous to our health because it’s located inside the body. It’s called visceral fat.  Below are the MRI’s of two people. Note the difference between the two images. The yellow/whitish areas are deposits of body fat. You’ll see the subcutaneous fat collected in the arms, hips and thighs. The visceral fat fills the abdominal cavity of the person on the left, surrounding the intestines and other internal organs.

body measure fat

Visceral fat is a more serious health threat because it is metabolically active, meaning it’s wide awake 24/7, initiating chemical interactions that can cause a host of problems. This is the type of fat Dr. Mark Hyman refers to when he observes, “The old idea that fat is just a storage depot for energy you need during starvation is fast falling away. Fat cells are now considered an endocrine organ, a part of your hormonal communication system.”

Visceral fat disrupts communication between the endocrine and central nervous system. The hormones that signal whether you are hungry or full no longer function so you overeat. Even more alarming, it can cause chronic, systemic inflammation throughout the body.

Normally, inflammation is a limited, short-acting healing response by the immune system to cuts, chemical irritants, splinters, infections, burns and other trauma. The inflammation process increases the flow of germ killing anti-bodies and cell building nutrients in blood plasma to prevent infection and stimulate recovery in the damaged site. We’re all familiar with acute inflammation when we get a scratch that causes redness, swelling, and pain, which all normally go away within days.

However, with chronic inflammation, the body reacts as if it is permanently injured and launches a destructive cycle. The immune system does not turn off. The body becomes infested with white blood cells and various toxins, like reactive oxygen species, that can be as damaging to the body’s healthy tissue as it is to invading bacteria at the site of an injury. What’s especially insidious about systemic inflammation is that it’s present without any particular physical sensation or obvious symptoms.

Among other things, these immune chemicals flowing through the body cause the release of the steroid hormone cortisol. Cortisol floats back through the visceral fat and combines with certain enzymes to release free fatty acids (the triglycerides that concern your doctor) into the bloodstream. Up goes your risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, and several cancers.

Beyond an improved self-image, there are very good reasons to reduce excess stored fat. The good news is that visceral fat, the most dangerous type, is the easiest to get rid of with exercise.

More to follow in Part 3.






Fat: The Rodney Dangerfield of Body Tissues – Part 1

Fat: The Rodney Dangerfield of Body Tissues – Part 1

Many gym facilities would not exist were it not for body fat and our desire to get rid of it. Fat gets no respect. However, while we can’t live with it, we can’t live without it either.

Everyone knows there’s an obesity epidemic and understands losing fat can improve your  health.


But beyond health, most of us don’t like fat because of how it makes us look when compared with the beautiful people on the cover of Vogue or Men’s Health. As a result, you cannot watch TV without encountering an ad promising an easy, quick 10 Step Magic Diet to get rid of it for just a few low, monthly payments.

Fat, like everything in the body, is not just useless, inert goo there to make you feel unattractive or tired from hauling it around. In fact, fat, in the right places and volumes, contributes to your health.

Fat tissue is composed of unique cells adipocytes that are filled with lipids and triglycerides. These are held together in collagen fibers, just like skin. The adipose tissue is suffused with blood vessels. The size of your fat mass is a function of both the size and number of fat cells. Humans develop fat cells early in infancy (4 to 14 weeks) and again just prior to and during puberty. When we overeat (put more energy in our bodies than we can use, whether fat, carbs, or protein), the fat cells are filled to their maximum with lipids. Not only that, new fat cells form. Once fat cells are formed, they can be reduced in size by emptying them (what we call “burning fat”), but they still remain ready to refill at the next opportunity. So when we lose fat, we lose what is in our fat cells, not the cells themselves.

As with all mammals, there are various fat storage areas distributed around the human body. Where yours are located is largely determined by genetics. Experts figure evolution put them there to make sure when there were food shortages, e.g., famines or no luck hunting, an energy source (it’s not by accident scientists use the word “depots,” i.e., storage, to describe where fat is located) was still available to help us survive.

But in addition to providing efficient energy storage, fat makes up over half your brain, sheaths your nerves, cushions and protects internal organs, comprises much of your skin in order to insulate and conserve heat and contributes to endocrine and immune responses. Fat is also part of the integumentary system that holds us together, along with collagen, bones, and muscle.

What’s considered the “normal” percentage of body fat varies by age and gender. The National Institute of Health says a healthy female should be between 14-31% and a male between 6-24%. Athletes tend to fall in the lower range, unless they are NFL offensive linemen or sumo wrestlers. Pound for pound, older people tend to have a higher percentage of body fat, including those who are skinny, because of a slowing metabolism, especially if they don’t exercise to maintain their muscle mass.

Generally, people wish more of their body fat was gone altogether. We do have some control through diet and exercise over how much fat collects, though not where it collects. Due to differences in hormones, gender influences our individual fat depots. Females tend to collect fat in the thighs, hips and butt. Males load up in the midsection.

Most of the fat we see in the mirror (like in the picture above) is subcutaneous fat, located in the deepest layer of the skin, which may be a problem if you don’t want tummy bulges under your tank top or skin from the back of your upper arm oozing over your elbow like melting candle wax.

However, as we’ll discuss in Part 2, while subcutaneous fat might be unsightly, it’s the fat you don’t see that’s dangerous. Lucky for all of us, the most dangerous type of fat is also the easiest to get rid of through exercise.

Adapted from The Wellness Club: A Journey to Health Beyond Healthcare by David and Cynda Adamson. Available at Amazon.


Almost Falling to Prevent Falling

Almost Falling to Prevent Falling

Although it might sound counter-intuitive, we develop balance and learn how to prevent accidental falls by almost falling. In fact, we learn it automatically.

Most of us are aware of the risks of falling and most of the conventional exercises to prevent them, but if you need a refresher, here’s a good one from the CDC. But beyond the obvious physical attributes that we can consciously develop, like leg strength, are unconscious ones, like muscle memory, that is, you body does what it needs to do without you thinking about it.

CBS news reported on a very innovative research project in which an older adult, provided the safety of a harness as shown in the picture below, walks on a treadmill that stops or changes speed unexpectedly, causing her to stumble and almost fall. Click here to see the video and read more about the specifics of the research.


What’s so interesting is that the person restored her balance and ability to avoid falls just by putting herself in a situation where she would fall. As she spent time on the unpredictable treadmill, her body naturally adjusted and learned to react to the attempts to make her fall. There were no instructions on fall prevention techniques required. In the safety of the sling, she just got on the treadmill and started walking. Her brain and muscles took care of the rest. The balance and movements needed to avoid falling were unconsciously programmed into her muscles.

We are hard-wired to avoid falls and are equipped with sensory apparatus to help us remain upright. The brain communicates with muscles at pre-conscious speeds. Losing balance and falling usually happens quickly, there is not time to go through a conscious mental checklist of what to do.

The takeaway from this research is that our bodies learn to avoid falling by routinely challenging our balance, in other words, intentionally putting ourselves in situations where our bodies will be on the verge of falling.

So at Cascade Boomer Fitness, we always do some work on balance in every Younger Gamers session. Sometimes we fall, but we’re safe because we workout on padded mats.

We practice movement on unstable surfaces, including soft pads, Bosu Balls, bongo boards (for advanced exercisers) and a low balance beam. For people just starting out, we use supports like handrails as needed, but with practice they don’t need them for very long.